GENERAL BACKGROUND OF THE MARA EVANGELICAL CHURCH
The Mara Evangelical Church is one of the Churches in Myanmar, South East Asia. To know about the Church it is good to highlight, the geographical location of Maraland, social origin of the Maras, social political life of the Maras in their past and present, the genesis of Christianity, the growth of the Church, the administration of the Church, her Ecumenical relation to ecumenical body and the life situation of the Church in present time.
A. THE BACKGROUND OF THE CHURCH
1. The Land
Maraland is situated in Indo Burma Border of South East Asia. As a result of independence to India (1947) and Myanmar (Burma) (1948), Maraland became a territory divided into two parts with an international boundary running through. Hence, there is a Maraland in the Mizoram State of India and a Maraland in the Chin State of Myanmar.
Maraland is high and fertile. On the lower slopes, a bamboo jungle prevails. The higher hills are clothed with oaks, rhododendrons and dwarf bamboos. The land has a few plain areas along the banks of rivers. The land is rich in flora and fauna. The climate is cold with heavy rainfall from June to September.
2. The People
The Maras belong to the Mongoloid stock of the Tibet: once a small Burman family, they are now one of major tribes in Chin State of Myanmar and Mizoram State of India. This family migrated from South China to Tibet, crossing the hills of Northern Myanmar. They arrived in their present abode somewhere between fourteenth and fifteenth century CE. This group was referred to by many names: their neighbouring tribe, the Khumis, called them the Shandoos, the Mizos called them the Lakhers (a name derived from the tireless cotton work –spinning- of their women) and the Lais called them Miram. The tribe however called themselves Mara. This paper will consider the people of Mara and the life of the Mara Church in Myanmar.
6. The Genesis of Christianity in Maraland
Though all the Maras were animists, Christianity is the only religion in Maraland today. This is the fruit of the hard labour of Reginald Arthur Lorrain and his family, and independent missionaries from London. He founded the Lakher (Mara) pioneer mission in London in the year 1905, and he arrived in Maraland to spread the Gospel of Christ in September 26, 1907.
He built their first Mission bungalow in Saikao (Serkawer) which was then the outskirts of the British Empire. At the very time Lorrain was not welcome by the Maras because of fearful feeling towards the British. While the Maras were longing for liberation from fear of evil spirits, R.A.Lorrain had brought the Gospel of Jesus Christ that overcomes all the power of evils. Indeed the victory of Jesus Christ over evil spirits is the best news for the Maras and the Maras believe Jesus Christ as their Savor and embrace Christianity.
Moreover Lorrain picked up the local language soon after he arrived in Maraland and gradually compiled a dictionary and grammar book. Lorrain also contributed the Mara Holy Bible and Mara Literature to Mara society. In this way Lorrain gained friendship of the Maras.
7. The Growth of the Mara Church
Due to the hard labour of Lorrain and his family the Church has rapidly grown in Maraland within half a century (1907-1950). The Lorrain Mission appointed a group of paid worker called “Soldiers of the Cross” from among the first Mara believers. They worked with Lorrain to convert many Maras to Christianity.
Unfortunately, the Reverend R.A. Lorrain died in 1944 without giving proper name for the Church which he found. The name of the Church was occasionally called Lakher (Mara) Church.
After the death of Lorrain, the Church was growing more rapidly when the Gospel Golden Jubilee year, 1957 was approaching. The Jubilee celebration caused another revival called “Jubilee Revival”, and all the remaining animist were added into the Church during and after Jubilee. Maraland became total Christian Land in 1960 and the Church became a self-supporting Church.
It was the late Albert Bruce Lorrain Foxall, the son-in-law of R.A. Lorrain finally gave the name of the Church know as the “Lakher (Mara) Independent Evangelical Church” in 1960 at the last Presbytery meeting al Lorrainville Saikao (Mizoram State, India). Later the name Lakher was changed to “Mara” the real name of the native people at the General Assembly at Satly village (Mizoram State, India) in 1967.
Albert Bruce Lorrain Foxall is the latest Oversea Missionary to Maraland and after 1977 there were no more Oversea Missionary with us. The entire Maraland also became Christian and the total Church leadership was handed over to the native Christian. Unfortunately there is no more connection with any local Church or congregation outside Maraland after the death of Lorrain Foxall. The Mara Church had remained as an isolated and independent Church for many years.
B. OVERSEA MISSIONARIES TO MARALAND
R.A. Lorrain the first missionary to Maraland approached the Baptist Missionary Society of Great Britain to send him as missionary to Maraland in 1905. Unfortunately he was not encouraged by the mission society and he started “LAKHER PIONNER MISSION” in London in order to reach the heathen Maraland with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Some of believers joint him. Their names are;
1. Rev. Reginald Arthur Lorrain – 26 Sept.1907 to 01 Feb. 1944
2. Mrs. Moud Louisa Lorrain – 26 Sept.1907 to 23 May 1968
3. Mrs. Louisa Margret Tlosai – 18 Jan. 1907 to 21 June 1968
4. Miss Cladys Ramsey – 1921 to 1927
5. Mrs. Yalmark – 1923 to 1924
6. Rev. Albert Bruce Lorrain Foxall – 1928 to 1977
7. Miss Irene Hadley – 1928 to 1934
8. Miss Gorst – 1928 to 1934
9. Jelly, Mary, Susan, Johny – 07 Nov. 1931 to 06 Feb. 1932
10. Mrs. Violet (grant daughter of Lorrain who married Mara man) 1938 to Till today
The above mentioned persons are who contributed the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Maraland and her people.
