The town of Churachandpur may be named after a Meitei king - but it could well be named "Church and Poor." There is plenty of church to be seen. All flavours. All sizes. Some pretty big.
The poor? Well, not the relentless beggar-poverty we see in all other parts of Bharat. But more just the general seediness of a small town that has never seemed to really grown beyond the dusty meeting roads stage - despite being (by some accounts at least) the district with the highest number of IAS, IPS etc. officers per capita in all of India!
Enoch was thrilled to see a football tournament going on at the 'Public Ground' which is just opposite where we are staying with our host - the well-known Dr. LF Tusing. We managed to watch a whole match where the local team took apart a visiting one with 3 thrilling goals to one. At one corner of the field stands the memorial stone seen in the picture above. The other side has an imposing Paite speaking church. Christian devotion is clearly not something hidden in these parts.
Looking at some of the vehicles reminded me of what I saw written on the side of a bus the last time I was here - almost 2 decades ago. Someone had taken pains to paint in beautiful lettering on the door of the driver "Prepare to meet your Maker." I don't know if it was intended as a comfort or as a warning. To me it would mean a less than perfect trust in the driving skills of the person piloting that particular bus!
God is still clearly on display on local vehicles:
Abraham gave God a name on the mount Moriah - where a ram was provided in lieu of his son Isaac. He said "Jehovah Jireh" - my God provides. Here in Southern Manipur - a century after the missionaries brought the Gospel to the various tribal groups who were expanding and contesting this territory at that time - the phrase now is seen on pick-up trucks:
In most of India, Christianity is the stuff of the periphery. A marginal voice at best. Often drowned in the multitude of other faiths. For example - you will find an image of a deity on virtually every government office computer - at least one shrine in every govt. office. So it is quite a change to see a place where the cross pops up ever so frequently - and all the more starkly given the largely blank walls - with the occasional revival and crusade bill pasted on.
On our first night in town, we drove up in the darkness to the "prayer mountain" at Mouvaiphei village. A prayer hall graces the top - donated by a local businessman - open to anyone who wants to pray there. Alone or in groups. And some 40-50 little cabins have been made by individual families . An evangelist who hails from one of the local tribes had gone to Sout Korea a few decades ago and was touched by the prayer movement there. S. Korea apparently boast 'prayer hills' and 'prayer towers' where 24 hour prayer goes on. On his return to Churachandpur, the evangelist asked a local chief for land to do build something like this here - and so a prayer hall built on top of a local hillock.
The night we went up there was no one else present. The hall and small cabins were quite and shut. We had the darkest blue sky and the pin-pricks of stars above, and the quietness of trees around us as we stood in a circle holding hands and praying.