Watkin Roberts

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Watkin R. Roberts (21 September 1886– 20 April 1969) was a Welsh missionary responsible for the initial Christian converts among the Hmar and other sister tribes in the Churachandpur district and Pherzawl district of Southern Manipur, India. His ministry there touched the family of Rochunga Pudaite who ultimately developed a script for the tribal language and translated the New Testament into it. [1] [2]

Welsh people nation and ethnic group native to Wales

The Welsh are a Celtic nation and ethnic group native to, or otherwise associated with, Wales, Welsh culture, Welsh history and the Welsh language. Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom, and the majority of people living in Wales are British citizens.

Missionary member of a religious group sent into an area to do evangelism

A missionary is a member of a religious group sent into an area to promote their faith or perform ministries of service, such as education, literacy, social justice, health care, and economic development. The word "mission" originates from 1598 when the Jesuits sent members abroad, derived from the Latin missionem, meaning "act of sending" or mittere, meaning "to send". The word was used in light of its biblical usage; in the Latin translation of the Bible, Christ uses the word when sending the disciples to preach The gospel in his name. The term is most commonly used for Christian missions, but can be used for any creed or ideology.

Hmar is an ethnic group in northeast India, western Burma and eastern Bangladesh.


Roberts was from Caernarvon in Wales where he worked in a stone slate quarry. He was converted through reading some sermons R. A. Torrey. [3] During the 1904-1905 Welsh Revival Roberts decided to become a foreign missionary. He was a friend of medical doctor Peter Fraser. In 1908 Dr. Fraser and his wife headed for India to be medical missionaries among the Mizo tribal people. They paid for Roberts' passage to join their missionary party. The threesome arrived in Aizawl, India on December 9, 1908.

Caernarfon town and port in Gwynedd, Wales

Caernarfon is a royal town, community, and port in Gwynedd, Wales, with a population of 9,615. It lies along the A487 road, on the eastern shore of the Menai Strait, opposite the Isle of Anglesey. The city of Bangor is 8.6 miles (13.8 km) to the north-east, while Snowdonia fringes Caernarfon to the east and south-east. Carnarvon and Caernarvon are Anglicised spellings that were superseded in 1926 and 1974 respectively. The villages of Bontnewydd and Caeathro are close by. The town is also noted for its high percentage of native Welsh speakers. Due to this, Welsh is the predominant language of the town.

Wales Country in northwest Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It is bordered by England to the east, the Irish Sea to the north and west, and the Bristol Channel to the south. It had a population in 2011 of 3,063,456 and has a total area of 20,779 km2 (8,023 sq mi). Wales has over 1,680 miles (2,700 km) of coastline and is largely mountainous with its higher peaks in the north and central areas, including Snowdon, its highest summit. The country lies within the north temperate zone and has a changeable, maritime climate.

R. A. Torrey American writer

Reuben Archer Torrey was an American evangelist, pastor, educator, and writer.

A letter from Fraser to R. J. Williams, secretary of the Calvinist Methodist Mission Society, speaks of Roberts' level of commitment: "[Roberts] believes he would be disobeying our Lord if he stayed at home now for a number of years." Fraser continues, "It is my duty and privilege to pray that the Lord will send out labourers into His harvest. Mr. Roberts seems to be an answer to that prayer." [4]

At age 22, Roberts was much younger than other missionaries in the area. So, the Mizos immediately dubbed him 'Saptlangvala', the 'Youthful Sahib'. [5] Roberts was still being called that when he was in his eighties.

Over the northern border of Mizoram, people in the Hmar village of Senvawn, Manipur had heard of the Gospel. In 1910 the village chief Kamkholun wrote to the missionaries in Aizawl to ask about the Gospel. [6] The missionary in charge said it was outside the province where British authorities had granted them permission to work. Furthermore, the Hmars were known to be headhunters. [7] However, Roberts sent the Hmar village chief a copy of the Gospel of John. [8] The chief's response was to ask for someone to come and explain what was written in that Gospel.

