Issue 4: Exporting the gospel
One hundred years ago, UK missionaries shared the Gospel with the Mizos, feared headhunters in India. Today, the Mizos are partnering with the UK Church - and sending more missionaries per capita than any other nation in the world.
“Tell me … what does Mizoram export?”
The man, a visitor to the small Indian state, posed this question to a church leader, who thought for a moment and then replied, “We export the Gospel.”
The rest of the group laughed, knowing it was the truth.
Perched on the tip of the Northeastern border of India, the beautiful, mountainous state of Mizoram is geographically, economically and culturally isolated from much of the rest of India, which considers Mizoram “industrially backward”. Despite having the second highest literacy rate in the country, most of the Mizo population live in poverty. Electricity and decent roads are in short supply.
Yet their marginalized status has not kept them from excelling in one area: missions. Currently, 1 out of every 500 people in Mizoram is a missionary. If that ratio was reproduced in the UK, there would be 115,000 British missionaries.
No nation on earth has sent a higher proportion of their population to tell others about Jesus. Pretty impressive for people who until a century ago were feared as headhunters.
One hundred years of fortitude
The Mizo tribes first encountered the Gospel in the late 19th century via Welsh missionaries. The Christian faith quickly took hold in the hearts of the Mizos, who shared the good news of Jesus throughout the state. Within 60 years, 90% of the Mizo population became followers of Jesus.
“Mizoram has experienced close to 100 years of continuous revival,” said CMS Asia Director Chye Ann Soh. Today, 87% of the 880,000 people in Mizoram believe in Jesus, a remarkable accomplishment in India, where just 2% of the population are Christian.
But the good news doesn’t stop there.
As the Mizos witnessed their own state being transformed by the Gospel, they were inspired to bring that same truth to other parts of India. As early as 1910, three students travelled to Manipur, marking the first out-of-state missions trip by the newly established Presbyterian Church of Mizoram.
Today, Mizoram Presbyterian Church missionaries have spread as far afield as the Solomon Islands, Samoa, Taiwan and Madagascar. Their workers are involved in grassroots evangelism, church planting, medicine and educational ministries. The mission runs 20 schools in North India, where it has 12 regional offices.
The Mizoram Church has even sent missionaries to Wales, the country that first proclaimed the Gospel to them.
Secretary of the mission board, Rev Zosangliana Colney, explained: “The Welsh Presbyterians called us … because the Church is declining and they don’t have enough pastors.”
The Mizoram Church currently faces the opposite “problem” in that there are many more Mizos wanting to become missionaries than they can afford to train.
“We recently advertised 10 posts and 150 qualified candidates applied. Yet we could only train 10 or 15 people because of financial restraints,” Colney said.
The Mizo Christians already give generously to missions, believing that “as long as we have something to eat every day, we have something to give to the Lord”.
Chye Ann commented: “Though they are poor, they always set aside 10 per cent of whatever they have to support missions: rice, firewood, food. They go without so that the Gospel can be shared.
“Recently, they had a Christian convention, and 10,000 people needed housing. So nearby villagers happily took them in.”
Their commitment to mission inspired CMS to partner with the Church in Mizoram, to see how each could help the other.
A great co-mission
In March, CMS signed an agreement with the Presbyterian Church of Mizoram that will enable more Mizos to fulfil their calling.
Adrian Watkins, CMS Manager for South Asia, said: “We’ll be sharing personnel and training experience as well as the financial burden. It’s simply about working together for the sake of the Gospel.”
The agreement symbolises how the world of missions is becoming a global community. As a thriving indigenous Church, Mizoram is still learning, yet they also have much to teach others about mission. After all, the Mizoram Presbyterian Church reported 5,530 new followers of Jesus in 2004 alone.
“The Mizo story should inspire us,” said Chye Ann. “They are proof that revival still happens and a reminder of how dependence on God helps us triumph in adversity.”
By working together CMS hopes to equip the Mizos to cover even more ground. Said Chye Ann: “The fire is already there; we are just helping fan the flame.”