First Church on Garo Soil, Vol-2

First Church on Garo Soil, Vol-2

The Arrival of the Gospel in Watrepara
Omed and Ramke left Damra after a brief stop, heading for their hometown Watrepara. The villagers were wary of them when they learned of their mission, but they were allowed to stay in the village because the villagers’ spirits did not exact revenge for their blasphemy. Despite the fact that it was their own country, they felt like men in an enemy’s. A powerful sense of resentment had already been stoked by the news of their arrival, which had preceded them. Even their relatives were hesitant to provide them with shelter and food out of fear. But when it was time to put their courage to the test, they showed no signs of fear. They spent a couple of days going from house to house and clearing the path before inviting the entire village to hear the gospel after they had prayed fervently for direction.1

The crowd gathered in front of the Nokpante2 and formed a circle there. On either side, other leaders joined the chiefs in the place of honor. Since the meeting had all the formalities of a council and representatives from other villages were present, their swords were embedded in the ground in front of them. They were all crouching on the ground, staring at Omed as he stood to speak, their black eyes gleaming behind bowed brows. The bravest among them should have tested their nerve at that time, but the speaker knew how to touch their hearts when she said:

The Garos believe in demons, but there are no demons. At any rate, there are no demons that have the power to hurt us. We have sinned against God. What shall we do? But there is One who has done everything for us. And He sent Him to save us. He willingly offered himself a sacrifice for our sins, and all who trust Him are forgiven. He rose again after death and is now alive in the presence of God. We, your brothers, who believe it, have great joy in our hearts. And this joy is for all the Garos if they give up the worship of demons and turn to God. Therefore, we have brought you the message.3

When he was done, there was an immediate uproar and a burst of previously suppressed outrage and exclamation!

What, you a Garo, born of a Garo mother, do you presume to know more than the whole Garo tribe, and to teach us, your elder relatives? How did you dare to come here, slighting the demons, and trying to deceive us by pretending that they have no power to hurt or to kill? Beware lest some sudden calamity come upon you! We are not such fools! Who cares for your religion, and who will accept it?4

Omed, however, was not a soldier for no reason. When the commotion died down and the crowd mockingly dispersed, some people drew closer for more conversation as night fell. They engaged in extensive mental reflection before declaring with satisfaction that “the message was excellent.” Once their mission got underway, they would not have succeeded in establishing themselves as true believers’ heroes. Ramke took his youngest brother, two other boys, and himself back to Damra within a few days to establish the core of his school.

Omed has faced Difficulties and Challenges
Omed and his wife Epiri stay back at Watrepara to labor for his people and tirelessly spread out the gospel for several months. But Omed and his household’s life was not easy because the villagers did not like their teachings and new religion. He was blamed for any misfortune that happened in the surrounding area of the village. Different diseases and calamities like cholera, dysentery, drought, and storms brought miseries to the inhabitants which were considered to be the results of the demon’s displeasure at the new religion introduced by Omed. Within two or three days, some people died because of epidemic cholera and even one of his children died. In this critical situation, he was also threatened with death. The villagers viewed the deaths as punishment for the village for tolerating their presence and for their lack of belief. They expelled them from the village because they were bitterly angry with them for bringing the curse of the spirits. Now that his life was in danger, Omed was compelled to leave the village. His family made Rajasimla their home for three weeks, sleeping beneath the large tree at the base of Koasi hill. Omed cut a space in the jungle on the banks of the stream for a small hut he built out of bamboo and grass. At the base of the Rajasimla pass, his family lived in a run-down hut. When Rajasimla was first built, the low-lying areas were covered in reeds and tall grasses, and wild animals like bears, wild boars, deer, and stags frequented these areas. It was deemed hostile and uninhabitable as a result. In the dead of night, the big cats—tigers—came close to Omed’s home and circled the large tree. Later on, the villagers considered the loss of lives as a judgment on the village for harboring their presence, and on them for their disbelief. Bitterly enraged with them for bringing down the curse of the spirits, the villagers drove them out of the village. Omed’s life was now at stake and was compelled to leave the village.5

