“I remember saying to myself and others that if I don’t find a church I’ll start one.”
Shalom Logos recounts his quest for a church in a little town in Arunachal Pradesh
13 February 2019,
Right from the time I decided to join as a teacher at Jhamtse Gatsal, I had been worrying about finding a church in Tawang. I knew the importance of a fellowship with God’s people and I started asking around if anyone knew of any churches in the area. I was still in Hyderabad and attending a church there. We usually spend time with each other in the church for a while after the service is over. After one of the services I ran into a believer who had worked in Arunachal Pradesh. He had actually worked in Itanagar and he told me how difficult it would be to find a church in Tawang. He also told about a few sufferings christians go through in that region. From what he said I assumed that finding a church would be a huge challenge. I remember saying to myself and others that if I don’t find a church I’ll start one.
I left Hyderabad and I had a month I could spend at home before I had to leave to my new job (My home is in Kanyakumari). I sat at home spending a lot of time over the internet trying to look for churches in the area. I got news about opposition to construction of churches and no other information of any churches. I came across “Town Baptist Church, Tawang” on Facebook but I couldn’t get in touch with them because there wasn’t any contact information provided. Even their posts were very old and I doubted if the church still existed. My time to leave home for Tawang was drawing near and I didn’t know any churches still. I knelt down and prayed to God to show me a church or at least a small gathering of believers. I left home at the end of May 2018 completely depending on God to show me a church. I longed for His fellowship and I entrusted my longings to Him.
I reached Tawang on June 1. I asked a few teachers in my school if they knew any churches only in vain. Jhamtse Gatsal is a Buddhist school with most teachers and students following Buddhism. The entire area of Tawang is populated by a tribe called Monpa, who were a part of Tibet once and they all follow Buddhism. Tawang is on the Himalayas, 40 km from Tibet and 30 km from Bhutan by road. The distance would be shorter if you walked through the mountains. Still unable to find a church, I stayed in my room on June 3 which was the first Sunday here, praying to God to show me a church.
On that evening, I received a call from one of my friends and she said she knew someone in Itanagar who might know a church in Tawang. She sent me his number. I called him and he directed me to someone else and after a series of calls that frequently got disconnected due to the poor network here, I found out that there was a small gathering of believers in Tawang and that I could join them the next Sunday. My school was near a town called Lumla, that was 50 km away from Tawang and it would take 2 hours on road to reach Tawang from there. I had never been to Tawang, except when I passed through it when I came to school a week back but I made up my mind to go there anyway. I was that desperate.
So I asked around how I could go to Tawang. A few old teachers told me that I could get a “Line Sumo” from Lumla to Tawang for Rs 150. Everyone travels in line sumos here in the mountains. It’s a Tata Sumo in which 12 people are packed at the mercy of the driver to reach their destination in one piece through the ice cold mountains. This line sumo would leave Lumla to Tawang at 6:30 am. If I got on this, I could reach Tawang by 8:30 am and that would give me an hour to find the church my friend told me over the phone. I made these calculations in my mind and decided to go to church. Though I didn’t know how I was going to return from Tawang, I was very excited. God had answered my prayers.
I forgot to mention that Lumla was about 10km away from my school and I had no means of covering this distance before I could get my line sumo. So I decided that I’ll walk this distance. I slept early the previous night and woke up at 3 in the morning. I took an hour to get ready because I had to pack as though I was going on a trek. I took my raincoat, wore a thick jacket for the cold, carried some water and my Bible in my backpack and started walking to Lumla at 4 am. I had trekked before and I was very confident that 10 kms wouldn’t be a problem.
Due to the freezing weather and the terrain of the Himalayas, I was tired after just one km. The roads in this region is very bad and as I walked I remembered missionaries like Sadhu Sundar Singh who had walked on worse terrains.
I praised God as I was able to experience a small percentage of what these great missionaries went through. I prayed to God for strength as I had to cover the distance by 6:30 to catch my line sumo. After walking half the distance, my foot was sore and it started raining. I took a short break, put on my raincoat, said a few prayers and continued walking. It was very scenic and I was enjoying the walk now.
