The Tea Tribe, the Elephants, and God

Known for its natural beauty and tea plantations, Assam province is located in northeast India. Created while the country was under British rule, this area is known around the world for its tea production. Referred to as the Tea Tribes, many of the people who live here are descended from the original tea plantation workers. With religious traditions including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Animism, and challenges such as elephant stampedes and a lack of financial resources, is it possible to be a Christian missionary here?

Faced with such challenges, many people would give up their mission work. But former OMSC resident Steward Yanao Lunghar perseveres. “Despite all of these problems, we endured because God protected us,” he says. Initially Steward ministered without anyone’s support, trusting God to provide for his family’s needs. Later, he received some land in order to start a school that teaches children English and the Gospel. In 1999, he moved to Arunachal Pradesh to teach the Bible to young leaders and train them for missionary work. But anti-conversion legislation and the persecution of some Christians in the region added to Steward’s troubles.

Undeterred from his calling, he applied to OMSC in order to broaden his understanding of mission work in general, and global missions in particular. Separated from his family, his first thought as he arrived in New Haven was: “How am I going to cope with all the new people in this strange, new place?” Soon, however, Steward was not only coping in his new environment but thriving as he made new friends and became chairman of the residents committee. Steward credits the friendships he formed with other international missionaries here with “broadening my mind on world mission and challenging me about the need and urgency of taking the gospel to every nook and corner of the world.”

Recently Steward shared how God is working among the people of Assam. He relates that although many people renounced Christianity under pressure from their Hindu neighbors, a pastor and five other families in his community have stood firm in their faith. When a neighbor had a stroke and was unable to move, the church shared the gospel and prayed with him and he has started to recover. Steward says, “He and his family have already accepted Jesus Christ. After his full recovery he has vowed to go to all the houses of the village and testify about Jesus.”

Steward remains firmly committed to world mission. Though many might cite the lack of resources as a deterrent to mission work, he challenges every Christian to “take the gospel around the world through prayer.”