For three weeks, Omed and his family slept beneath the big tree at the foot of Koasi hill and settled down at Rajasimla. Omed made a small hut of bamboo and grass, clearing a place for it in the jungle on the banks of the stream. It was a poor hut at the foot of the Rajasimla pass where his family stayed alone.6 Those days the low-lying areas around Rajasimla were filled with reeds and tall grasses frequented by wild beasts such as bears, wild boars, deer, and stags. Because of this, the area was considered hostile and inhabitable. At night the big cats (tigers) came near Omed’s hut7 and swung around the big tree. Omed and his family were praying and worshiping God one night while lighting a lantern in their hut. Suddenly, six homicidal Garo people8 arrived in Rajasimla with the intent to kill the entire family. They were puzzled and annoyed when they came across a lantern glowing, so they turned around and fled without carrying out their heinous plan.

When Omed and his small group of friends went to Koasi Hill,9 where puppies and chickens were being taken up for sacrifice, one of the most tragic events occurred. They climbed the stairs with contempt, began tossing aside all the empty baskets, grabbed the stones, and split up. Along with cutting down the trees that were blocking their view, they also took a bundle of bamboo from the bamboo grove as trophies. The Garo people would occasionally emerge from their villages later, buzzing angrily and poised to attack. When Omed and other market participants were selling their wares at Rangjuli on one of the market days, some of the more dangerous individuals suddenly launched a ferocious attack upon seeing them. An update to Captain Morton had been sent through Ramke by the head constable of the Rangjuli police. 50 frontier police officers were immediately stationed at the Rangjuli market by Captain Morton, who acted swiftly. The primitive people demonstrated their allegiance to the British Government and understood that the captain kept his word by glancing at the border police. Additionally, the police officers stayed at Rangjuli until the danger subsided. After a short period of time, unexpectedly heavy rain fell, surprising everyone with these sudden changes in the weather and their current perceptions. Later, the idea of raids was dropped, and Omed and his followers at Rajasimla could stop worrying.10

Rangku11 was present with Dr. Miles Bronson because he was the third convert among the Garos to be baptized by Dr. Miles Bronson at Nowgong on April 8, 1866. At that time, Ramke informed Dr. Miles Bronson in a letter that had just arrived from Rajasimla that the Garos had made the decision to annihilate the Christian families. After receiving Ramke’s letter, Dr. Bronson, according to Rangku, approached him while sobbing and pleaded with him to go help the people. Dr. Bronson responded, “You go on; the Lord will take care of you.” Rangku said, “if they kill me?” “God’s blessings are upon you,” Dr. Bronson wished. “Maybe things are under control now. Anyhow, venture out and exercise bravery.” He looked for boats all night long. Rangku reached Goalpara in two and a half days. He left his luggage there and continued on foot until he arrived in Rajasimla just before dusk. In this moment of the greatest danger, Omed and Ramke were happy to see him and to have his assistance.12 Knowing that their lives were now in danger, Omed and his fellow beings fled with great trepidation. They set a watch for both day and night as they made their way back to Rajasimla. They couldn’t sleep for three days because there were fires lit all around the cluster of huts. Omed may have deeply regretted what he had done, which had put many other people’s lives in danger. Omed, his family, and other people remained unharmed despite those tense situations. The location of the wild animals’ former nighttime prowl and swinging has been marked by the construction of a monument close by.13 People from the nearby hillside villages used this location as a footbridge to access Rangjuli’s weekly market activities.

Omed and his fellow beings have escaped with great tension, knowing that now their lives were in jeopardy. As they went back to Rajasimla, they set a watch both day and night. Fires were lit all around the small circle of huts and they could not sleep for three days. Omed too, perhaps extremely regretted what he had done and put others’ lives at great risk. In spite of those furious situations, no harm befell Omed and his family members and others. Nearby a monument,14 it has been built to indicate the place where the wild beasts used to prowl and swing around at night. This place was also used as a foot pass by the people from the surrounding villages in the hills for their weekly market activities at Rangjuli.

Omed invited the villagers to his modest home for some rest, a slice of betel nut, and a smoke of tobacco, and it became known as the “House of Call” in memory of these people.”