I had been walking in the mountains for 2 hours and still there was no sign of a town nearby. I started worrying and when I looked at my watch I started feeling that I wasn’t going to make it to Lumla before 6:30 to get my line sumo. With the distance I had walked, I started thinking that I was lost because the road didn’t seem to end. Thoughts of walking back started coming to my head. As I kept walking, I started thinking about the years before I was saved in Mysore when I lived just a five minute ride away from my church and chose not to attend though my pastor insisted. Back then partying on Saturdays was more important. But after experiencing God’s grace and knowing in my heart that “Better is one day in His courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” (Psalm 84:10), I wanted to make it to church at any cost.
I prayed again and committed my day to His will. I continued walking and I could see a few shops at a distance. I praised God that I wasn’t lost. By the time I reached Lumla it was already past 7 am. When I asked around, people told me that all the line sumos had gone. Dejected I was prepared to start my walk back after taking some rest. But I thought I’ll just walk to the end of the town to see if there are any line sumos. As I walked I was surprised to see a bus, more like a van ready to leave. I went upto the conductor and asked where they were headed. He said Tawang! I have no words to express how I felt at that instant. God had again answered my prayers. He did not bring me this far in vain. Now I believed completely that God will take me to church today.
The bus left at 7:30 am and after one stop for breakfast it reached Tawang at 9:30 am. I kept calling my friend who was supposed to guide me to church but he wasn’t answering. Thinking he might be in church, I decided to look for the church myself. Tawang is a huge town but since he had already told me the area in which the church is, I enquired around and walked to that place. I searched for about 30 minutes walking up and down the hilly town when I came across a board that read “Revival Church, Tawang”. A great rush of joy filled my heart. I went in and the service had already begun. I just thanked God for His faithfulness throughout the service. Most of the service was in the local language and I barely understood anything. Still I was filled with inexpressible joy to be in His presence.
The service ended at 12 and I had to rush back to the bus stand to take the bus back to Lumla. The bus left Tawang at 1 pm and reached Lumla at 3 pm. I had some food and started my walk back to school. I wasn’t tired to walk. I walked back thanking God for I depended on Him and He was faithful. My friend called me later that evening and I told him what had happened. He said he went to a different church and that the service was in Hindi there. Though I learnt very less Hindi during my time in Hyderabad, I was again glad that God showed me a church where I can understand the worship and the message and be part of it. It was 5 in the evening when I reached school. I just thanked God and slept.
Everyone I met in school was surprised that there was a church in Tawang. They were even more surprised and curious why I would go through so much to attend church. God had now opened a way to share His gospel to them. I prayed to God for the courage, strength and words and God helped me share the gospel to both children and staff at Jhamtse Gatsal. So the next week I went to the church my friend mentioned, “Town Baptist Church, Tawang”. This was the same church I had seen online before I came here. Though I had to walk for 2 hours, take a bus ride for another 2 hours and walk again for 30 minutes to reach church and again do the same thing to return to school, I wasn’t going to miss even a single Sunday service. God helped me to attend the service in Tawang every week from June to August. There were days when teachers called me for parties on Saturday nights which I turned down. I wasn’t going to miss being with God for anything.
Almost everyday during this time wherever I went people started asking about my faith. They wanted to know what drew me to church every Sunday. Children from the youngest to the oldest, teachers, housemothers, the kitchen staff and even the director of the school was curious. God just opened ways for me to share the gospel to all of them and I never missed an opportunity. During one of these days, one of the teachers asked if she could join me on my weekend outings and I agreed. I used all the time travelling to church and back talking about the love of Christ that draws me to do anything for Him. A few other teachers also joined in the later weeks. Though they did not believe in Christ, they still came and I began praying for them.
One Sunday in August one of the believers told me that a missionary named Nelson had started a church in Lumla and that I should go there instead of coming this far to attend church. I bid my farewell to everyone at Town Baptist Church and thanked them for being a blessing in my life. God spoke to me through the church every week and strengthened me by helping me actively participate in the affairs of the church for the three months that I went there. I read on the internet that the number of Christians in Tawang was about 0.04%. I began praying for Tawang from the time God brought me here and decided to continue doing so.
