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BBC Reports on Religious Revival in NE India

“Miracles” Claim

glowing-cross

The BBC reports on a Christian revival in North West India:

Leaders of the Presbyterian Church in the north-eastern Indian states of Meghalaya and Mizoram – sandwiched between Muslim Bangladesh and Buddhist Burma – say there have been miracles occurring.

A church at Malki, in Meghalaya’s capital Shillong, has been receiving a steady stream of devotees ever since word spread that a cross here has been glowing and radiating the image of Lord Jesus.

This, combined with recent reports of several school students “convulsing, behaving abnormally and even fainting”, has prompted the talk of a revival.

Further details were given in the Pioneer; since the report now exists only in a cached form, I’ll quote at length:

…The “revival stories” in Meghalaya continued for several days. Similar experiences were reported from various schools in the city and the rural areas of the Khasi and Jaintia hills in the past two weeks. “A little boy came in, broke the news and disappeared,” said Simon, a young volunteer, narrating how the yearning for revival began at the Malki Presbyterian Church last week. Simon said he did not see the boy, but heard of him from others. Surprisingly, nobody saw the boy before, who entered the church and said he saw ‘the face of Jesus’ and the Holy Spirit moving towards the alter behind which a huge illuminated Cross is hung on the wall.

A “huge illuminated cross”? That puts a somewhat different spin on the BBC’s photo of the supposedly supernaturally-glowing cross (a claim also being made in other media reports), but it’s interesting to see how a legend can evolve so quickly. The mysterious boy had a dramatic effect:

It was September 3 Sunday. Young boys and girls had gathered inside the chapel where a week-long youth programme was drawing to a close. A skit was being played and, in the middle of the prayers and songs, the boy’s message came and got circulated. The prayer and songs intensified and some of the boys and girls began to cry, some went into a trance, as if they were possessed by some invisible spirit. Their bodies were trembling, some of them were wailing, while praying fervently, closing their eyes with their hands stretched out. And, by then, the “unknown little boy” disappeared from the scene.

The appearance and disappearance of the ‘little boy’ remains a mystery. “He may have been the messenger of God,” Mona, who herself claimed to have experienced blissful moments for the first time in her life, said…

The report also quotes the church’s minister, Reverend T Mukhim:

But let me put the situation in perspective,” Rev Mukhim offered an explanation. First of all, he could not vouch for the veracity of the story surrounding the ‘unknown little boy’, because he was not present there. Secondly, that was not the official version of the Church. All these happenings and ‘vital signs of revival’ were extensively reported in the media, quoting people’s own experiences with the Holy Spirit, which, of course, the church didn’t wish to contradict.

“You must understand, when a lot of people, especially the believers, pray together, sing together invoking the Holy Spirit, something is bound to happen,” the pastor said. They are affected by deep emotions, which manifest in various ways both at the individual and collective level that may seem to be viewed as abnormal or unnatural. So during the youth week, which is an annual program of the church, some of the young people experienced ‘intense emotional outpouring’ when, it has been observed, they exhibited unusual physical and mental behaviour. It is natural and often happens to individuals during the prayer. But in the present context, it happened in a large scale, creating ‘a very delicate situation’, Rev. Mukhim admitted.

It looks as though Mukhim is trying to have it both ways: welcoming the effects of the revival, but sensibly cautious over linking this to miraculous events that might later on be debunked. Notably, there is no mention of the minister in any of the other reports on the revival and the supposed miracles.

Local enthusiasts believe these events are a sign from God one hundred years after a previous revival in the region, that came on the heels of the 1904 Welsh revival. Back to the BBC:

…All the seven north-eastern states have a significant population of Christians and at least three states in the region – Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland – are Christian majority.

…”The revival in 1906 gave a fillip to the evangelical works of Welsh missionaries in both Meghalaya and Mizoram,” says Rev Vanlalchhuanawma, an expert in the history of Christian revivals.

The Presbyterian Church in India has since returned the favour, and recently sent two priests to missionize back in Wales.

