Sunday, 19 May 2024

South Asia Tour 2023

In early January Br Joachim Kreusel and I visited India and Nepal as representatives of the British Mission Board. We had a number of events to attend and objectives, and our time was well planned. Our first congregation visit was to Binnakandi in Assam, North India and we were met at Silchar airport by brothers Br Ebenezer (minister in Delhi) and Br Titus (Principle of the Binnakandi Institute). In Binnakandi we were greeted by the recently ordained Br Dimchui and the student ministers, Brs Nathaniel, Jacob and Levi. For me it was a wonderful moment to see these young student ministers in the flesh after so many months of greeting them on Zoom during our Study Group sessions. Preparations were well underway for a Memorial Service which would take place the following day. We had a tour of the Rongmei village where many of the congregation members live and shared a meal and good discussions.

The following morning, Sunday, we worshipped at 6:30am. The main event of the day was at 11:00am, a Memorial Service for Br Kagauchung Rongmei, known as Br Kabui, who founded the Moravian Church in Binnakandi in 1984. Br Kabui died three years ago and the service was a celebration of his life and ministry with worship and singing, dancing by the children from the Binnakandi Institute and testimony from people who had been influenced by Br Kabui. A memorial stone was unveiled in the church grounds. A huge feast followed serving about 300 people. Once the bulk of the guests had left the evening continued with informal singing and dancing amongst congregation members.

The following morning six of us went to the village of Haflong to visit the church there. It was a journey that took about four hours on a road that can only be described as 'under construction' - like driving through a quarry. We met Br Jacob's family and visited the Haflong Church which had been badly damaged during flooding in 2022. The Church has been reconstructed and improved and is in full use. However, we did see evidence of houses badly damaged and even completely destroyed by the flooding. We also visited a site on which the congregation proposes developing a church hall and school when funding allows. We had the opportunity to visit the train station which had been badly damaged by the flooding and saw the reparative construction work in progress. The return journey was another four hours in the dark (I chose to sleep!).

On the Tuesday we travelled two hours to Latingkhal in the state of Manipur to visit the church there (much better road!). This required us to cross the border into Manipur and register at a checkpoint. It was an interesting experience, and we were quite anxious that they might turn us away, but by the time we returned we seemed to have made great friends with the authorities who were waiting to ensure we left the region. We visited the original church settlement at Lakhipur which is in a poor state of repair, but they have hopes to renovate it and develop the land, reviving the church. We were greeted in Latingkhal by Br Dimchui and his family (it is his home congregation) and Br Jacob's wife's family who live there. We had a long discussion in the church with the student ministers about their hopes following ordination and their plans for the future. When we returned, we spent the evening chatting around a fire outside. I share my room with a couple of small geckos (only slightly nervous, but at least they ate the mosquitoes!).

On Wednesday we visited the Binnakandi Institute which is opposite the church. Br Titus (Br Kabui's son) is the principle and we attended the assembly and visited the classrooms where children aged 3-11 are educated. The school building is currently two storeys, however due to damage caused by termites they have a long-term plan to demolish the upper floor and renovate the ground floor classrooms. In the afternoon we visited one of the local tea plantations (after all we were in Assam!). In the evening we had a long and fruitful discussion with Br Jacob's wife, Sr Suaihiamlu Pamei who has been theologically trained and feels a strong call to ordained ministry. She is gifted in music, languages and writing and would be an amazing asset to the work in South Asia.

On Thursday we were accompanied by Br Jacob on a series of home visits to families in the Rongmei village. These visits followed a simple pattern of introductions and greetings, the serving of tea and requests for specific prayer. This day called for an early night as we had another event the following day.

On Friday we left early for Latingkhal to celebrate the wedding of Br Dimchui and Sr Denjeng. The ceremony was particularly special as it was conducted by Br Ebenezer, Br Jacob was the master of ceremonies and Br Nathaniel preached the sermon. It was a beautiful event and of course there was a feast including a buffalo!

On Saturday we met with the Church Committee and Elders. We discussed many things including the future of the South Asia Mission Province and the part that each congregation and member would have to play. It was refreshing to find that they have many systems in place which will support future independence. In the afternoon we met with the Women's Fellowship/Conference. They operate many projects to support the local community including the members, church and school. It was an evening for goodbyes to our hosts and promises to return soon.

