Interview With Outgoing ZBC GS Rev. M. Thawng Kam
[CG Note: Rev. M. Thawng Kam, an outgoing General Secretary of Zomi Baptist Convention (ZBC), now succeeded by Rev. Dennis Ngun Thawng Mang, was travelling in Europe in April, 2009, meeting Chin communities and churches in Norway, Denmark and Germany.
Being ordained in 1994, Rev. M. Thawng Kam joined ZBC as its General Secretary in 2007 after working as a pastor of Thantlang Baptisti Church and General Secretary of Thantlang Baptist Association (TABC). From 2004-05, he was doing his M.Th degree in Hong Kong.
During his trip to Europe, Salai Cung Cem Bik of Chin Community in Norway conducted an interview with Rev. M. Thawng Kam in Hakha-Chin, which was then translated into English by Van Biak Thang of Chinland Guardian.]
Chinland Guardian: Tell us about your trip to Europe.
Rev. M. Thawng Kam: Yes. I am privileged to be invited by Norway Baptist Union to visit the Chin people living in Norway. During this trip, I also visited Denmark and Germany where quite a lot of Chin people settle but I spent most of my time in Norway.
It was my great pleasure to see the Chin churches. In Norway, the Chin people are not located in one place but in different places across the country, belonging to a commune in smaller groups. At times, I am thinking of those who can not yet have a church in some areas. Despite some speculations saying that the Chins are weak in faith, we come to worship together, look for each other and take care of one another wherever we are. This is such a beautiful attitude. Having seen the collaboration, togetherness and unity of the Chin churches, I am much encouraged and proud.
Of course, there are problems facing them. Some are still new to the country while others have not been well-established. And there are also a smaller group who are not strong enough in numbers to have a church. Furthermore, some cannot share a church due to different denominations. Churches are not obviously standing firm due to various reasons including difficulties in communication due to having different dialects. However, I strongly hope that they will work together and unite hand-in-hand in making progress in the future.
Chinland Guardian: Is this the first time ZBC GS has ever made an official visit to Norway and Europe?
Rev. M. Thawng Kam: I believe this is probably the first time. In the past, ZBC staff members used to travel outside the country but I am not sure about the details of their trips. However, I believe that this is the very first time ZBC GS has made an official visit to Europe at a kind invitation by Norway Baptist Union.
Chinland Guardian: ZBC is said to have a programme for using Christian Hymnals in different Chin dialects. Tell us more about the programme in details.
Rev. M. Thawng Kam: Thanks. The programme is not for Christian hymn books but for language lessons. We, the Chin, have got many dialects spoken in our respective areas and have only got churches in terms of organisations. As I have mentioned earlier, ZBC is a place where each Chin tribe gathers and works together. Having been unable to use our dialects in ZBC meetings, we have got to speak in Burmese, which we are not very fluent in. And many others who cannot speak Burmese at all do not talk during the meetings. This difficult situation makes us unable to share and understand each other in the meeting.
Besides, we do not feel comfortable using other language rather than ours. And we dream about how we can speak and understand each other in our own dialects. ZBC has a strong belief that learning different dialects can be introduced and initiated in our churches to some extent.
The language learning programme will start from Sunday Schools in six different dialects such as Tedim, Falam, Cho, Matu, Mizo and Hakha. If our children, especially the youths, can start learning now and longer, they will be able to at least understand each other, if not speak the other dialect. Researches have shown that more than 400 common words are being shared or similar among Chin dialects. This will definitely help our learning a lot easier. It is our big hope that this programme will eventually bring about a useful platform for our work in Christian ministries and our future generations.
Our programme could not be started in 2009 as planned due to lack of fund for publications. We have been much encouraged and thankful to Norway Chin Christian Fellowship for acknowledging our difficulties and for attempting to provide financial assistance.
Chinland Guardian: You have just mentioned only about six dialects. How about other dialects? Do you think this may create a dividing line?
Rev. M. Thawng Kam: I don’t think this will create such a thing among us. This program is a unanimous decision agreed at ZBC Board Meeting. Of course, there was an issue raised by some members during the meeting, saying ‘How about our dialects?’ Since this is only the start of the programme, there are concerns that it will not be successful if it begins with all the dialects at the initial stage. Therefore, we all eventually came to an agreement that the programme would better start with only a few dialects mostly spoken in townships and extend as we make progress.
It is very important that we all understand each other in this programme. It is, of course, easy to break up if we only take negative sides against each other. However, I don’t think it will be difficult to accept if we see it as one of our vital needs. It is our work for God and our national duty. It would have been an unattractive thing to express only the impossibility of the programme were there any better alternative ways to an attempt in building our communication channels.
Chinland Guardian: ZBC has started a concert tour with local singers. Tell us more about this tour so far and the purposes.
Rev. M. Thawng Kam: Looking back at the history of ZBC since its inception, we think we haven’t reached the level of unity as much as we could have achieved. One of the main reasons we think is the fact that we haven’t been able to share a common language platform where we all can communicate and understand each other. That is the very reason why ZBC initiates this language programme as one of the barrier-breaking tools with aims of promoting unity and oneness among us.