C. REGISTRATION OF THE MARA EVANGELICAL CHURCH (MEC)
Due to the political independent of India (1947) and Myanmar (Burma) 1948, Maraland was divided to two parts. One part is in Myanmar and the other part is in India. For this reason the Church can no stay under one administration and one Assembly due to political reasons. Therefore the Church in Myanmar has been given separate Assembly from 1967. Today the name of the Church is called the Mara Evangelical Church. “Mara” is name of the native tribe.
The Mara Evangelical Church is one of the tribal Churches in Myanmar. It is registered under the Ministry of the Religious Affairs of Myanmar in 1984. She is one of the official Churches in Myanmar. The registration Number of the Church is (Regd .no. 64/84).
F. THE LIFE SITUATION OF THE CHURCH MEMBERS
Christianity becomes the religion of the Mara tribe. All Maras embrace Christianity today. 87% of the Mara Christians belong to the Mara Evangelical Church. The rest of them belong to Baptist Church, and Para Churches.
The Mara people who are living in their own land are shifting Farmers. They mainly depend upon their crops and they mainly work in their own farm. They have enough land to make life. However their way of cultivation and making life is so traditional. Therefore they are very slow in developing life. 97% of the Church members are farmers, 1% of the Church members are very small business people and 2% of the Mara Christians are government services. 95% of the Church members (Maras) are living at village. Some of them are hardly living in towns and cities.
Since the Maras were born in Christian family they all love Christianity. They are very proud to be the Children of God and they love to give tithe for the Church and mission fund for evangelization out of their harvests. The government services and small business people also love to offer their tithe to the Church till today.
D. THE CAPACITY OF THE CHURCH
The total members – 21573
Local Churches/ Congregation – 87
Preaching Station – 9
Pastorate – 27
Ordained Ministers – 36
Probationary Pastor – 8
Ministerial Staff – 18
Missionaries and workers – 67
Project Workers – 39
Evangelists – 4
Center of Maraland Education – 1
Private Mission Middle School – 1
Agape Children Home – 1
5. Theological College
Lorrain Theo. College (B. Th.) – 1
6. Finance: Total Income of MEC – 2008
Local Contribution (in Local Currency Kyat & US$)
Year General Mission Project Total
2008 in Kyat 56,983,990 15,712,277 11,094,604 83,790,871
2008 in US$ 56983 US$ 15712 US$ 11094 US$ 83790 US $
It is the general capacity of MEC. This information is taken from the general assembly of Tlopi, 7-9 March 2009.
7. Current Activities
The Mara Evangelical Church has already engaged in mission work for 44 years. Evangelization is one of the main activities of the Church. In addition the Church is contributing Education to Children by running Center of Maraland Education caring motherless baby by running Agape Children Home, Leadership Promotion for mission field by running Theological College and doing relief work for famine effected people in Maraland.
(a) Mission Work
The Mara Evangelical Church is a Missionary Church. Preach the Gospel, Baptism and Church planting is the center of mission work. The mission work is started from 1966. The Church is still active in mission work. The Church is supporting 67 missionaries and workers in Myanmar. The Church is also taking care of one mission school. Some evangelists of the Church are teaching primer education at home in the mission field.
(b) Children Education
Maraland is one of the remote areas in Myanmar. There is very poor education for Children. For this reason the Church has started Children education project, called Center of Maraland Education from 2004. There are 100 school children and 30 children are studying outside Maraland with the Sponsor of Kindernothilfe, KNH Germany. World Council of Churches and Nortmoor congregation, a Lutheran Church in Germany also have partially donated for Children education.
(c) Agape Children Home
Unfortunately motherless baby are hard to survive due to the scarcity of milk in Maraland. Thus the women department of MEC is running Agape Children Home to save life. Baby shall be taken care up to completion of two years. After two years the relative has to take the baby. This project is started from 2003. It is totally responsible by women Department of the Church. At the present there are 6 babies are staying in Agape Children home.
(d) Lorrain Theological College
The Purpose of running Theological College is to promote native pastors and missionaries for mission fields. Out of 44 years mission experiences the Church is convinced to run small Theological College of the Church from 2003 to train young men and women for mission work. Presently there are 27 Theological Students in the College. The College offers Bachelor of Theology (B.Th).
(e) Relief Work and Community Development
Bamboo flowering and fruit in 2007 attract many insects and rats. Insect and rats have destroyed all crops of the farm in Maraland. Thus all farmers have not produced food. Therefore the whole people in the land have faced severe famine from 2007 and till today. In this situation the Church works for short term and long term relief with KNH and local people. For short term relief Diakoniekatastrophehilfe also has helped us.
EED in Germany has decided to participate in Maraland sustainable development programme from 2009-2011.
D. ECUMENICAL RELATIONS
1. The ecumenical movement of the Myanmar Council of Churches (MCC) attracts the Mara Church to joint ecumenical body like MCC.
• As the Church to be one the MEC happily applied membership in MCC. The MEC become member of MCC in 1985.
• MEC is member of the Christian Conference of Asia in 1989
• MEC is member of the World Alliance of Reform Churches in 1993
• MEC is Associate member of the World Council of Churches in 2001
2. The Mission partners of the Mara evangelical Church is;
• The Evangelical Church of Maraland from 1966
• The National Missionary Society of India from 2007
3. Social Action partners are;
• Kindernothilfe (KNH), Germany from 2007
• EED from Germany from 2009
E. THE IMPORTANT EVENTS OF THE CHURCH
1905 – The Lakher (Mara) Pioneer Mission was founded in London
1907 – The Arrival of the first Missionary to Maraland
1908 – The Mara language is reduced to writing
1928 – The New Testament was Translated in Mara and published
1956 – The First Mara Holy Bible is published
1957 – The Maraland Gospel Golden Jubilee was celebrated
2007 – The Maraland Gospel Centenary Jubilee was celebrated