He then seized the chance to preach the Gospel of Christ to the unaware visitors. Omed began to see the first results of his labor as a result, slowly but surely. Slowly but surely, the villagers came to accept Omed’s “new-found faith.” Similar to how Omed encountered numerous challenging circumstances and difficulties while attempting to spread the Good News among the populace. The Garo people were fierce and bloodthirsty, and they still were in Omed’s time. However, the Holy Spirit’s power came to him and reminded him to pray constantly. He moved forward to pray at the base of a cotton tree where the current cemented monument to remember had been placed as the Holy Spirit inspired him to do so in order to overcome those terrible circumstances. Omed frequently knelt down on his knees and offered his three daily prayers there, which was not far from his modest hut saying: “O God my Father, just as the cotton silk of this tree is blown away in different directions, so also let your Gospel spread to every corner of the Garo land and to all over the world.”15

After that, “Omed’s Place of Prayer” became a well-known name for this location where Omed frequently prayed. With such a keen eye for detail, Omed had to endure a lot of hardship, but he worked tirelessly and with enough faithfulness to see God’s kingdom grow as a result of his ministry in the Garo Hills.

Establishment of First Garo Church
Seven of Omed’s supporters sided with him over the course of a year as his strategy for the campaign gradually gained traction. They have stopped worshiping demons and have discovered a new religion. The Rajasimla members increased despite numerous mistreatments and odd circumstances. Late in 1866, Omed informed Dr. Miles Bronson that some people frequently gathered at Rajasimla for worship and that many of them desired baptism. There was no one else to take over, even though it was clearly absurd for him to continue managing the situation from 200 miles away. All he could do was wait it out by sending home new appeals. He had recently received a letter signed by eight Garos representing various villages, which only increased his concern.16 The signed people wrote:

A letter like this would be like a spark of tinder to a man with Dr. Bronson’s spirit. It ignited him. Dr. Miles Bronson made plans to travel to Rajasimla because he knew he couldn’t let a chance like this pass him by. ‘I would rather light the fires of Christianity among those formerly unrecognized tribes than hold the highest position at home,’ he continued. Although the trip had been drawn out and tedious, Rajasimla’s experience was thrilling and motivating. On Friday, April 12, 1867, he began by traveling to Goalpara before setting out with two elephants that Captain Campbell had lent him. Despite traveling for a long time in the heat and dust, he eventually arrived in Damra at five o’clock. There, he met Ramke, and the two of them chatted and sang until it was time for bed. The following morning, he set out early and arrived in Rajasimla in the late afternoon.17 He held a prayer service in the newly built church building that evening and questioned 26 people by warning them that becoming Christians might result in rejection, scorn, hostility, and even death. Even though they anticipated those things, they responded, “Yes, we have given it a lot of thought; we anticipate opposition; and we have decided to follow Christ and be baptized.”

Sunday 14th: A Day of Days!
After the ten o’clock worship service, Dr. Bronson went down to the lovely stream “Rongkil,” which had been dammed for the occasion, and baptized 26 Garos—both men and women. At the bank, a group of untamed, barbaric individuals was gathered, but they all maintained a calm, respectful, and somber demeanor as if they were used to the situation. Aged, middle-aged, and young people were among those who joined Christ’s flock. These were some of the irate opponents from a few months ago.

“I am a disciple of Christ, but I am unable to walk, a crippled man18 said, expressing how much the case of one of them affected him. How do I get baptized?” Dr. Bronson then instructed Omed to have and led him to the water. When asked if he hoped for material success, this man replied in a spirit-filled manner, “No; is it to fill our bellies that we become Christians? It is the salvation we want!” At another time, he declared, “My heart burns to go and tell my people on the mountains of this religion. As soon as my foot is better, I’ll leave.” Thus, twenty-seven people in total were baptized on this first day, of whom thirteen were women. Omed W. Momin as pastor was consecrated on that very day by Dr. Miles Bronson. By admonishing him to “range the hills, to preach, to baptize, to do the work of a Christian pastor, and “to be faithful until death.” Therefore, on that day alone, there were 27 members in addition to Omed, Ramke, and Rangku. The First Garo Church was founded in Rajasimla. Then, in front of everybody, Dr. Bronson ordained Omed W. Momin was appointed as the pastor and was given the duties of a Christian pastor, including “range the hills,” “preach,” “baptize,” and “be faithful until death.”