The very same reason applies to this new programme of concert tour. From this year, ZBC Youth Department set up a programme called ‘You Music and Youth Music Tour’, which has already started in April with two male singers from Falam, three female from Hakha. Accompanied by ZBC staffs, the singers travelled to areas including Gangaw, Mindat, Kanpetlet, Matupi and Rezua, organising a series of youth concerts in order to have better relationship and social fellowship among the youths through songs and music. Another tour is scheduled in October and November to Tahan and Kalay Myo. It is our dream that the tour can also go abroad to countries like Norway in 2012 provided the programme is successfully going. We firmly believe in promoting the youth fellowship, understanding, and relationship via music and songs as one of the strong pillars for the future unity of the Chin people worldwide.
Similary, CE (Christian Education) Department has also begun preparing songs to be taught at Church School. A host of composers are invited to write songs in various Chin dialects and the songs will be released in a DVD production. It is part of our programme that learning Chin dialects will also be initially implemented among children. Previously, we had to sing songs in a dialect of the areas where the conference was being held. For instance, if we had a conference in Falam, we sang songs in Falam dialect. But now songs are written and sung together in various Chin dialects at a conference. This has brought joy and happiness among us, and has encouraged each of us much to move on with our programme of learning dialects, especially among the youths and children. This is what we are working on.
Chinland Guardian: ZBC is said to have got involved and been active in providing relief assistance to mautam-hit victims of Chin State. Tell us more about ZBC’s contributions and plans in the future.
Rev. M. Thawng Kam: In response to mautam food crisis, we try to keep updated with, share news about the situation, pray earnestly and liaise closely with each association so relief aids can be well distributed. The announcement and report on our work in mautam-hit areas of Chin State is mainly meant to those living in different countries who contribute towards helping the mautam victims. We are just a body that helps distribute what these churches and communities have donated. To make it clear, we send out the donations to our associations that further help the mautam victims in their areas regardless of denominations and backgrounds.
We are sure that there will be some victims who have not received any aids from ZBC. The amount of donations received by ZBC is not even more than 500 lakhs. It is obviously far too insufficient to get around every victim when distrubited. Our distribution is completely based on the data and decisions given to us by local representatives and leaders. We cannot really do anything more than just making further distribution like this.
Chinland Guardian: It is said the Chin people will face difficulties for their survivals even when this mautam ends as they have no more places to do farming. Does ZBC have any long-term plans and preparations in this regard?
Rev. M. Thawng Kam: We are much concerned and worried about this issue. We could easily say we are suffering from hunger due to mautam food crisis but in reality, we have had this suffering long before mautam. It has already been a long time. Our sufferings will deepen and get even worse after this mautam. Therefore, we also try to teach and convince ourselves of making good use of what we receive not only for the ‘eat-and-finish’ purpose but also for our long-term life-changing benefits.
For instance, we encourage people to plant things that rats do not destroy such as eddoes (taro), potatoes, and garlics. We take even a stronger input on planting groundnuts and ‘ka-mung-uh’ in Southern Chin State. This has become a good platform for sharing and teaching. However, nothing much has yet come out of this since our capacity (what we can do to help) is still very limited. ZBC works in support of a hundred-year plan known as Zawngnak Declaration – literally meaning ‘Black Monkey Declaration’, formed in 1994 under the leadership of former General Secretary Rev. Dr. Chum Awi, that advocates a transformation of the ways in which our cultivation and animal farming are done. For instance, our main aims include a transformation of shifting cultivation into permanent farming. With its limited resource, ZBC cannot provide any financial assistance for these activities.
Some associations such as Falam and Hakha have taken their own initiatives in implementing the programmes in their respective areas. In addition, some local organisations such as CARD (Christian Association for Rural Development) are very active in different areas in this respect. We, the Chins, are convinced of the needs for a change in this regard. But we have not got confidence due to lack of education and skills, and poverty. Basically, what ZBC has been putting its priority on is a transformation of the ways in which we do our farming and cultivation.
Chinland Guardian: What is the current situation of ZBC?
Rev. M. Thawng Kam: Great. This is the good time. In 1995, ZBC was divided and there were rumours that some of our brothers did not associate with ZBC. What I would like to make clear is that we have members from all the Chin tribes in ZBC today. Currently in ZBC, there are over 200,000 members, 873 churches, 28 associations, and 6 local churches based in Rangoon. As I have mentioned, we have got members from each tribe of different areas in Chin State. Whenever we talk about ZBC, we feel that we are talking for the Chin people as a whole because we are the oldest convention having the biggest population with all Chin dialects being used among us. We believe that we still represent the Chin as a whole.
Chinland Guardian: Could you tell us how ZBC currently runs and funds itself financially?
Rev. M. Thawng Kam: ZBC’s expenses are from a contribution of tithes by churches. Each church gives 4/100 of its tithes to ZBC. That is how ZBC has been run so far.
