History of Baptist Mission in Northeast India A Timeline (1836 – 2011) In 1836, aided by the British Commissioner of Assam, American Baptist mission work in present-day Northeast India was established - though as a way-station for work that would extend to the Shans of Burma and ultimately into China. By 1840 it was clear that the Shan mission was impracticable. As a result, the missionaries shifted their focus to the Assamese people. The vision included introducing the Gospel through childhood education, and through the dissemination of Scripture portions and tracts through the use of a printing press. By 1861, however, the mission could claim only 53 Assamese Christians in their three small churches. Plagued with funding problems, security concerns, missionary illness, internal disputes, and a Hindu population seemingly impervious to the Gospel message, the Mission Union questioned whether the Assam mission was worth keeping alive. The first generation of Assamese Christians, however, began to evangelize the indigenous communities living in the mountains. As a result, in 1867 the number of converts in the mission nearly doubled with the baptism of forty Garos. Five years later, nine Naga men were baptized, signaling the dawn of a bountiful harvest in the region. Though it took many decades to develop the mission work among the hill tribes, Christian conversions and church growth continued from this point on with few significant interruptions. Expanding into four main mission fields, namely Assam, the Garo Hills, the Naga Hills and Manipur, local evangelists were responsible for the most significant evangelistic work – leading often to mass conversions among their closest neighbors. Today there are ninety-four Baptist Associations, 7,804 churches, and 1,045,455 baptized believers related to the work of International Ministries of the American Baptist Churches, USA.
1832 Major Francis Jenkins, the British Governor General’s Agent and Commissioner for the Province explores Assam producing detailed daily entries over a six-month trip through Assam, discussing settlements, land use, natural resources, the navigability of waterways, local culture and language, and similar subjects (18 October 1832 to 27 April 1833)
1836 In compliance with the desire of Jenkins and several other friends of missions, application was made to the British Baptist missionaries in Calcutta, who being at that time unable to occupy the field, addressed the American missionaries in Burma, communicating the desire of the Commissioner, and representing that a location on the Northeast frontier with principal reference to the Shan or Khamti population, was a desirable position for the American Board to occupy, as it could soon be connected with their mission stations in Burma, and thus an immense population lying between Burma and Assam, and never yet visited by any missionary, be made accessible. It was resolved at once to embrace this opening of Providence, and accordingly Nathan and Eliza Brown and Oliver and Harriet Cutter, with a printing press, were deputed to undertake its establishment.
1836 Establishing a mission center to promote community organization through education, the new mission in Sadiya provided access to several Khamti villages, and Brown and Cutter began in earnest to produce and print tracts and small books in their language in preparation for the opening of their first school with 20 students.
1837 Miles Bronson and Jacob Thomas are appointed by the American Mission Board to join the Assam mission, arriving in Calcutta April 11, 1837. While traveling onward to Assam and up the Brahmaputra river, Thomas is killed suddenly by a falling tree from the river bank.
1838 Though deeply affected by the tragic death of Jacob Thomas, the mission sees great hope in working with the Khamtis, and soon added the Singphos, a numerous tribe intermingled with the Shyans, and lying in the great Hukong valley between Assam and Burma. Bronson moves to Jaipur to work more closely with the Singphos and Khamtis.
1839 Dr. Miles Bronson begins working among the Nagas in the immediate vicinity of Jaipur, and starts a school in the village of Namsang. Dr. Bronson also prepares several elementary works in their language. At the same time, the Khamtis around Sadiya unite in a general insurrection, attack and burn the station, killing the political agent Lt. Col. A. White and kill dozens of people. In retaliation, British forces burn Khamti villages, and the people are scattered. The unsettled state of the country between Assam and Burma, and the treacherous spirit manifested, both by the Shans and the Singphos, causes American missionaries to abandon hopes of ministry among the Shans of Burma and eventually China. The Browns and Cutters, with the press, shift to Jaipur. Cutter establishes more Assamese schools and writes a 252-page Vocabulary and Phrases in English and Assamese, published in 1840 from the Mission Press at Jaipur.
1840 Mr. and Mrs. Barker, and Miss. R. Bronson (sister to Miles Bronson) arrive to assist Miles Bronson in the new work among the Namsang Nagas. However Miss Bronson had devoted only a few weeks to the study of the Naga lanaguage, with the hope of devoting her life to the instruction of the youth, when a violent attack of fever removed her from the work she had so ardently desired to engage in. She died December 7, 1840.