Monday 15th: April 1867
Dr. Miles Bronson was about to leave Rajasimla to say goodbye to the people when they went into the chapel and Omed told him that ten more people in the village didn’t want him to leave without counting them as followers of Christ. Dr. Bronson wasted no time in leading them back to the stream, where he alternately baptized them with Rev. Omed W. Momin and Suban/Suboni, Ramke’s wife. This demonstrated to the Garos that baptism performed by his or my hands was equivalent, Dr. Bronson continued. Rev. Omed W. Momin used the baptismal formula in Garo, and in Assamese, Dr. Bronson did. A church with forty Garo Christians, including helpers, exists in one village as a result. God gave Omed and Ramke the desire to ask to be sent to teach their countrymen there, said Dr. Bronson.

I saw their earnestness. I saw God’s hand in it, and although I had no funds, I dared not say, No. I can only say, This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes!
(—Dr. Miles Bronson)

 

First Church on Garo Soil, Vol-1

First Church on Garo Soil, Vol-1

In the 1800s, the American Baptist Mission Society started working in North East India. They most likely set up mission stations in the Nowgong and Goalpara areas of Assam. But even though people worked hard for years, not much progress was made. While Omed and Ramke did many great things, one of the most impressive is how they brought Christianity to the Garo people of the Garo Hills. E.G. Phillips says that the names of these first two followers, Omed W Momin and Ramke W Momin, must be included in any history book that talks about how Christianity came to the Garo people. On April 14, 1867, Dr. Miles Bronson opened the First Church on Garo Soil, where Omed W Momin worked hard and constantly. It was in Rajasimla that Momin was made the first ordained pastor of the church.

The Garos Before Christianity

William Carey

The Garos, along with the bulk of hill tribes in the Northeast, have seen substantial turmoil in the last two to three centuries, notably after the establishment of colonial governance in the region. William Carey observed that the speech of the Garos may sometimes be characterized by a dissonant sound like the collision of metal with stone. The Garos were averse to being governed by individuals from other tribes due to their dissimilar physical attributes. In addition, they were unwilling to impose taxes on zamindars residing in the plain regions. On many cases, when the tax collectors demanded payment, they were unable to remain silent and instead resorted to killing the individuals, decapitating them, and seizing control of their settlements. In 1852, Lord Dalhousie made the following statement:

“…But these furious people those who do not obey, not useful at all, even not heeded completely will bring a great tragic and dreadful doom. Though we may send strong soldiers to control them, our work and struggle will go in vain. Even though we try to control North-East hillsides, it becomes useless… therefore; I myself suggest that we should completely remove them from any angle. Until and unless we caught and tortured these crazy killers will continue and will dominant over all…”1

Keeping these suggestions in mind, it became highly satisfactory since the British government decided to accept this and subsequently chose to arrange the Garos’ major strike in protest of the previously mentioned problems, even though this strike significantly harmed their day-to-day existence. They were promised not to behave in such vile ways against the government, and they were persuaded to stop their negative habits and actions.

Earliest attempt at converting the Garos to Christianity
Professor Lindrid D. Shira said about David Scott:
“The Garo people could not forget David Scott, who was a British Commissioner to the whole North-Eastern Frontier of India for which he contributed a lot of good things. Though he could not do much to Garos in terms of the Christian religion, with much struggle he invited some of the American missionaries to work with their full commitment.”2

David Scott first encountered the Garos in 1816 when he was sent to handle problems on the Garo frontiers. He dealt with this ferocious tribe with the utmost diplomacy, and he soon won their obstinate hearts. He was certain that only the spiritual power of the Christian faith channeled through the medium of missionary schools, could ever bring the Garos lasting peace and benefit. He also held the opinion that a missionary was more important to tame this warlike tribe than a captain or a civilian, and he made an effort to convert the Garos to Christianity using this clear-cut belief as his guiding principle. David Scott put a lot of effort into securing missionary personnel to start schools among the Garos in order to achieve this. It’s clear from his letter to Mr. M. B. Baily, a Secretary to the government that he was willing to donate some of his own money to this cause:

