The following is an article by famous Welsh musician Mal Pope originally published on his website on April 27th 2019. The article and images have been reposted with the consent of Mal Pope.
This week I took a trip down to Tenby to play a flying visit to Llanw 2019. Llanw is a week long church celebration organised by the Presbyterian Church of Wales. People had come to the conference from all around Wales and it was lovely to meet them but the people I had really wanted to meet had come from much further afield. The special guests at this year’s Llanw conference were a choir from Mizoram in North East India.
If I’m honest I had to use a search engine to find out exactly where Mizoram was. Although it is part of India it is sandwiched between Bangladesh and Myanmar. The name comes from ‘Mizo’ which is the name of the native inhabitants and ‘Ram’ which means land so it’s the Land of the Mizo’.
That’s the geography lesson over and done with now for some history. India is a land of many religions. The tension between Hindu and Muslim populations has led to many deaths over the years and finally led to the creation of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Mizoram is very different in religious make up to much of the rest of India and Pakistan. Out of a population of just over 1 million, 85% would identify themselves as being Christian, and the reason for that is down to Welsh Missionaries.
Back in 1896 David Evan Jones saw an appeal in the Presbyterian weekly for missionaries to go to India to work with local people. His dream was to go to the beautiful Khasi Hills but before he left Wales news came that Assam had suffered a great earthquake. Much of the local infrastructure had been destroyed but instead of putting him off his quest it made him even more determined to go.
In his early years in India it is said David Jones felt very lonely. The land was beautiful, and he had plenty of opportunity to work and preach but he didn’t see much of a response to his ‘gospel’
The story now moves to Swansea, to Evan Roberts and Moriah Chapel. In 1904 Evan Roberts told family and friends he had been personally commissioned by God to lead a worldwide religious revival and it was to start in Loughor. Although this happened over 100 years ago, I don’t think people have really changed. Imagine if one of your friends told you that story and then you can possibly imagine what Evan’s family and friends thought about Evan when he gave them the news.
But within weeks the 1904 Welsh Revival had spread across the whole of Wales and that revival fire would soon spread right across the world, to the USA, China and to India. The remarkable thing about the Revival is that it spread in lots of different ways. Sometimes people came to Wales to hear Evan preach and were so affected they took that message to their home countries. That’s what happened with the Great USA Revival which started in Azusa Street in California and which then led to a church which now numbers over 10 million souls.
I’m told the Revival spread to India via letters form Wales. As the Welsh Missionaries read the story of what was happening in Wales the same sort of thing happened in India. Soon churches were full, and Rev David Jones saw his flock grow day by day. Mizoram was quite some way away from this revival, but the news spread, and 2 young men decided to go and see for themselves. They got there and nothing happened for them. They left for home disappointed but a couple of miles form home it is said they were overcome by the Holy Spirit in a place they named Bethel. From that moment on their church grew to the size it is now.
Calon Lân in Mizo and Welsh. Video courtesy of Nan Powell Davies
What had drawn me to meet this young choir was something I saw online. As well as being beautifully dressed in traditional clothes and singing hymns in Mizo they also sang ‘Calon Lân’ in Mizo but also in perfect Welsh. I’m currently working on a couple of projects still under wraps to celebrate Swansea at 50 and as soon as I saw that performance, I knew I need to meet them and to record and film them too.
Mizo Stick Dance Video courtesy of Nan Powell Davies
After a week in Wales they seemed very much at home. They had performed in churches right across out country and I met them just before they were due to lead a beach mission in Tenby. I can’t actually describe how I felt. If you know the story of Evan Roberts many thought it ended in disappointment and failure as he stopped speaking after about 18 months becoming something of a recluse. But here in front of me singing ‘Calon Lân’ were the great, great grandchildren of the Welsh revival. Something which cost him, well, everything.
It made me think, sometimes we can feel that our work is in vain. Looking at these youngsters and thinking of it made me think again. Sometimes we never get to see the fruit of our work in our own lifetime. Sometimes you have to do the right thing and leave the rest to life.
Talking about Calon Lân, there is some tremendous work being done by the Calon Lân Society based in Treboeth. They plan to commemorate the death of Daniel James, the man wrote the words to Calon Lân, on the 16th March 2020. Their website has details of events this year and will let you know how they pan to mark the centenary next year.
Mal Pope Musician and Supporter of the Calon Lan Society