India (MNN) – Sandwiched between Myanmar and Bangladesh, off the main body of India, is the small state of Mizoram. But it’s in this little-known area of the world where FARMS International is about to begin a new project.
A History of Christianity
Joe Richter of FARMs says, “Mizoram has a very interesting history. It goes back over a century with Western missionaries coming there to Mizoram. And, there were a series of revivals back in the early days and continuing on into the 20th century. And today, statistically, about 97 percent of the Mizos consider themselves Christians.”
Richter explains that their religious roots include animism, and that some of them came from the practice of head-hunting. They were a people living in darkness.
And so, Richter says, “They embraced Christianity. Many miraculous things happened in the past that prepared the people, and when the missionaries came, it was one of those situations where they were expecting them to come and share with them that there’s a way out of the fear of the spirit world, and there was a way to have freedom in their lives.”
He says Christianity spread rapidly from there and became deeply rooted in the area.
Need in Mizoram Prompts New Project
So, why is FARMS interested in starting a new project here? Richter says this story began back in Nepal where they became friends with a missionary from Mizoram working there. This man recently retired, returned to his people, and saw a great need. You see, they were living in extreme poverty. This missionary remembered FARMS and reached out to them.
“We’re developing now a program with them, and we’ll be visiting them this May to train a new committee there and to start a program for FARMS International.”
FARMS International runs microloan programs in various parts of the world. Through the local church, they provide small sums of money to Christians who then use this money to start or improve a small business. Once they’ve been able to pay these interest-free loans back, they agree to tithe from their profits to the Church. This helps to strengthen the Church so that it can be more effective in outreach.
And despite the fact that there is already a vibrant community here, the Mizos are 0ften on the brink of despair.
Richter says, “The unemployment is something like 45 percent in Mizoram. And it drives many of the young people into drugs and alcoholism and despondency because there’s a lack of real opportunity for them to have a good job and to have an income.
“But the Mizos are very skilled people, and especially the ladies. They are skilled at weaving and weaving is a very profitable industry. But it needs money to start and to be sustained.”
The microloans would be perfect to help these women start a business weaving on a hand loom or something more industrial. Richter says their missionary friend “feels with training these ladies that are in extreme poverty, [they] can earn a living and come out of the poverty in a dignified way.”
Other possible projects would be agriculture and the farming of pigs and small animals.
“We’re going to target some really impoverished people in that part of Mizoram and also hopefully [be] expanding from the city area out into the countryside and the villages.”
Growing Faith in Mizoram
Despite Mizoram’s rich history of Christianity, this region faces many of the same challenges other Christian cultures face: “Even though Mizoram is considered one of the most Christianized states in India, there’s always that problem of nominalism. And you know, being raised in Christian culture sometimes doesn’t equate to being a vibrant Christian.”
Social issues and the poverty can be distracting and heavy. And, growing up in a Christian region does not mean everyone has their own individual faith.
“FARMS, working with families, has a real opportunity to disciple those people deeper in their faith, helping them give more abundantly and generously.”
And yet, even with the challenges, the Mizo have a deep understanding already of one of the main components of the FARMS program: giving back to the Church.
One of the methods they’ve utilized to give back is known as the Handful of Rice Project.
“And they’ve had a policy that started there over 100 years ago of every time people cooked a meal, they would put a handful of rice into a bucket that was collected eventually and give it to the Church and the Church sold the rice to support missionary activity of the Church. And it’s amazing how that tradition has continued on to this day. And it has been a main supporting mechanism for outreach evangelism and especially mission work around that whole region and in the world.”
This, Richter says, is something the Western Church could learn from—a commitment to giving in order to boost missions.
“Basically the Church in Mizoram is self-supported without foreign monies coming in, which is an exciting thing. But there’s also more that could be done. And I think, you know, increasing the income of families also increases incomes of the Church. But, it also teaches that true lordship of Jesus Christ and how that manifests itself in everyday life of the Mizo. And so, we’re looking for those opportunities and feel that FARMS will be a real blessing to many people that right now are looking at life sort of hopelessly. Even though they might be believers, there’s so little opportunity.”
With this new program, there is a need for support– and lots of prayer.
“It’s a place of the world that very few of us have probably heard about. And we just need people to come alongside FARMS and pray with us for this new program, and we’re excited about it, and we’re looking forward to the start.”
Ask God to bless this new program, to protect those involved, and to guide it forward. Pray for the Mizo people to gain a richer understanding of God’s love for them.
(Header Photo courtesy of Sandro Lacarbona via Flickr)