From Headhunters to Church Planters

This story of ‘An Amazing Spiritual Awakening in Nagaland’ is told by a well-known writer on China. The Nagas belong to the Tibetan-Burmese people of north-east India, wedged between India, China and Myanmar. Their main town is Kohima, scene of the famous 1944 battle that prevented Japan advancing into India. They were first reached with the Gospel by American Baptists in 1872 whose work, so physically and spiritually demanding, can only be applauded.

The story focuses on the sad period when the British, who had ruled the area, in my view negligently handed Nagaland over to India in 1947. The result was a decade of intense suffering as the Indian army imposed its will. Genocide was attempted as the Nagas resisted and Naga independence is still a live issue.

However, as the Naga people called on the Lord, he answered with a revival of remarkable impact. Details are given in the book of how each of the thirteen Naga tribes was first reached with the Gospel, how they responded to the period of revival, and how the Gospel permeated their society. Meetings of several hours were characterised by repentance, prayer and weeping. A significant proportion of the population was born of the Spirit. Many signs and wonders are described, including outstanding deliverances; they almost become the criteria for revival. It is a remarkable story of how a people-group of less than one million were won for the Gospel.

It is a small book but I missed three things. First was a map! Second, any reference to a hunger for the Word of God. Maybe this is assumed, with long meetings and the occasional reference to preaching. Reference is made to only New Testament translation and one translation of Matthew, whereas the Operation World manual refers to 12 full Bible translations and 11 New Testaments. Third, there seems to be no assessment or testing of the stories recounted. Everything, apart from an account of a false teacher, is accepted at face value: but a characteristic of revival in a not dissimilar culture in Borneo (as in Acts) was to find the counterfeit alongside the genuine.

Concern is expressed about the state of the Naga churches now, twenty-five years after the decades of revival. There have been enormous changes in the culture, with the damaging impact of the outside world. The author suggests the problem is the institutionalisation of the church with its Baptist hierarchy. Leaders have been trained in other countries with what is viewed as an unhelpful emphasis on academic qualifications.

The story raises the issue as to how revival can be channelled into ongoing healthy churches when the excitement has died down. There has to be some organisation, but maturity can only come from the life-giving Word of God constantly watered by the Spirit. The old adage states, ‘with the Word of God alone we dry up; with the Spirit alone, we blow up; with the Spirit and the Word together we grow up’. May these remarkable churches continue to reach out effectively to their big-brother neighbours.

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