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)

 

  1. William Carey, The Garo Jungle Book, p84-85.
  2. “Nokpante” means a bachelor house that was built in the middle place of the village where young boys stay together. In this bachelor house, youngsters slept, played, and learned the indigenous arts and cultures together.
  3. William Carey, p85-86.
  4. William Carey, p85-86.
  5. “Beginnings of Christianity in the Garo hills of Meghalaya”, in ABDK Quasqui Centenary Souvenir, p5.
  6. William Carey, p87.
  7. Omed’s hut first was made from bamboo and grasses. At present, it was coated with cement. There, he called the people for a little rest with a slice of betel nut and a puff of tobacco smoking.
  8. These six ‘murderous’ people came down to Rajasimla to wipe out Omed’s family. They were from Watrepara namely: Deasing, Achallang, Chella Asanpa, Bikgarangpa, Kallu, and Maru. During those days, they were furious and popularly well-known as ‘matgrik’ or warriors.
  9. “Koasi” hill was situated at the eastward of Rajasimla village. There was a litter of sacrificial rely on that lays all about–eggshells, feathers, tufts of bamboo, blood and the worship of this demon dominates the country around. In this hill, there was no mere godling of the valley or sprite of wood and the stream, but the powerful devil whose voice is thunder, whose tread shakes the earth. At certain seasons there was a constant succession of pilgrims toiling up. The trees on the summit are sacred, and sacred stones lie at their roots, which have been watered with blood. See, William Carey, The Garo Jungle Book, p90.
  10. William Carey, p91-92.
  11. See, E.G. Phillips, “Historical Sketch of the Garo Field”, in The Assam Mission of the American Baptist Missionary Union: Papers and Discussions of Jubilee Conference, December 18-29, 1886 (Calcutta: Assam Mission of the American Baptist Missionary Union, 1887), p56; Melkior Ch. Sangma, in Chimik, Volume 6, No.8. June 2013 (Tura: n.p., 2013), p11.
  12. William Carey, p97-98.
  13. This monument’s name was written “Matcha Duru Weram” or “The swinging grove of Tigers” which means big cats (tigers) were coming down at night and swing and prowl at the big tree at night. At present, it has been erected with cement.
  14. This monument’s name was written as “Matcha Duru Weram” or “The swinging grove of Tigers” which means big cats (tigers) were coming down at night and swing and prowl at the big tree at night. At present, it has been erected with cement.
  15. Interview with Livingstone M. Sangma, Deacon of Rajasimla Baptist Church, May 9, 2013.
  16. K. I. Aier, The Growth of Baptist Churches…, p32.
  17. William Carey, p102.
  18. He was the right-hand man to Omed. About three months ago, he was unable to walk from a diseased foot. He had learned to read and write in the Government school at Goalpara and speaks Assamese well. He is a mountain Garo and one of the first to leave off the opposition and join Omed. His name was Ramsing Momin. See, “Letter from Dr. Miles Bronson”, in The Mission Magazine, Volume 47. No.11, 1867 (Boston: American Baptist Missionary Union, 1867), p446; William Carey, The Garo Jungle Book (New Delhi: Tura Book Room, 1993), p102; K.I. Aier, The Growth of Baptist Churches in Meghalaya (Gauhati: Christian Literature Centre, 1978), p33.

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