1841 Nidhi Levi, the first Assamese convert, is baptized in the Buri Dihing river near Jaipur on 13th June 1841. Looking for a more suitable location to engage in his duties, Dr. Nathan Brown and his family shift to Sibsagar, while Cutter continues at Jaipur superintending the operations of the Baptist presses. Due to severe and repeated illness, Miles Bronson left his work among the Nagas and settled in Nowgong. Added to these discouragements, the Shyans and Singphos still remained inaccessible, soo the mission was to focus solely on the Assamese population at three stations: Sibsagar, Nagaon and Guwahati.
1843 The Bronsons, having shifted to Nowgong, establishes the Nowgong Orphan Institution, the first Baptist institution in Central Assam. The same year, the Cutters move to Sibsagar and establish the printing press along the bank of the Dikhow River..
1845 26th January 1845 the Baptist Church of Assam, the first Christian church to be organized from among the indigenous of the region, is organized in Guwahati by Nathan Brown, Miles Bronson and Cyrus Barker.
1848 The Assamese New Testament is now complete, and is published at the Baptist press in Sibsagar. Dr. Nathan Brown found that the Assamese Bible published by William Carey from the Serampore Press in circulation at that time, consisted of Bengali and Sanskrit loan words, so it was idiomatically inadequate. Therefore, he undertook the project of translating the Bible into pure and simple Assamese and published the New Testament in 1848.
1851 Baptist Association of Assam was created to bring the now independently functioning churches of Sibsagar, Nowgogna and Guwahati together in fellowship. Though this association did not survive, it was the beginning of an organization of all the churches related to American Baptist Mission—thus anticipating the CBCNEI organization by nearly one hundred years. That same year Rev. William Ward and Cordelia Ward reached Guwahati (April 1851). Ward would be instrumental in Bible translation into Assamese, and in the development of the Assamese alphabet and written language.
1861 Though the future looked bright, hope gave way to disappointment with one reversal following another. There was falling away from the missionaries, there was disagreement with the Home Board that led to the closing of the Nowgong Orphan Institution, there was a financial depression in America that dried up the Mission's funds, and there were the devastating political disturbances of the Rebellion of 1857 in India and the Civil War of 1861-65 in America. All this had an adverse effect on the young churches in Assam. A membership of 85 in 1851 had dwindled to 54 by 1861, and the eight missionary families and seven fulltime Assamese church workers had shrunk to two and three respectively in that same decade.
1866 Dr. Miles Bronson publishes the first Assamese Dictionary.
1867 Kandura R. Smith as pastor of the Guwahati church and in-charge of the field in the absence of a missionary was the human agent through which the first Garos, Omed and Ramkhe, were brought to Christ. Those two, in turn, established the first successful American Baptist Mission among the hills people. Kandura, the son of a blind fisherman, became the instrument through which the first Baptist churches were established in the hills. With the baptism of forty Garos and establishment of the Rajasimla church in 1867, the number of Baptists in the region almost doubled overnight.
1872 286 baptized Garos, as reported by T.J. Keith, Godhula Brown, an Assamese Christian who had distinguished himself working among Kacharis in Lower Assam and among the orthodox Hindus of Majuli Island, was the first to carry the Gospel into the Naga Hills and bear fruit. Through his work the first nine Nagas confessed Christ in Baptism in 1872.
1875 Though there had been a church organization that embraced all churches related to the Mission as early as 1851, this was disbanded within a few years. When church organizations began to appear again they were in the form of regional associations rather than structures that embraced all the churches related to the mission. The first of these was the Garo Association which first met in 1875.
1886 The mission had created a structure for itself in 1886. Prior to this each centre had operated more or less independently of the others. Now the missionaries began to meet together regularly—first at three year intervals, then two, and finally annually. The Missionary Conference, as the Mission organization was called, became the coordinating agency for the Mission throughout the North East.
1896 The Ao Baptist Association was founded in 1896. Also, the first American Baptist work had just begun in the fourth regional convention area, Manipur, by the end of the century. Interestingly enough, it was begun by a man who, when he first came to India, was neither an American nor a Baptist. One of the greatest of the missionaries to have served in the North East, William Pettigrew was an Englishman who had come to India under an independent mission. He had been working for a year in Imphal before he joined the American Baptist Mission and took up residence at Ukhrul in the Tangkhul hills in 1896.