On Sunday we travelled from Silchar Airport to Kathmandu (via Kolkata) in Nepal where we were met by Br Shanti and Sr Vani Pradhan, ordained ministers and the principles of the Shristi Academy and International Kindergarten. We settled into the Hotel Greenwich Village before sharing a meal with Sr Kamaleswori Pradhan, the widow of the late Br Nagendra Pradhan, her son Br Joshua and Br Shanti and Sr Vani.
On Monday we visited the church at Khokana to assess the building ready for the ordination service on Saturday. We had a walking tour around the village with two committee members and were able to watch a Newari festival honouring the elderly in the community. Our evening was spent preparing the PowerPoint for the ordination service.

On Tuesday we visited the International Kindergarten and the Shristi Academy. These wonderful facilities were perfectly maintained and the staff and children were so welcoming. We shared a meal there and then travelled to Khokana church for a meeting with the committees of the three churches of Khokana, Baneswor and Chyasikot. The meeting lasted four hours. This was partly due to the need for translation but also because the members had many questions about the process of ordained ministry. Br Joachim and I spent a long time explaining the process from call to training, ordination, consecration and definitions of service i.e., deacon, presbyter and bishop. Over time their culture and education has led them to hold a different idea of ministry and we worked hard to bring a view more in line with a Unity understanding which would be essential going forward towards a Mission Province. In the evening we shared a meal with all the student and ordained ministers hosted by Br Shanti and Sr Vani.

Wednesday was a day for preparation; for Br Joachim preparing for the ordination service and for me preparing for worship on Saturday morning and for the conference. In the evening, as various delegates began to arrive for the conference, we shared a meal at the home of Sr Kamaleswori and Br Joshua accompanied by Br Thsespal Kundan from the Moravian Institute in Rajpur.

By Thursday morning most of the delegates had arrived. We began the Second South Asia Moravian Church Conference, and I led the opening devotions and a discussion bringing everyone up to date on what had happened during the past couple of years when, due to COVID-19, we had not been able to travel or meet. After lunch Sr Roberta Hoey, Chair of the Unity and Provincial Board and Br J¿rgen B¿ytler, Unity Board Administrator, arrived and we led a session, similar to the meeting at Khokana, outlining the process of ministry and Br J¿rgen outlined the process required to become a Mission Province and how this would impact the region.
Br Thsespal Kundan presented an overview of the South Asia Book of Order which is based on the British Province Book of Order, with regional variations. Br Kundan and the Framework Committee were thanked for their work on bringing the document up to date.

Whilst the conference centre was providing breakfast and lunch we visited two restaurants over the evenings which were times of fellowship.
On Friday morning, after opening devotions by Sr Kamaleswori and Br Joachim, the first order of business was to elect an Interim Provincial Board (IPB). It was agreed that there would be five members of the IPB representing the four regions plus one other member. It was essential that one of those elected be a woman. The first election was for the chairperson of the IPB and Br Thsespal Kundan was elected. The other members were elected by their own regions:
Central Br Thsespal Kundan (Chair)
Ladakh Br Samson Thangpa
Nepal Br Simon Shankar
Assam Br Titus Gangmei
Woman Sr Vani Pradhan (Nepal)

The delgates then moved into discussion groups according to their regions to identify areas of concern that they would prioriotise as the Interim Provicial Board.

The final election was for the Chair of the first Provincial Synod to be held soon after Unity Synod in September. Br Joseph Kundan was elected.

A Memorandum of Understanding was then prepared outlining the order of business and the outcome of the election. All members of the Conference then signed the document. This was a historic and significant moment in the history of the Moravian Church in South Asia as it moves towards Mission Province status.

In Nepal Saturday is the day for religious services. There were three services held in the morning, one at 7:30am in Khokana and one at the same time in Chyasikot. The second was at 11:00am in Baneswor. Everyone attended at least one service. I preached at Khokana and Baneswor on the spirit of humility. After lunch everyone attended the Service of Ordination at Khokana. Br Joachim Kreusel led the service and the opportunity was taken to introduce the IPB to the congregations. The service was translated into Nepali and Newari. It was another historic and emotional moment as five student ministers were ordained as deacons, the first such ordination to take place in Nepal. Each of the candidates took the opportunity to give their thanks through music by singing or playing. After the service the congregation had prepared a meal which we all shared.

The visit ended on Sunday for most people as they made their way home. It had been a time of great blessing and it was a privilege to be present at such a time as history was made. There was a real sense that God was fully present in every aspect of our visit and that the people of South Asia will be guided by His love as they embark on this journey towards self-reliance and independance.

Sr Jane Carter
Chair, British Mission Board

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