Edwin W. Clark
Ministry in Nagaland
E. W. Clark and his wife sailed from Boston on October 20, 1868 under the Baptist Missionary Union as Missionaries and Printers. The hills beyond their Sibsagar mission were the Naga Hills. The Nagas were known for their practice of headhunting.
They arrived in Sibsagar in March 1869. During their stay at Sibsagar the Clarks had opportunity of meeting some Nagas roaming in search of food. The Clarks developed a burden for the Nagas and wrote to the Home Mission Board in 1871: “Tribe upon tribe of Nagas are accessible to the Gospel. It is certainly painful for us at Sibsagar to be unable to lift our eyes without seeing these hills and thinking of them who have no knowledge of Christ.”
Clark sent an evangelist to penetrate the Naga Hills. The evangelist came down with nine others and they were baptized by Clark on November 11, 1872. Clark was at this time not permitted to enter Nagaland by the British Government and his own mission board was hesitant to approve his plan to enter the Naga Hills. On December 23, 1872 Clark organized the First Baptist Church at Molungkimong in Nagaland.
It was an important day in Naga history when the first Baptist Church was formed. It is no wonder Clark knew his calling would henceforth be with the Nagas. “’I believe I have found my life-work,’ exclaimed Mr. Clark, as he entered the old press bungalow on his return from his twelve days’ absence in the wilds of barbarism.”
The glorious moment for Clark was not without troubles. The village became divided over the new religion. Some felt that Clark could not be trusted because he had the same white face as the British military. The Nagas opposed anything that would promote alliance with the encroaching British power. Clark was determined to dedicate himself to the people and trust the Lord alone for protection.
Clark concentrated on developing a good knowledge of the local language, their character and medicine. These skills proved helpful in soul winning and opened doors in many homes. Clark also would encourage the Nagas to pray for the sick and the recovery of a sick person would lead to a renunciation of animistic sacrifice.
In 1894 Mulong became the center of missions to further the evangelization of the Naga tribes. Mulong is the first Christian village in Nagaland. Then in a later year Clark moved his mission center to Impur which is presently known as Ao Baptist Arogo Mungdang.
In 1905 Clark saw a record one hundred and ninety baptisms. The work was truly blessed of God but Clark saw that better days were yet ahead. The Nagas were well aware that to accept Christianity would mean drastic changes in their social life. “Adherents of the old, cruel faith were quick to see that the gospel of peace and love would rapidly empty their skull houses and put to rout most of the old customs handed down from forefathers, for whom they held the greatest reverence. The missionaries presence and his teaching had spread like wildfire from mountain peak to peak and everywhere was fostered the suspicious spirit.”
Christianity brought an end to the practice of headhunting and destroyed most of the traditional culture and oral knowledge of the various Naga tribes. Clark’s vision for a Christian Nagaland came true, with the high price of destroying the Naga's indigenous culture. By 1980 the Naga population was 572,742 and the Baptist population was 185,987.
Today the Census of India, puts the numbers of Christians to more than 90% of the population of Nagaland thus making it, with Meghalaya and Mizoram, one of the three Christian-majority states in India and the only state where Christians form 90% of the population. Nagaland is known as "the only predominantly Baptist state in the world."
Although Clark succeeded in converting the Nagas today the entire Naga community are just name sake Christians and are heavy on their Animistic rituals with a little bit of Christianity thrown in. Animistic Naga tradition is now being used to promote tourism and the Hornbill festival is an example of promoting their rich Animistic roots.
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- Michael Fredholm (1993). Burma: ethnicity and insurgency. Praeger. p. 182. ISBN 978-0-275-94370-7.
- M. M. Clark, A corner of India (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1907): p59
- Clark, A Corner in India: p 15
- Jamir, A Study on Nagaland: p 18
- Ibid., p 168
- Joseph Puthenpurakal, Baptist Missions in Nagaland (Calcutta: Firma KLM, 1984): p 255
- Olson, C. Gordon. What in the World Is God Doing. Global Gospel Publishers: Cedar Knolls, NJ. 2003.
- Kijung L. Ao, Nokinketer Muncgchen (Impur: Nagaland, Ao Baptist Arogo Mungdang, 1972.
- A. C. Bowers, Under Headhunters’ Eyes (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1929)
- F. S. Downs, Christianity in North East India (Delhi, Ispeck: 1976,)
- Tegenfelt, A Century of Growth.