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Immanuel Baptist Missions

Immanuel Baptist Missions

Author: Dr. John A. Sundquist
Publication: Immanuel Online
Date:
URL: http://srt.com/baptist/missions21.html

Taku Longkumer (a Naga gentleman short in stature, but tall in commitment), his wife, Katie, and their three children, are dearly loved and respected by many in the church family of Immanuel. Since their visit to our church in October,1995, their work in the northeast corner of India has become very real and very important to us. A letter recently written by Dr. John A. Sundquist, Executive Director, International Ministries, American Baptist Churches, Valley Forge PA, reminded us again of the importance of our prayers and support of fellow believers in their work for Christ around the world. Following are portions of Dr. Sundquist's letter. May it stir us to fervent prayer for our brothers and sisters in Nagaland.

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"Nagaland, an isolated area tucked in the mountainous, jungle covered corner of India near the Burmese border. The area (is) home to a dozen separate tribes, each with its own dialect and often with a history of headhunting. Tensions among Nagaland's tribes, and an armed guerrilla movement bent on independence from India, (make) it a highly unstable area."

Excerpt from Billy Graham's Autobiography, Just As I Am.
 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

We need your help. Many of you may know the story of the Naga people, former headhunters who, through the efforts of American Baptist missionaries, have become a state which boasts of a population that is 90 percent Christian--with 90 percent of those Christians proclaiming to be Baptist.

Mission Done Right

The people of Nagaland consider their literacy rate 40 times higher

than the rest of India. They have no hunger and little unemployment. They attribute their marked differences from the rest of India to their commitment to Christianity. I was present this past November (1997), along with a delegation of American Baptists, to celebrate the 125 years since E.W. Clark, our first missionary to Nagaland, brought the Gospel to the Naga people.

Nagaland is a story of mission done right. Less than two dozen missionaries planted the seeds for what today is an incredibly strong church. All Naga Baptists self-support their pastors, are self- governing and believe wholly in self-propagation--bringing the Gospel to all of Nagaland. In fact, 125 new missionaries/evangelists were commissioned by the Nagas at the 125th anniversary celebration. I marvel at the Baptist church in Nagaland as we struggle (successfully, because of your support) to appoint 33 new missionaries in one year.

For 50 years the Naga people have struggled for independence from India. Nagaland is made up of numerous Naga tribes, all of which, because of their Mongolian descent, have more in common with Burmese tribes, their neighbors to the east, than they do with India. Like many indigenous groups in the area, the Nagas' land was arbitrarily split by colonial powers into what they consider false regions, separating them from other Naga groups in other countries.

Despite their valiant efforts, Nagaland remains an occupied territory. The Indian government empowers its soldiers to arrest, shoot and even kill at will anyone suspected of subversive actions against the government. It is said to be the most unreported area of civil conflict in the second half of this century, with estimates of up to 300,000 casualties.

We don't hear about these casualties because the Indian Government has deemed Nagaland to be a "restricted" zone, meaning few people from the outside are given permission to visit. I have, by the good will of the Indian government, been granted entry five times--even when others were not given permits. In one mountainous village, I was reported to be the first Western man ever to visit. Because I am one of the few Westerners permitted to visit Nagaland, I feel a profound burden to share their story with the rest of the world. In fact, they have asked me to speak clearly to the rest of the world, even at the risk of being denied future entry to their country.

Underground Conflict

Several underground groups have emerged to resist India's

occupation of Nagaland and the overwhelming presence of Indian soldiers. Because Nagaland is made up of so many tribal groups that have vastly different languages and customs, the underground groups have emerged from different tribes. Each has its own understanding of how and when to win independence from the Indian government. However, over the last 50 years, the tribal distinctions among the underground groups have become less distinct.

All the underground organizations are led by and made up of Christians, predominantly Baptists. They claim to use peaceful measures to bring about change and to retaliate only in self-defense. However, when an Indian soldier is injured or killed, his comrades frequently retaliate on the civilian population. There are well- documented cases of Naga women being raped or assaulted, crops being destroyed and women and children dying in concentration camps of malnutrition, torture and forced labor.

The Indian government has used the disagreement among the Nagas to its advantage, fronting killings and placing the blame on one of the insurgent groups, pitting one tribal group against another. In recent history, the fighting between the underground groups has been more pronounced than the fighting against the Indian government. What makes this most tragic is that this fighting, and oftentimes bloodshed, is among Christian brothers.

What Does This Have To Do With Your Church?

On several occasions, I have met personally and prayed with, the

leadership of each of the underground organizations. They have sought me out for spiritual guidance and counseling--not because of my wisdom, but because of the respect they have for their rich history and spiritual roots embedded in American Baptist Churches. It is a humbling thought that I stand in the shadow of the great missionaries that have come before me. As American Baptists, we have an obligation to stand in solidarity with our Naga Christian sisters and brothers because of our history together. No one else has the same connection with the Naga church as we do, and we have all but forgotten the Naga people. They are the best mission story never told. But this story, without divine intervention, may have a tragic end.

I believe these underground leaders are devoted Christians wrought with frustration for their people, but they are also looking for a peaceful avenue to freedom. Many Christian leaders pleaded with me to use the occasion of the 125 year celebration of Christianity in Nagaland as an opportunity to speak out against the violence and call for reconciliation among the Naga people. I challenged the more than 120,000 people in attendance to stand if they would no longer tolerate the violence inflicted upon innocent people. We then joined in a mass prayer, each person praying in his or her own language. I am told that over a thousand underground soldiers were in attendance, and all of them stood as a sign of their commitment to stop the bloodshed.

As a result, God has continued to work in the hearts of the Naga people. Up until the time of the 125th anniversary celebration there was one Indian soldier for every eight Naga civilians. However, to allow foreigners like myself and the other delegates to attend the 125th celebration, a special cease-fire agreement between the underground groups and the Indian government was signed. Some of the soldiers were removed, and I am happy to report that there has not been one shot fired since the celebration event. The cease-fire agreement has held. Steps toward unity have progressed. The Naga people see the celebration event as a watershed moment for them. They believe that peace will prevail.

Nagas' New Slogan: "We want a solution, not an election."

In both an encouraging movement toward unity within the Nagas and

a nonviolent protest against the Indian government, Naga tribal leaders unanimously signed an accord which called for a boycott of the Monday, February 23, election of government officials who primarily serve the purposes of the Indian government rather than those of the Naga people. Every village was encouraged to display a white flag and every Naga was requested to wear white clothing on Sunday, February 22, as a symbolic declaration of support for a just peace.

My brothers and sisters. We are the voice for Nagaland to the outside world.

The tragedy for the Nagas is that India controls all information coming from Nagaland. Outsiders are kept out of the area so that the oppression and persecution of the Naga people perpetrated by the Indian government are unpublicized. The Naga people need our support for a peaceful resolution to their plight.

What Can You Do?

1. Please pray specifically for the end of fighting among the Nagas
and for
them to show the whole world that, because of Christ in their lives, they
live in peace.

2. Please pray for an end to the human rights violations as a result of the
occupation of Nagaland by India.

My dear friends, we owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to the missionaries who have come before us and given us a sterling reputation as a people of prayer. Let us continue to maintain our reputation as a people united in our efforts to see the whole world come to know Jesus Christ and to live in peace.
 

In the Power of the Gospel,

Dr. John A. Sundquist
Executive Director, International Ministries
 


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