Interview With Rev. Dr. Robert G. Johnson, The Last American Missionary to Chin Hills
10 June, 2009 [CG Note: The Chin people were animists before Christianity was brought to them in March, 1899 by the American missionary couple, Rev. and Mrs. Arthur Carson. It was only in May 1905 that the first four Chin believers,
Thuam Hang and wife Dim Khaw Cing, and Pau Suan and wife Kham Ciang, were baptised in a small stream near Khuasak.
The first Christian church in the Chin Hills, the first of any denomination, was organised with only eleven members at Khuasak in the Siyin valley of the Tiddim area on 17 February 1906, according to an article ‘The First Chin Baptist Churches’ written by Rev. Robert G. Johnson.
Rev. Robert G. Johnson and wife Elizabeth, the last missionary from American Baptist Foreign Mission Society, worked in Chin Hills from 1946 to 1966 until they were asked to leave Burma by the authorities. The Reverend authored two well-known books ‘A History of the American Baptist Chin Mission (Volume 1 and 2)’, and ‘On the Back Road to Mandalay’.
Nowadays, an estimated 90 per cent of the Chin people are Christian.
The following interview was conducted in 1999 and edited by Van Biak Thang of Chinland Guardian, the then editor of Rangoon-based weekly published church newsletter ‘The Morning Star’ while Rev. Dr. Robert Johnson together with his son, Dicky and wife, and one of his daughters, Martha and husband, came to Burma in attempt to attend the centennial celebration of the arrival of Christianity in Chin State. The Reverend, 94, passed away on 9 June, 2009 after getting ill with pneumonia.]
Chinland Guardian: What were the most difficult and delightful times you had during your work in Chin Hills?
Rev. Dr. Robert G. Johnson: My most difficult time was the year 1964. There was political unrest, fighting in Hakha, and I was under suspicion by the government. Some people were spying on me and reporting untruthful things. I was afraid that I would be sent out of Burma before the big stone Church was finished. The most delightful thing was to see our three children grow up in Hakha with many friends and in safety.
Chinland Guardian: What kind of hindrances did you come across during your work in Chin Hills?
Rev. Dr. Robert G. Johnson: For the most part, our experiences in the Chin Hills were very good. The Chin people came to love and respect us, and helped us in every way possible. Even the government officers were kind to us. Our greatest problem seemed to be to get the paper, ink, petrol, foodstuffs, building supplies, etc. that we needed.
Chinland Guardian: What are the worst and best opinions of the Chin people, you think?
Rev. Dr. Robert G. Johnson: The worst “opinion of mind” the Chin people have concerns marriage and divorce. The bride price is something of the relic. The pastors need to teach more about the Christian attitude toward marriage and divorce.
Chinland Guardian: Do you think the Chins develop as you thought they would?
Rev. Dr. Robert G. Johnson: If I understand your question, the Chins have developed beyond I thought they would. They want to prosper, they want good education, and they want to have their children grow up to be good Christians and good citizens of Myanmar. The Chins in Kalay valley, Mandalay, Yangon, etc. seem to do well. I could not see the villages in Chin State, so I do not know how they are doing.
Chinland Guardian: Which are the worst things, you think, the Chins have done and what do you think they should do?
Rev. Dr. Robert G. Johnson: The worst thing for the Chin people is for the students to take up arms against the government, to become rebels. Compared to the government, the Chins are very few, very poor, unarmed and with no military power. The only result is to bring military power against the Chins and causes persecution.
The only reasonable course for the Chins is to love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you and live good, godly lives as Christians. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Never give up your Christian faith.
Chinland Guardian: Your message to the Chin people.
Rev. Dr. Robert G. Johnson: Love God; Love Jesus; Love your brothers and sisters in Christ; love your husbands and love your wives; treat all people with respect; love your children and bring them up in the Christian faith; help your children get a good education; treat your body as the temple of the Holy Spirit which means to avoid all alcoholic drinks, tobacco, and drugs; keep pure in mind and heart; avoid fornication and adultery; read the Bible, our Holy Scripture; attend worship services and respect your pastors who are like shepherds for the flock; be truthful and honest, avoiding deceit; work hard and save thing for when times are bad; pray earnestly; be patient and kind, and follow the commandments of our Lord.
CG Note: Below is a message of Rev. Dr. Robert G. Johnson in a video-clip posted in Youtube. It was recorded at a family gathering in Redlands, California, USA in June 2008.
Rev. Dr. Robert G. Johnson: My name is Robert Johnson and in the Chin Hills, I was called Hakha Siangbawipa and my wife is Siangbawinu. We had very wonderful years in the Chin Hills – 20 years, most of the times in Hakha but also in Tiddim at the very beginning. Our three children are very familiar with Burma too because our son Richard was brought into Burma and into the Chin Hills when he was one year old, and our daughter Ruth Kristin was born in Mandalay and our daughter Martha, although born in the USA, spent most of her young life in Hakha. So, we have regards for the Hakha people, the Chin people and in fact all the peoples of Burma. We pray that God will bless you. I am 93 years old and my health is deteriorating, going downward. But still I am able to pray to God for all the mercies He gave us. Thank you and God bless all you of our dear friends.