“I am satisfied that nothing permanently good can be obtained by other means. I would greatly prefer two or more Moravian missionaries who, along with religion would teach the useful arts. If the Government would insure them subsistence only, I would be willing to take on myself the expense.”3

The American Mission Board decided to find the two missionaries with this crucial consideration in mind after receiving this brief appeal to the Secretary of the Government. However, due to the listed missionaries’ inability to perform as the Board had anticipated, these things did not, in some ways, turn out as planned. While in Assam, Commissioner and Agent to the Governor-General of Bengal, Captain (later General) Francis Jenkins, who shared his interest in and viewpoints regarding the Garos, founded a school in Goalpara district in 1847. His goal was to educate young Garo people in order to send them back to civilize their own people, much like David Scott.

Birthplace and Early Days of Omed and Ramke
Omed W. Momin was born in 1832 in the quaint hamlet of Watrepara.4 Omed was a born leader who was impulsive and forceful from a young age. Despite having been born in the wild, he became interested in reading and writing after going to a nearby market and finding a government interpreter who spoke fluent Bengali.5 Omed was always devoted to his nephew Ramke because he was the older of the two and because he was Ramke’s uncle. He made it a point to impart whatever wisdom or talent he had gained to Ramke. After living there with his uncle Omed for five or six years, Ramke W. Momin was born in 1838. Ramke, a boy of 11 or 12 years old, was for a time prevented by his stepfather, who preferred his assistance with the jhum cultivation to his education. When he was younger, he had a strong belief in demons and worked diligently to defeat them, frequently trapping wild birds to sacrifice to them.6 Ramke was deeply religious and did his best to uphold his native faith even before he accepted Christ as his Savior.7

Education of Omed and Ramke
In an effort to exert some influence and control over the tribe, the government established a school for Garo boys in Goalpara in 1847. Despite their lack of understanding of how providence was guiding them.8 The news that the government wanted Garo boys for a school at Goalpara and would feed, clothe, educate, and produce great men for them was announced one day in 1847 by beating the drums at the Rangjuli market. The rumors reached Omed and Ramke’s neighborhood in the nearby hills as well.9 Omed and Ramke signed up for formal schooling at Goalpara along with a group of young Garos. After some time, it was decided that it would be wise to broaden their perspectives by sending them on a government-funded steamer to Gauhati. The Garo boys were very drawn to a regiment of Sepoy that was stationed there. Omed was asked to participate at first, but he declined. Jongrin and Ronja were initially enlisted. Ramke returned to school to finish his studies at Goalpara, but Omed was compelled and was forced to join the police at Gauhati before he could finish his education.10

Conversion and baptism of Ramke and Omed
The period of active planning for the establishment of the Church in the Garo Hills was between 1847 and 1867. Even though they did everything they could during this time to make the best of things, neither of them was happy with Garo’s doctrine of rebirth after death. Omed and Ramke were resentful of this doctrine since they were young and started looking for other religions that would assure them of eternal happiness.11 Omed was tasked in 1857 as a sepoy with guarding a mission house in Gauhati that would be temporarily occupied by a British officer. He was such a thoroughly honest and sincere sepoy while guarding the bungalow under British discipline that he even resisted the urge to take some old tracks that were scattered on the floor. He hastily picked up one of them and tucked it under his shirt one day after the sweeper had swept some of them outside. Omed read the tract that night incessantly out of curiosity and in Bengali under the title “Apattinashak“ (“Apati Nashak” means ‘The Destroyer of Objections.’ It explained the Christian faith and disposed of different objections to its acceptance). He finally located what he had been looking for for a while.12 However, he didn’t share this idea with anyone until he happened to run into Samuel Loveday, a Bengali Christian who was working as a contractor in Gauhati. In 1859, Loveday persuaded Omed to visit the pastor and attend church services. He also persisted in his conversations with Kandura Smith, but Omed refrained from seeking baptism because, like many hill-men, he found it difficult to give up drinking rice beer.13

