The two pioneer missionaries Rev F.W. Savidge and J.H. Lorrain, who arrived in Mizoram in 1894 and left for Arunchal in 1897 came back to Mizoram as Missionaries of the BMS in 1903 where they first landed at Tlabung and moved north where they then settled at Serkawn, Lunglei. The first believers’ Baptism in Mizoram took place at Nghasih river on 20th January, 1904 when 23 believers were baptized, 12 by J.H. Lorrain and 11 by F.W. Savidge. The first Communion service was held on 25th of January 1904 at Sethlun Church. From the beginning the pioneer missionaries employed education and literature as means of evangelisation for the Mizo people. Savidge, a professional teacher before he became a missionary was an expert in identifying potential leaders and training them. Lorrain, on the other hand was a born linguist and he devoted himself to Bible translation and production of Christian literature. Thus, they are rightly regarded to be the ones who laid the foundation of Christian literature and education in Mizoram. They also started medical work, which was always mentioned in their annual reports. Their wives also started education of women simultaneously. Mrs. Savidge actually was a trained teacher who taught at Calcutta Girls’ School run by the Scottish Church Mission.
The Second batch of BMS missionaries, two ladies, O.E. Dicks, a nurse and E.M. Chapman, a teacher joined the pioneers in 1919 to promote women’s education and medical work. Against the prevailing prejudice to women education of the time they were able to get a few girls who became the nucleus and innovators of women ministry. At the end of 1922, two more lady missionaries, E. M. Oliver, a nurse and M. Clark, a teacher joined the mission staff, but nurse O. E. Dicks had to take an early furlough in 1923 for health reason and never came back. Savidge was able to write about the women’s work as follows: The year 1922 – 1923 will be remembered as an eventful one in the history of women’s work of South Lushai. It has been truly a great year during which our God has worked many miracles amongst us, far above all that we could ask or think.
Savidge retired in 1925 and Rev. W. J. L Wenger took his place. Another nurse, I. M. Good joined the mission staff in 1928. Wenger was transferred in 1931 and Rev. and Mrs. Carter came to replace him. Rev. and Mrs. Lorrain also retired in 1932 and Rev. and Mrs. F. J. Raper came in their place. The two new couples continued the good work of the pioneer missionaries. Scouting was introduced by them in 1932 and it was a very good functional substitute of the traditional Zawlbuk training for boys. Girls Auxiliary was introduced by the lady missionaries at the same time and the two movements spread swiftly in the villages giving the opportunities to boys and girls to learn to cooperate in social service.
BMS missionaries were also successful in developing Mizo literature, poetry, music and drama by including them in the school curriculum and school concerts. As early as 1908 Lorrain was able to write –
The printing of Lushai hymn book which comprises all the hymns to the Welsh Mission in North Lushai as well as our own has also demanded a good deal of devotion. We are expecting this book very shortly from the printing press. It contains two hundred and seventy three hymns, a good number for so young a mission. We are now trying to curb the poetic zeal of our people; otherwise, they will be expecting from us a supplement every year containing the hymns they have composed.
From 1933, singing festivals were held in most pastorates. In 1935, Ms. Chapman introduced Graded Sunday School and Sunday School lessons were prepared for all the departments. It was a great development for studying God’s word. By the year 1934 one of the trained nurses married a chief of a big village and four women teachers also got married. Commenting on that Ms Chapman said, “We feel we are answering effectively one of the earliest objections of girls’ education here that an educated girl could not secure a husband.” Mention should also be made that Mr. Raper received a gift of a Printing Press in 1938 for the work in Mizoram and Mr Raper wrote the following:-
The Press was dedicated and named “The South Lushai Church Press”. We are now printing a small Lushai Primer to sell for one pice (a farthing) and I hope to renew the campaign throughout the country and get every boy and girl to learn to read, even though there is not a school in every village.
In 1944 the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the pioneer missionaries in Mizoram was celebrated throughout Mizoram. By this time the Christian community within the BMS field was 23,108. There were new developments in education as well. A second Girls Middle School was opened. Ms Chapman wrote in 1938 that the rapid growth of girls’ education presented a unique problem. Many girls who wanted to study in the mission school were turned down. By this time there was strong pressure from the public and the chiefs to open more schools.