1900 There are 2000 Christians related to the work of the American Baptist mission.
1906 There are 86 churches, 8446 Christians related to the work of the American Baptist mission.
The Jorhat Christian Medical Center has its origins as from 1906 – 1919 a medical educational program under the leadership of Rev. S. A. D. Boggs to train medical personnel was started.
1910 In addition to widespread touring during which they treat people at the roadside and in the villages, the missionary doctors and nurses establish hospitals and nursing schools. The first Mission hospital is that at Tura, the first small building of which is completed with the help of an elephant for hauling lumber in 1910.
1919 The Industrial Training Institute is opened. The Jorhat Christian Medical Center is opened.
Medical missionary Dr. Herbert William Kirby, a qualified homeopath from the Hahnemann Homeopathic Medical College, in Philadelphia, PA, originally assigned to Sadiya, relocates to Jorhat and a dispensary of bamboo walls is built and in the market place a temporary two-room location is established to treat the sick. Patients start to come for medications as well as those who have leprosy. Since these patients are not able to go back home Dr. Kirby has “shacks” built for them. A grant of $10,000.00 is received from a church in Philadelphia and houses are then constructed for these Leprosy patients.
1920 Efforts of evangelists spread out among the Tangkuls, Semas, Zeliangrongs and Chakhesangs. The Tangkhul Christians of Manipur number nearly 2,000. The Kangpokpi Christian Hospital is opened in Manipur by Dr. G. G. Crozier and his wife.
1922 Nagas celebrate the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Clarks into the Patkai Mountains. There are 5,614 Christians among the Ao villages alone; and many thousands more among their Naga neighbors.
1924 The original dispensary of the Jorhat Christian Medical Center, made of bamboo walls becomes the Clark Memorial Dispensary. Patients come from around North East India, and as far as Myanmar and China.
1926 The Satribari Christian Hospital, a forty-five-bed hospital for women, and run by women medical staff, is built in Guwahati. The Gale Memorial Bible School for Women is opened after it was moved from Golaghat and focuses on women’s leadership management. The Francis Memorial Primary School is opened – a co-educational primary school for all children.
1933 The twenty-five bed Jorhat Christian Medical Center is completed.
1934 The first nursing school is opened in Jorhat.
1950 There are approximately 1,500 churches with 107,038 members in the Council.
1951 The four Baptist hospitals report 19,959 outpatients and 4,785 inpatients during the previous year.
1955 The Impur Christian Hospital is expanded from the original dispensary that opened in 1912.
1960 Through the 1960's the missionaries continue to play an important role. Up until 1956 the main administrative officer, the General Secretary, is a missionary. As late as 1968 nine of the fourteen standing committees have missionaries as conveners, and it is not until that year that a north easterner was appointed as Council Treasurer. During this time missionaries head many of the Council’s central programs and institutions.
1970 American missionaries are forced to leave Northeast India by the Indian Government due to security concerns. CBCNEI is fully indigenous in all respects except its continued dependence upon funds from the American Baptists for the maintenance of its central structure and some of its institutions. There are 212,958 church members and 2,970 churches. There are six hospitals reporting the treatment of 37,921 outpatients, with 10,797 inpatients during 1969. In addition to running hospitals and two major nursing schools, the medical services included public health programs, mobile dispensaries, mobile medical service to refugee camps, family planning clinics, orphanages, blood banks and the treatment of lepers. Expenditure for the entire medical program came to twenty-two lakhs in 1969, nearly all of which (excluding capital projects) was generated by the medical institutions or the churches themselves.
1984 400,444 church members in 3,627 churches.
1986 Celebration of 150 years of mission work in Northeast India with major celebrations in Kohima, Nagaland. When CBCNEI celebrates its 150th Anniversary the local leadership proudly and joyfully shares the growth from 1950 to 1986: from four hospitals to six hospitals; from serving 18,420 out-patients and 4,754 in-patients annually to 56,000 out-patients and 14,500 in-patients; from six students in Eastern Theological College to 154 students including 42 Bachelor of Divinity students; the establishment of the Clark Theological College and the Manipur Baptist College; from 1,645 churches to 3,944; and from 121,447 to 438,939 baptized members.
2011 CBCNEI currently consists of six member conventions: the Assam Baptist Convention (ABC,) the Arunachal Baptist Church Council (ABCC), the Garo Baptist Convention (GBC) the Karbi Anglong Baptist Convention (KABC), the Manipur Baptist Convention (MBC), and the Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC). They represent a Baptist family of 94 Baptist associations, 7,804 churches, and 1,045,455 baptized members.