Mission Diminished

There was a time, a hundred years ago and more, when committed Christians from our little island carried the gospel to every obscure corner of the globe. We were famous for it, clocking up converts in dry deserts and on bleak mountain peaks.

The colonizing ambitions of Great Britain were one thing, but the tide of evangelism was flowing for us too. Whether or not it did us any good in the long term is another question. But, continent by continent, we spread the word and took the message worldwide.

In 1904, for example, the people of Wales - three hundred miles to the west of here - were considered our most enthusiastic missionaries. With their love of song and their musical voices they packed the pews wherever they went.

At that time the Welsh were building new chapels and churches at a rate of ten every week - enough to make Billy Graham jealous. And Welsh passion in the pulpit made them sure-fire exports. Soon fervent Welsh preachers were packed aboard Eastern-bound ships headed for the colonies, and particularly the vast sub continent of India.

Up to the hills in the North East they treked, braving extremes of climate and disease, to tame the natives of Mizoram and bring the word of the Lord to the most obscure people. It worked. The Mizos, Indian hill-tribesmen, still claim a powerful allegiance to the Christianity they learned all those years ago. And they still regard the Presbyterian Church of Wales as their "Mother" Church.

Today, only one in ten Welshmen go anywhere near a church or chapel. The buildings themselves are either falling down or already converted into private homes. Wales is fast becoming as heathen as North East India used to be. And the Mizos have just spotted it and decided to take action.

Which is why, if you visit the town of Mysteg in South Wales today, you can book in for a reviving yoga session in the local chapel. There, cross legged on the floor, you will probably meet the Reverend Hmar Sangkhuma. He has already made that long journey from North East India. He brought his wife and family too. He is now a missionary in what was the very heartland of Welsh Presbyterian Christianity. He has even developed a slight Welsh accent.

Soon he will be joined by other Indian priests. Because the Reverend Sangkhuma knows he needs help. He says that Wales, the nation that originally brought the good news to his own ancestors, has become a sad spiritual void - totally absorbed in materialism. How times change.

by Ed Boyle