At the time of Golden Jubilee celebrations, the Church decided to open a Bible School and requested the BMS to send a suitable person who had theological background. In response the BMS sent Rev. R.F. Tucker, BD, in 1945 and Jubilee Bible School was inaugurated in 1946. Tucker was the first Principal and he was assisted by Mizo ministers working in the mission station. The school was run jointly by the BMS and BCM on fifty- fifty support basis. It served as a training center for ministers and lay leaders, and two of them became the General Secretary of the BCM. The school was upgraded to Missionary Training Institute in 1991. It was again upgraded by the decision of the Assembly and reconstituted and inaugurated on 18th October 2000 as an Academy of Integrated Christian Studies, a BD college with other training, and was immediately granted provisional affiliation by the Senate of Serampore College (University).
There were no High Schools in Mizoram till 1944 when a private high school was started in Aizawl. The second high school in Mizoram was opened at Lunglei in 1948. The first Headmaster of Lunglei Rev R.F. Tucker and the first science teacher, Rev. H.W. Carter were BMS missionaries. The school was soon provincialised by the Assam government and successive headmasters were alumni of the mission schools for some years. The second college in Mizoram was opened at Lunglei in 1963 and eventually became a Government College.
Anticipating the departure of overseas missionaries from India, the BMS made special provision for National Leadership Training Fund in their Annual budget since mid 1950s. Most of the present BCM Pastors could receive theological training through this fund and four church leaders went aboard for further studies and experiences. Medical work of the BMS also was developing gradually. Out- patient wing of the hospital was opened in 1939 by Dr. C.C. Chesterman, BMS Medical Officer At the Headquarters in London who visited the station. But the hospital at Serkawn was without a doctor till Dr. H.G. stockley came in 1957. BMS doctor at Chandraghona, Dr. Teichman and later Dr. Bottom used to pay annual visits staying for a month or so. They were employed to do necessary operations in the hospital during their stay.
During the 65 years of BMS work in Mizoram, 23 missionaries, seven married couples and nine single ladies served in the field. There was no loss of life while they were in the land. Had he been allowed by the BMS, Savidge would have remained all his life. Since he had to leave the country and the people he dearly loved, he took with him a tin can full of Serkawn soil so that when he died a bit of Mizoram might be buried with him.
The work of the faithful missionaries of the BMS was so blessed by God that when the last missionary had to leave the country, they left a self- supporting, self- governing, self- propagating and missionary sending church. After the departure of the BMS, the BCM continues to receive financial help for training leaders and for building constructions including the Baptist Houses at Aizawl and Shillong and the Academy of Integrated Christian Studies.
During the first few years, the pioneer missionaries F.W. Savidge and J.H. Lorrain divided responsibilities among themselves. Savidge looked after the Education and Medical works until medical missionaries arrived, whereas Lorrain was in-charge of Evangelisation, Sunday School, and the Church. The year 1914 was a very remarkable year in the history of the Baptist Church in Mizoram. It was the year in which the first Presbytery was held. This for a long time to come was the highest Church Council. It was also the year Rev. Chuautera, the first Baptist Pastor was ordained. In the same year, the mission introduced a Station Committee, which was to discuss the works of the missionaries and make plans for the future. This committee was purely for the mission and all its members were exclusively from the mission and it was confined within the mission compound. Outside the mission compound, the Church had its own committee to look after its affairs such as the local Church committee, Pastorate committee, and the Presbytery. As we have in the Church record, there were 141 local churches in 1946. The total membership of the church was 27,357 of which 10,525 were baptized members. There were 16 ordained pastors and two retired pastors.
In March 1946, a Presbytery meeting was held at Haulawng village. In that Presbytery Rev. H.S. Luaia was elected as the Church Secretary of the BCM and thus he took the rein of the church. In the same year Dr. Williamson, a prominent representative of the BMS came to Mizoram. He spoke about the need of integrating the mission and the native church. It is believed that the mission committee also took up this matter in their meetings. This was the first time the integration of the church and mission was introduced.
