Indian tribes who were converted to Christianity by missionaries from Wales are now returning to evangelise the Welsh because they believe that the country is in a state of religious decline.
The Diocese of Mizoram, in the north-east of India, has already sent one missionary to south Wales. It is planning to send a second in April, to help the Welsh Presbyterian Church with its shortage of ministers.
The Rev Hmar Sangkhuma, who runs yoga classes for the elderly and works as a “mission enabler” in Maesteg, near Bridgend, said that many people in Wales were suffering from a “spiritual void”.
“There is a perceived lack of relevance of Christianity to lives based on materialism,” he said.
Mr Sangkhuma said that he felt drawn to Wales because of the link with his Church in Mizoram. Many of the Mizos, as they term themselves, were converted to Christianity by the Welsh between 1840 and 1960.
The missions, at the height of the Christian revival in Wales, were phenomenally successful, with more than 80 per cent of the population becoming Christian.
The Mizos are believed to be ethnically Mongoloid and are hilltribe people divided into a number of tribes. Recently some of them have started identifying themselves as one of the lost tribes of Israel, but the incidence of Christianity is still very high.
The ties to the Presbyterian Church of Wales, which Mizos refer to as the “Mother Church”, are also very strong.
The Rev Zosang Colney, of the Diocese of Mizoram, said that the churches in Wales seemed to be “declining physically and spiritually”.
“Many church buildings have been closed down,” he added. “The Mizos, therefore, have a burden to do something for their Mother Church in Wales.”
A second missionary from Mizoram, the Rev John Colney, is expected to move to Wales this year.
Sylvia Coombes, of the Council For World Mission, which organises the mission partners, said it was normal for foreign countries to send missionaries to Britain.
The group has sent a Zambian missionary and one from Singapore to the area, while it also has a missionary from South Africa in London. “Look at Mizoram, it is over 80 per cent Christian – you can’t say that about the UK,” she said.
Wales is traditionally seen as one of the most religious areas in Britain, following the great revival of 1904 which culminated in a period of fervent chapel building.
However, that has now declined and the 2001 census showed that fewer than one in 10 people in Wales regularly attended church or chapel.
The Rev Daffyd Jones, the mission secretary for the Presbyterian Church of Wales, said that Mr Sangkhuma, who is 49 and married with four children, was helping with the fact that there was a shortage of ministers in the Church.
“He works as a mission enabler and also runs rehabilitation for young offenders,” he said. “It is quite moving for us to hear and see how the Mizos describe us as their Mother Church”.
Mr Sangkhuma said that the Church in Wales had been “decimated” and that he still advocated wayside preaching and knocking on doors as a form of evangelism in the area.