Defined by faith

TESTIMONY: From head hunting to hallelujahs

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Mizoram is one of three states of India with a Christian majority (87 percent.) Located in Northern India, Mizoram is a land of rolling hills, valleys, rivers and lakes.

My people are the Mizos, a tribe living in northeastern India. In the late 1800s, we lived in spiritual darkness, our daily existence marked by the superstitious fear of offending animistic spirits, whom we sought to appease through ritual and sacrifice.

From an early age, our young men learned to protect the village from wild beasts and to defend our borders from other tribal groups. Great celebrations honored warriors who returned to the village with trophies—usually the heads of menacing animals or human enemies. Taking a human head provided the greatest honor a young warrior could hope to achieve.

The British Empire, eager to expand its tea plantations, knew little of these tribal borders. One British subject, Captain Winchester of the East India Company, extended his tea gardens too close to the Mizoram border. Young Mizo warriors descended on his plantation in the dead of night, killing Winchester and kidnapping his daughter. Soon the British army moved in to forcibly subjugate the intolerant tribe. But when Christians in Britain and Wales learned of the calamity, they were stirred with compassion.

On the heels of the army, they sent missionaries who patiently learned the language, translated the Bible and brought the gospel to this dark corner of the world. The Spirit of God poured over the region, and a spiritual awakening among the tribesmen spread like wildfire. Within a few short decades, most Mizo people converted to Christianity. To this day, church youth choirs sing Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” with gratefulness.

Faith in Christ defined my people. Even today it is common for our Christian identity to be built into our given names. For example, my name is Vanlalhmachhuani, which means “the King of Heaven [Vanlal] is my confidence [hmachhuan].” The word hmachhuan is a complex term, meaning something like shield, pride or protector. But it also carries the idea of accomplishing something that I cannot do on my own. Philippians 4:13 beautifully captures the meaning when it says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” That is hmachhuan.

My parents delighted us with stories of missionaries around the world. My grandfather was one of the first native missionaries. As a little girl, I dreamed of pouring out my life for Christ. My parents sent me to an English school (versus native speaking schools) with hopes that learning English would further my reach with spreading the Gospel. I resolved to attend Bible school, and the Lord opened an opportunity to come to America—all in preparation to share Christ. I sensed God’s presence with me, providing the strength and resources I needed.

Yet life has a way of sidetracking and distracting. I muddled through the culture shock of living in a Western materialistic culture. I married and started a family. Feeling the inferiority of living in a foreign land, I held back and just tried to blend in. I learned Americans don’t like to be made uncomfortable, so I began to believe that speaking less—even witnessing less—was what I needed to do to get along.

A few years ago, my sisters traveled from India to visit me. Despite our joyous reunion, I felt humbled by their observation. They told me I had lost my zeal and my confidence. I was stifled. I was cautious. I had forgotten that the King of Heaven is my hmachhuan.

But God’s fire never dies. It simply smolders until the Spirit fans the flame into a blaze. I began to pray for open doors, which God continues to open in abundance—at work, in my neighborhood and in the community. Witnessing can often be difficult in our American context. Like many of you, I must honor the regulations and restrictions of my secular workplace. But God is still my hmachhuan. He provides the opportunities and simply asks that I boldly trust him when those opportunities appear. By his grace, he is once again setting my heart ablaze.

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