Forgotten Baptists of Northeast India

 

About 10 years ago I received a telephone call from a telemarketer who I assumed was Indian from his accent but after a brief skirmish over the merits of his product I learned that he not only wasn’t Indian, or even a Hindu, but he was actually a Baptist. I was fascinated to find that the young man on the other end of the line was part of a people group called Naga who live in Northeast India and had once been fierce headhunters before embracing Christianity.

From the time the first American Baptist missionary arrived in the Nagalands in 1836 the denomination’s presence has grown from a few hard-won converts to 7,000 Baptist congregations under the umbrella of the Council of Baptist Churches in Northeast India. Over the course of the next few months as we continued to keep in touch, this 22-year-old, Rinchuingam Shimray (Achui for short) shared with me the trials and tribulations that his people endure as they struggle under the yoke of the Indian government. As is often the case with racial discrimination, the first problem they face is with their appearance. Nagas are more ethnically related to Chinese than to Indians and because of this difference in their looks they are easy to identify for mistreatment by their Indian neighbors and government officials. In addition to their race making them targets for discriminations, the majority of Nagas also happen to be Christians in a predominantly Hindu country. Nagas in India have been treated like second-class citizens for many years now.

Although Achui and I have never met in person we have enjoyed a growing relationship over the years. My family has rejoiced with him over his marriage and the birth of his two boys and he has responded in kind by fasting and praying for my political success, and even asking people to vote for me as he did telemarketing in Jefferson County during my last campaign. Because our periodic conversations have typically revolved around faith, family and the small business he now owns, I was surprised by the level of urgency and alarm in his voice when he called me a few months back to tell me of the violence and unrest that has flared up in the Naga regions.

For many years now the 4 million members of the various Naga tribes that inhabit the northeast section of India have enjoyed only limited self-rule. The Indian government’s predisposition against Nagas as a people combined with political friction over the Naga’s desire for independence has recently resulted in the leaders of India creating seven new districts in the Nagalands that the tribal people fear will place them at a further political disadvantage. This provocation led to violence being carried out by both sides which unfortunately began to take on the tone of religious persecution as local Hindus burned churches and attacked Naga Christians as they travelled home to celebrate Christmas. Videos of several of these attacks can be found on the Internet and illustrate the difficulties currently being experienced by our Christian brothers and sisters in that part of the world. There were no reports of these in the global media.

Although we seldom hear about Christian persecution in the news, some argue that it is worse now than ever. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity recently published a study showing that 90,000 Christians were martyred for their faith in 2016. Let us remember to pray for and find ways to assist persecuted Christians around the world, beginning with our fellow Baptists, the Nagas of Northeast India.

Eddie Vines
Bessemer, Ala.

EDITOR’S NOTE — The Alabama Baptist regularly reports on the Persecuted Church around the world. Find articles under “Religion News” here.