Ramke, on the other hand, started studying the Hindu Sastras (bibles) after enrolling at the Goalpara School and sought advice from the Sadhus seated beneath the tall trees there. Ramke spent about 8 or 9 years as a practicing Hindu after being persuaded by the sadhus’ explanation of the Sastras. He began and ended the day by saying “Ram,” respecting the Brahmins, and generously giving them alms from his meager allowance as instructed by Sadhu. A Christian tract called Apatti Nashak was distributed at Goalpara by a group of traveling Baptist missionaries led by Rev. In the winter of 1856, Ruprecht Bion and Ram Jivan traveled from Dacca. He was once more overcome with utter hopelessness and despair after reading this tract. His appointment as a teacher at the Rangjuli Primary School, where he spent about eleven months, distracted him, though. On the advice of a Brahmin, he returned to Goalpara after that and continued his studies there for a while. Omed recently expressed his growing interest in Jesus Christ in a letter to Ramke. Ramke was overjoyed and made his way to Gauhati as soon as the school let out for the summer. There, he enrolled in the Normal School and studied for a year.14 Omed told him there about his brief encounter with the enigmatic tract. In actuality, the nephew and uncle shared a common interest in spirituality and frequently discussed how they felt about spirituality. They were both seekers of the eternal truth. A lively debate about which religion—Hinduism, Islam, or Christianity—they should follow soon broke out between them. The older of the two, Omed, expressed the following opinion:

The animistic belief of our Garo people is indeed detestable. Hindus practice the caste system. If we become Hindus, we will have to stay away from our relatives. Besides, even Ramayana does not teach anything about the salvation of the soul. In the Koran of the Muslims, indeed there is a promise of God to make the followers of Islam a great nation; but not much importance is given to the soul of human beings. Therefore, after examining what is written in the booklet (tract) and after weighing all the pros and cons, it seemed to me that Christianity is the best and the truest of all religions.15

Omed and Ramke were examined by Kandura Smith, who after being persuaded of their sincerity, promised to recommend their baptism to Dr. Miles Bronson when he next traveled to Gauhati. In the end, the baptism was performed for the first time on February 8, 1863, at Sukheswar Ghat in Gauhati. Few people present at the ceremony on the riverbank that day could have foreseen the contribution that the first two Garo Christians would soon make to the cause of Christ.16 Formerly barbaric Garos sat down at the Lord’s table that afternoon for the first time, partaking of the symbols of His broken body and shedding blood in holy fellowship with Him and those who had pointed them to Him as the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world.17

Sukheswar Ghat 1863

Sukheswar Ghat 1863

 

The Arrival of Christianity in the Garo Hills
They wanted to bring Christianity to their fellow Garos in the wild hills18 because they had been proven to be extraordinary Garo soul-winners after accepting it as their new religion. Stayed true to this belief, Omed and Ramke to find a missionary who could share the gospel with the Garos, asked Dr. Miles Bronson. Though his nephew agreed to go with him, neither Ramke’s wife Suban19 nor Omed’s wife Epiri20 gave their consent to be baptized or accept Christ as their Savior. Omed was, however, given the chance to receive specialized training at Nowgong, but he turned it down, citing his advanced age as justification.21 Because they were both completely untrained and inexperienced with the major evangelistic thrust in the wilderness, Dr. Miles Bronson and Kandura Smith disapproved of this idea. In order to be supported by the Christian community there, they persuaded the new converts to stay in Gauhati for a while longer, but they were adamant. However, Dr. Miles Bronson granted their request and agreed to pay them a meager salary before entrusting them with the task of evangelizing the Garo Hills. As a result, they both left their respective positions in March, and on May 10, 1864, they left Gauhati with their wives and children. They were then kept under the direct supervision of Captain Morton, the Deputy Commissioner of Goalpara.22 From Goalpara, they traveled to Damra, where they spent the night and conducted open preaching at the weekly market,23 which is how Omed and Ramke in order to reach their own people, became the first missionaries.

(Volume-2 continues)

 

 

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