At the beginning, only three associations, namely Hakha, Falam and Tiddim gave 15/100 of their tithes. Then, it was reduced to 7/100 and now 4/100 as the Convention has more members. There have been issues raised for further reduction on the amount of the current contribution. This has actually come out as a result of disunity. To tell you the truth, the current 4/100 contribution to ZBC can not do much in terms of implementing activities and works although it will be enough to give the staffs their salaries. This is the main reason why ZBC cannot do much financially to help the Chin people, for instance in this time of suffering from mautam-related hunger. Currently, ZBC is run with four in a hundred kyats, the current contribution made by each church.
Chinland Guardian: After the end of CCOC, does ZBC have any programme in Southern Chin State?
Rev. M. Thawng Kam: The CCOC programme concluded during the centenary in 1999. But we have a new programme called Centenary Mission for Christ (CMC). CMC focuses on working outside Chin State and we now have works in three main places: Chindwin, Pakhohku and Yaw fields. With the advent of CMC focusing on these fields, many staffs from Southern Chin State had to be withdrawn, leaving their churches and members alone in the areas. Especially in Kanpatlet and Paletwa townships, the churches were still new, not stable and strong yet, and there were very few pastors and good leaders. Without a good shepherd and caretaker, some newly converts changed their minds while others stopped going to church.
While the churches were in that situation, they were given a chance to form an association. The formation of association was beyond their reach as it had to be established on their own. ZBC thus decided to go back to provide necessary assistance after looking at their situations.
Some associations and churches from Northern Chin State also started working in Kanpatlet Township as it was more easily accessible in terms of transports and travels. Then, ZBC put its emphasis on working in Paletwa Township, which is far away and not being reached easily. In 2008 with the help of Chin churches in Canada, we started our work again with two staffs in Kanpatlet Township and another two staffs in 2009 with the help of Chin churches in Norway.
People might possibly work if we go and say: “Here is the money. Get the work done.” But we would like to go and do it first because it has got to be done carefully. As this kind of mission work needs a good stewardship, we rather look into making a step-by-step development. Now it has just become over a year since our work began. A mission work is clearly not only preaching but also teaching, helping and leading the people towards what is required for them with love and concern. Therefore, sending more staffs to the fields is as important as providing the needed assistance to the people. It is most important that the two meet and work together. A mission work carried out with full of love, kindness and concern has surely an easier and better accomplishment. This is the main reason why we do not now send many field staffs but we look to working more and improving better.
Chinland Guardian: During your terms as General Secretary, is there any issue raised in regards to changing the name of ZBC? Have you ever thought of doing so, too?
Rev. M. Thawng Kam: There were some rumours about nominal transformation just after a big group of our brothers, Tiddim, dissociated in 1995. But this issue has never come out important enough for a meeting discussion.
In my point of view, I have never thought of changing a name as the priority of our needs. ZBC was formed in 1953. In October 1952, there was a meeting held in Falam where three different names were actually proposed such as Zomi Baptist Convention, Laimi Baptist Convention and Chin Baptist Convention. The nominated names stood neck-to-neck. Finally, the meeting came to a conclusion with Zomi Baptist Convention based on the common yet more important ground of unity rather than the name itself.
It is really about oneness rather than all other issues such as one’s superiority, perfectness and victory over another. At present, there are 28 associations in ZBC in which 8 associations are of Tiddim. This is the very reason why we keep saying ZBC has got people from each Chin tribe. I don’t think changing its name will give any betterment for ZBC. Therefore, I don’t put in my heart the changing of the name of ZBC as the most important issue.
Chinland Guardian: Your messages to the Chin people across the globe.
Rev. M. Thawng Kam: Unity that I keep saying during this trip. We, the Chin, are very few and yet are divided by our high mountains and deep valleys. Due to this geographical division, our dialects (language) vary after a long period of time and it gradually makes us more difficult to understand each other. Then, it eventually creates some sort of distrust and suspicion among us and makes us unable to work together. Although we claim we are Christian and one family, an image of the division created by our mountains, valleys and dialects usually becomes visible in our Christianity. It is our biggest hindrance to becoming one family and gaining our strength. After living abroad, we can clearly see how disadvantageous and detrimental to have this kind of image in our society. Therefore, those who are now in developed countries, are more educated and have higher understanding must lead us to go forwards in unity by having closer collaboration and relationship.
Furthermore, the time for giving a ‘teacher-to-student’ lecture between those inside and outside the country is better to be over. The time has come for us to communicate closely and work together. The world today challenges us to find a way to our common ground. Similarly, it is very important that one church be closely linked to another. We should stop picking up our differences but come together on what we have in common, for instance in our dialects. This is what I think is the most important for the Chin people across the world.
Chinland Guardian: Thanks for your time and answers.
Rev. M. Thawng Kam: Thank you for this opportunity in which we can openly talk and share about ZBC to the Chin people across the world. Let’s keep on praying for each other.