In 1947 the annual Presbytery meeting was held at Zotlang. In this meeting the Station Committee put forward the matter concerning the integration of the Church and Mission, which was previously discussed with Dr. Williamson. The meeting decided that the matter be discussed in all Pastorates and thereafter be discussed in the next Presbytery. But the presbytery could not decide on fully incorporating Church and Mission. Therefore a Joint Committee was formed with representatives from both the Church and Mission, consisting 17 members – eight from the church and nine from the Mission. This committee was existed for 10 years and had 43 meetings.
In 1957, Rev. EGT Madge, BMS Field Secretary for India came to Mizoram and attended the annual Presbytery meeting at Theiriat. He proposed fully merging the Church and Mission under one administration, which would be administered by the Mizo Church Leaders. The Presbytery gladly and whole-heartedly accepted this proposal. The Presbytery appointed five members who were to be responsible for the division of departments after the integration of Church and mission. The Committee then decided to complete the formalities by January 1959. For a smooth administration of the Church, four departments were made to look after the different works of the Church. The departments were i) Education, ii) Medical, iii) Literature, iv) General department. From this time onwards, a new era was ushered in the life of the Mizo Baptist Church. From January 1959, each department was under its departmental committee. This transition from mission to church is a significant milestone in the history of the Church.
History of the General Department: The administration of the Church, Sunday School, Property, and Finance were under the General Department. Moreover, any other works, which were not under any specific department, were also put under this department. There were no difficulties with regards to property and finance in the years preceding the integration of mission and the church nor after the integration. It was the responsibility of the Finance Secretary to look after the departments under the supervision of the Church Secretary or the General Secretary. On the other hand, from 1903 – 1945 till we had a fulltime Church Secretary, the missionaries took turns looking after the administration of the Church. These missionaries represented the mission in the meetings of the Church at the Local, Pastorate, or Presbytery levels. The Office Bearers of these meetings however were elected separately, and the missionaries did not always interfere by use of authority. Therefore, when the idea of integration was discussed in the Church, it was sometimes difficult for them to impose their ideas on the issues. With our shortcomings and impediments, it was the missionaries who guided us with parental concerns. This made the integration of the Church and Mission possible.
Mizo people all along have been a tightly knit community who lived in compact areas homogeneously. Hardly any non-Mizo mixed with them. About a hundred years ago, two tribes, the Brus and the Chakmas entered Mizoram from the western part of Mizoram. They now occupy the western belt of Mizoram. The Chakmas were Buddhists which they might have embraced while they were in Myanmar, and the Bru people were animists. Some members of the Baptist Church began to have a burden to evangelise these tribes. The matter was put up in the assembly of BCM held on March 10, 1939 at Thiltlang village. It was resolved that evangelists should be sent to work among Bru and Chakma, and they should be fully sponsored by the Church and the offerings collected on Easter Sunday should be dedicated for this project. By God’s grace, six men offered themselves for this mission work including Rev. Zathanga who was already a full time worker. Mr. Kawha and Mr. Siama of Sirte village were chosen and appointed the first full time evangelists with effect from 28.10.1939.
The BCM Assembly of 1945 resolved to enlarge the work of evangelism among the Bru and Chakma. The mission among them steadily progressed and it may be said that all Brus of Mizoram became Christians and several thousand of Chakmas also accepted Christianity. A number of Churches have been established among these two tribes. In the wake of an encouraging response from the Brus and Chakmas, BCM has taken up the task of evangelism of Non-Mizo people coming from outside of Mizoram. These non-Mizos come for various reasons viz. government service, business, and as daily labourers. Every year about a hundred persons receive Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour and a number of fellowship services get established in different parts of Mizoram.
God in his grace does not want the BCM to limit her mission and evangelistic work within Mizoram but to enlarge the space of their tent. To meet this challenge a full fledged mission committee was formed in 1966 and it was called the Zoram Baptist Mission. The committee has a full time secretary and Constitution and Rules were formed within the Constitution and Rules of the BCM. The Church was prepared by the Holy Spirit to send out missionaries beyond Mizoram to make disciples of al tribes. BCM received a Macedonian call from different parts of India by different people to help them and to work together for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom in their respective regions. At present BCM operates in seven states in India among 20 people groups or tribes and has missionaries to five foreign countries. About 600 churches have been established which consist of 48,680 members. Apart from sending Mizo missionaries, the Church also supports several local workers, and at present the number is 233. On an average, the number of new converts is about a thousand in a year.