Mizoram State in northeast India

Mizoram is a state in northeastern India, with Aizawl as its capital city. The name is derived from "Mizo", the name of the native inhabitants, and "Ram", which means land, and thus Mizoram means "land of the Mizos". Within the northeast region, it is the southernmost landlocked state, sharing borders with three of the Seven Sister States, namely Tripura, Assam and Manipur. The state also shares a 722-kilometre border with the neighbouring countries of Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Gospel of John Book of the New Testament

The Gospel of John is the fourth of the canonical gospels. The work is anonymous, although it identifies an unnamed "disciple whom Jesus loved" as the source of its traditions. It is closely related in style and content to the three Johannine epistles, and most scholars treat the four books, along with the Book of Revelation, as a single corpus of Johannine literature, albeit not from the same author.

Roberts told the British government agent in the area that he wanted to visit the Hmars. The agent said, "No, it's too dangerous."

Roberts showed him the tribal chief's invitation but was told it was deceptive. "They only want to chop your head off," the agent said. [9]

On February 5, 1910, Roberts went anyway and was able to explain the gospel to the people. After a week of teaching, the chief and four other Hmar men announced that they wanted to make peace with the God of the Bible by believing on Jesus Christ. Though Roberts only spent a total of five days with the Hmars, the converts grew in faith and became leaders of a new, energetic church. Within two generations, the entire Hmar tribe had been evangelized. Headhunting stopped. [10]

In 1912, Roberts was suffering from a prolonged bout of "enteric fever," so he was sent home to Wales to recuperate. While there he attended the 1914 Keswick Convention. There he met an English woman, Gladys Wescott Dobson, who also had a heart for overseas Christian missionary work. After much prayer, Roberts and Gladys were married at Thoburn Methodist Episcopal Church on 8 March 1915 in Kolkata, India. [3] In 1931 she wrote 4 verses to the hymn "Wounded for Me" by her friend Rev. W.G. Ovens, which was published in Golden Bells.

Roberts was from the Welsh Calvinist Methodist Church also called the Presbyterian Church of Wales. He established churches on Presbyterian principles, though they had no denominational attachment. He called his mission the Thadou-Kuki Mission, which in 1919 was renamed the North-East India General Mission. [6] In 1924 Roberts visited the United States and received considerable financial support from there. [5] Due to local believers aspirations to spread the Gospel to Burma, the organization was renamed again in 1930 to Indo-Burma Pioneer Mission. [11]

It was not to last though. The British Colonial authorities saw Roberts as a troublemaker who ignored the comity system in which mission organizations were assigned designated geographic regions where they were to be the sole Christian church. For having stayed overnight in Hmar homes where he also ate their food, British authorities expelled Roberts from India. Roberts returned home to Wales, his hopes and dreams shattered. He had no idea what would become of the seed he had planted.

He eventually wound up in Canada, helping lead the Canadian arm of the Regions Beyond Missionary Union. Roberts stepped aside as chair of that organization in 1957 and died on April 20, 1969. [12] His wife Gladys Westcott Roberts died in Toronto in 1983.

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  1. Haokip, Jangkholam (April 2014). "Implications of Having an Independent Missionary: A Review of the 1910 Kuki Mission". International Bulletin of Missionary Research. 38 (2): 90–94.
  2. Fuller, W. Harold (2015). Sun Like Thunder: Following Jesus on Asia's Spice Road. FriesenPress. p. 126. ISBN   978-1-4602-2760-2.
  3. 1 2 "A little known quarryman in Wales". Evangelical Movement of Wales.
  4. Peter Fraser, letter to R. J. Williams, secretary, Calvinistic Methodist Mission Society, September 14, 1908, C. M. Archives, 27, 314, preserved in the National Library of Wales.
  5. 1 2 "Mizo Story 17". mizostory.org.
  6. 1 2 "English Education In Manipur". tripod.com.
  7. Larson, Craig Brian and Phyllis Ten Elshof (2009), 1001 Illustrations That Connect: Compelling Stories, Stats, and News Items for Preaching, Teaching, and Writing (Zondervan) Illustration 30
  8. O'Neal, Dori (12 September 2008). "India Children's Choir performs Sept. 17 in Kennewick". Tri-City Herald.
  9. Reenders, Jay (26 February 2013). "The Book That Set My People Free". Reformed and Biblical.
  10. "Christianity - Faith in God, Jesus Christ - Christian Living, Trivia". Christianity.com.
  11. "About". efci.org.in.
  12. Conley, Joseph F. (2000), Drumbeats that Changed the World: A History of the Regions Beyond Missionary Union and the West Indies Mission, 1873-1999 (William Carey Library), p. 507