The next Sunday I didn’t have to start walking at 4 am. I left the school at 7 am and I reached the church by 9 am. I had spoken to Bro.Nelson earlier and I was glad to meet him there. Again I thanked God for His provisions. Many more people were surprised in my school that there was a church now at Lumla but I was glad. This not only meant that I didn’t have to spend my entire day in travel but it also meant that the gospel of our beloved Lord was spreading in this region. He died for all the people and how much valuable is that message for the Monpa people.
The church at Lumla was very small. It was a shed attached to a house whose owner was gracious to lend to us to worship God. The shed was made of wooden walls and wooden f looring elevated above the ground to store some firewood. It had a tin roof. It could accommodate 12 chairs apart from the small altar that could have 3 chairs. It was a big church for us though since we were just 10 people. Some days it was just me and Bro. Nelson. During those days we still praised God and worshipped Him. It was humbling but so was our beloved Christ’s birth. It was not about the manger or the audience that day but it was about the Lord who was born that day. Similarly it wasn’t about the tin shed or us who were so few in number but it was about God’s presence. We named our church, “Immanuel Church, Lumla” because we knew God was with us.
It became my routine every Sunday now to walk to Lumla. The members included Bro. Nelson, his wife and 2 children, 4 nurses from the Lumla health centre and a few local people. God strengthened us in answer to our prayers. We prayed for the entire region of Lumla to turn to God. There were opposition to sharing the gospel openly but we still managed to pray for the locals and use opportunities when they asked us about our faith. God has turned a few locals to him but they don’t attend church in fear of being left out of their tribe.
One of my biggest joys came during Christmas. We decided to do a special service on that day and we were free to invite anyone. We decided to pitch in Rs 500 per head and buy gifts that we would get based on lot. I took this opportunity and opened invitation to all the staff in Jhamtse Gatsal. 16 teachers decided to come to church that day and I didn’t have the money to pay 500 per person. When I told my mother, she gladly paid the money for all of them saying that this would be the best Christmas gift she has ever given me. My worry now was how our small church was going to accommodate all of them. We just submitted it into the hands of God. It’s His house and He is the host. On that day we got chairs from the nearby medical centre and packed 25 chairs in the church. Though all of us couldn’t sit or stand without our legs pushing the chairs around, no one really cared about comfort. I again thanked God for bringing all these teachers to church and opening the way for the gospel to be shared to them. Bro. Nelson spoke about what Christmas really meant after which we exchanged gifts and had a great feast together. All the teachers thanked us but I was elated when one of the teachers came and told me that He never knew the real meaning of Christmas til that day. I knew a seed had been sown in each of their hearts.
That evening I got an opportunity to address the entire school, adults and children combined. God gave me the courage and the words to stand before them and share my faith as all of them listened in silence. I told them that Christmas was not about a tree, gifts, santa, new clothes or food. I told them It was about what’s written in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life”. And that this love has been taking me to church every Sunday. God loved me so much that He gave His only Son and there is nothing that I could ever do to match His love. All I could do was to live for Him. Every child and adult in that room understood my faith that day. A lot of children and teachers came up to me to learn more about Christ. I was teaching Chemistry the next day and at the end of the lesson, I asked, “Any doubts” and to my surprise, a kid in my class asked a question about Christ and I shared the gospel again.
I am looking at the end of the academic year as I write this. None of the teachers or kids in my school have turned to God. The number of Christians in Tawang is still 0.04%. Most people are still Buddhists. They still say their prayers. They still spin their prayer wheels. They still tie their prayer flags. They still roll their prayer beads. Nothing has changed in Lumla. Nothing has changed in Tawang. Monpa people still don’t know Christ. But I believe that all of this will change someday. Because that has been my prayer and the prayer of the church. God has been faithful this far and He will always remain faithful. I believe that God will build His church and use it for the extension of His kingdom. To this work we all are God’s slaves.
As you come to Him, the Living Stone — rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him — you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.” Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
– I Peter 2: 4-7