What the BBC here overlooks, however, is that the predominately Christian region is also an area of religious competition, with Hinduism and, somewhat more surprisingly, Judaism also making inroads. The Organiser, a conservative source, reported on the latter trend in 2004:

Most Mizos were converted to Christianity in the decades preceding Independence. Sometime in the 1970s, however, some members of the tribes noticed that their indigenous customs and rituals closely matched those of the Jews. Both Mizos and Kukis, for instance, practice the eighth-day circumcision, levirate marriages, altar sacrifices and Sabbath, all of which are very Jewish traditions. Their suspicion that they might be of Jewish origin was substantiated by Israel’s Rabbi Eliahu Avichail, who runs the Jerusalem-based Amishav, an organisation devoted to tracing and helping descendants of Israel’s Ten Lost Tribes to return to the ‘Holy Land’, a right guaranteed to every Jew under the Israeli Constitution.

Of course, whether the Mizo really are genetically connected to ancient Israelites or Jews is really neither here nor there – Israel has also welcomed Peruvian Indian converts to Judaism. With worries over demography, and large numbers of Israelis unwilling to live in the Occupied Territories, such influxes help to keep Israel “a non-Arab state” (to use Ian Lustick’s term). But back to the Organiser:

…Christian leaders are perturbed over the exodus from Christianity to Judaism, claiming this will “destroy the social fabric of both the tribes.” Though missionaries have consistently showed contempt for similar concerns of Hindu organisations, Dr P.C. Biaksiama of the Christian Research Centre in Aizawl, Rev. Chuauthuama of the Aizawl Theological College and Rev. Colney of the Mizoram Presbyterian Church Synod now demand a social movement against conversions.

…Dr Biaksiama warns that “mass conversion by foreign priests will pose a threat not only to the region’s social stability, but also to national security.”…Last month, 300 pastors discussed the threat and lambasted conversion to Judaism as the work of Satan.

Meanwhile, this slightly poorly translated article discusses a perceived Hindu challenge:

A monthly vernacular magazine that caters to the Mizo youth has published a report in its latest issue that the Hindu religion is starting to take root in Mizoram in which Mizoram Governor A.R. Kohli took the brunt of the accusations as a propagandist of the Hindu religion.

…The magazine also quoted an article written by Rev. Chuauthuama, a registrar at the Aizawl Theological College where he had also accused the governor of having a “mission” or else he was a bit cracked. In his article, Rev. Chuauthuama had also said he believed that orthodox Hindus (RSS, VHP) are making greater efforts in the state after Kohli came as governor. “He could be slowly poisoning us,” Chuauthuama had written in his article.

…The magazine has quoted Mizo Zirlai Pawl president P.C. Laltlansanga who said VHP activists, who know the instability of Mizo Christians, are using money to make converts.

“We were surprised to find that VHP activists have dug deep roots in our land. What seems to be their motive is to convert Mizo youth to Hinduism through monetary rewards taking full advantage of the instability of Mizo youth in the Christian religion and the unemployment woes they face,” he was quoted.

Amolak Rattan Kohli was the Hindu governor of Mizoram from May 2001 until last July.

One person not impressed by the revival is Prabir Ghosh of the Science and Rationalists’ Association of India. However, he seems a bit vague on the differences between Presbyterians and Catholics – back again to the BBC:

The claims of miracles in Meghalaya have gone largely unchallenged.

But Bengal-based rationalist Prabir Ghosh dismisses the phenomenon as a “bogus attempt” by the Church to draw converts.

…”The Pope has said this will be the century of Christianity, so churches all over are seeking large-scale conversions and the miracles are part of the exercise,” says Mr Ghosh.

UPDATE (6 Oct): How’s this for timing? WND reports:

Hundreds of Jews from a group of thousands in India that believes it is one of the 10 “lost tribes” of Israel has been granted permission to immigrate here next month, fulfilling for many of them a life-long dream of returning to what they consider their homeland…