Friday, August 19, 2022

A Bridge from America to Nagaland

People build bridges over rivers or seas to connect places, and also to create a bridge between deep gorges and rocky terrains. These bridges are visible to the human eye, and these are tangible infrastructures.
Likewise, there is a bridge built between America and Nagaland which many Nagas might be aware of. Should the Nagas reflect deeply upon our fate, as there is so much evidence of God’s great love for our people!?
God saw the need to send light upon the darkness that our forefathers were living in.
A very small community with an insignificant population and size in geography. Yet, God chose to send missionaries from one of the world’s great superpowers to deliver and rescue the downtrodden, less privileged people.
These stories testify the innumerable testimonies of God’s wonderful plans for the people of Nagaland, and they are beautiful lessons for us to carry forward.
Every Naga is aware of the history of how Christianity was brought to Nagaland by Reverend Dr. Edward Winter Clark. Christianity made its first mark on the 18th December 1872, making its first step in Molungkimong, a village under Mokokchung district.
On the 23rdof December 1872, Reverend Dr. Clark baptized 15 Nagas and founded the first Naga Baptist Church.
Further, on 24thOctober 1876, Molungyimsen village was founded, and God’s anointed mission spread on, throughout the villages in Nagaland with its mission based in Molungyimsen village.
Out of the many changes which this Christian mission brought over the Nagas, there are several notable works that needs to be revisited:
I. The primitive tribes in Nagaland became believers of Christ and Christianity.
II. Christianity ended the fearful head-hunting practice among the Nagas.
III. The dead were given a respectable and proper burial in cemeteries.
IV. Healthcare and hygiene lifestyles were introduced and practiced among the Nagas.
V. Mary Mead Clark started the first school in Molungyimsen village in 1878 which resulted in starting more schools in different villages among the Nagas.
VI. The Nagas learned better ways of skills in terms of singing and recreation.
VII. In addition to men, even the women were given opportunities in social and religious spheres.
VIII. Livelihood skills were relearnt with better practices in animal rearing and farming.
The American Baptist Mission was not only an evangelism mission of the gospel, but also a holistic and an all-rounded mission that opened the eyes of the people of Nagaland. The mission resulted in freeing the Nagas from the darkness of ignorance and illiteracy, and the missionaries responsible for these changes can quite possibly be called the fathers of the Nagas!
There is another wonderful testimony that needs to be acknowledged. The first Christian village in Nagaland was Molungyimsen, which was founded by the American Baptist Missionaries under Dr. E.W. Clark. The Naga youth of this generation should share and spread the testimony to their counterparts in America that there is a village founded by the Americans in Nagaland which was the genesis of Christianity amongst the Nagas. Such a story may help to create a better bond and pride between the two ethnicities.
1957 was a year that saw the beginning of great tragedies and sorrows for the people of Nagaland. The Indian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, introduced in 1958 saw the razing and destruction of many villages in Nagaland by the Indian Armed forces.
The armed forces entered Molungyimsen village to burn it down. One Rev. Nükshinüken stood very courageously in opposition, stating that this village was founded by the Americans. The church and the council unitedly stood against the order and God intervened to keep this village safe.
An order was issued, to burn down Molungyimsen and to send groupings to Molungkimong village. The church and council brought forth a request to the then Governor of Assam, under Imtikazük Sanglir, GB and a village Elder, Nokbangnenba. After much persistence, the order of sending groupings and the burning down of the village was avoided with the efforts of I. Sashimeren Aier (of Mopungchuket) and Sosangchiba (of Molungyimsen) who under the strong leadership of the village elders submitted the said Governor order to the then SDO, Civil in Mokokchung.
Nagas as Christians and ‘Nagaland for Christ’ are identities and terms, we Nagas have built for ourselves. There are events when the government in the Center initiated policies and laws to hinder the Christian values and practices. Some examples such as, observing Christmas Day as Good Governance Day, or Good Friday as Digital India Day are ignorant intentions that oppose our Christian values and observances. There may be more such policies in the near future, and it is important that politicians and policy makers in Nagaland oppose those policies that are against Christian values. If our leaders become incapable of doing anything to protect Christianity in Nagaland, Nagas will be like orphans.
Nagaland is observing changes with the creation of more districts which can be seen as a move towards development and avenue to create more employment and job opportunities. Each new district headquarter will have its own DC, IAS and other such heads of various departments. But the majority of these top posts have been headed by outsiders and with the lack of support; Nagas will remain voiceless and powerless on any decisive matters.
Irrespective of geography and race, the Nagas were liberated from the darkness by one of the world’s superpowers. The Nagas accepted and believed the Christ they introduced to us. When there are other forces that create a hindrance in practicing those beliefs, it is our right to seek guidance and help from those who first brought Christianity to Nagaland. This right and this bond is a privilege that God initiated and anointed between our forefathers from the beginning of this relationship.
2022 is a year of celebration of 150 years of Christianity in Nagaland and 150 years of a bridge of friendship in Christ built between Americans and Nagas. The year of Sesquicentennial has to be a year of thanksgiving of how God provided the Nagas and the American Baptist Mission this wonderful opportunity to declare the greatness and faithfulness of God.
A final lesson we can take from the life of Rev. Dr. E.W. Clark (who risked everything despite the uncertainty and dangers amongst a headhunting community), is that an American Missionary listened to the call of God and responded, “Yes! I will go.” Can our Naga Christian youths and leaders take a similar response with the same courage and faith and walk towards the truth that Christ has taught us?
Today we remember and honor the sacrifices and work of Rev. Dr. Clark and his wife Mary Mead. If the young Nagas and leaders of today work towards strengthening the bridge built 150 years back and progress in the wisdom, courage and faith of our pioneer missionaries, our prayers of blessings as your Naga elders will guide and go with you all the way. God bless and keep Nagaland for Christ!
Y. Imsü Imchen
Social activist

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