How to dedicate a new Unitarian Church in Jrikyndeng, India
It was a true pleasure to visit with brothers and sisters in faith in North East India last week. The visit was full of learning and inspiration for me, and served to recommit the already strong relationship between the UUA and the Unitarian Union of North East India (UUNEI). One of the highlights of the visit was an opportunity to help dedicate a new Unitarian Church in Jrikyndeng. Jrikyndeng is one of only 3 UUNEI churches that are outside of Meghalaya – in the Karbi Anglong region of Assam. Though it's true that some of the Unitarian churches in the Khasi and Jantia Hills of Meghalaya are quite remote, those in “Karbi” are considered more extremely remote. For a number of years visits to these churches were made difficult by violent separatist insurgencies in Karbi Anglong, although in the past 18 months these have decreased and nearly ended entirely. I am honored to be one of the first American UUs to visit Unitarian churches in Karbi Anglong, thanks to the efforts of leaders of the Unitarian Union. But, it was not easy. Here’s what it takes to help dedicate a new Unitarian Church in Jrikyndeng.
- Depart Shillong at 7am on Sunday morning along with Rev. Derrick Pariat (President, UUNEI) and Rev. Joan Montagnes (Associate Minister at East Shore Unitarian Church in Bellevue, WA) Rev. Joan is spending her sabbatical in Meghalaya offering leadership training to the Unitarian community, and doing a spectacular job. (And, special thanks to Rev. Joan for contributing a few of these photos)
- Arrive in Jowai at 9am to pick up Rev. Helpme Mohrmen (General Secretary, UUNEI) and Rev. Nangroi Suting (Social Services Minister, UUNEI)
- Arrive in Mukhap to visit with Unitarians there and see the old Unitarian church and school as well as the new church that is under construction. Also to decide whether the roads will allow for an onwards journey to Jrikyndeng (its been raining and it may not be possible to proceed.)
- We have hired a “Sumo” – that’s a kind of car – to transport us. Apparently the “A” route is not passable, but the more difficult “B” route is worth a try. The Sumo comes with two drivers, who we will all be most grateful to for the rest of a very long day. They are both, coincidentally, Unitarians.
- Begin the journey to Jrikyndeng at 10am. There’s occasional pavement and only one lane for the first few kilometers. After one particularly slow portion the passengers are informed that this is the “easy” part.
- We reach a wooden bridge over a deep ravine. In this case a wooden bridge means wood slats stretched across the ravine, a haphazard construction at best. We – the passengers – walk across the ravine and the Sumo quickly drives across it. We’ve passed our first major obstacle.
- An hour or so after departing Mukhap we come to the bottom of a hill that the Sumo can’t seem to climb. The bottom of the hill is a big mud puddle and there are crevices throughout the path up the hill. The drivers and our hosts work hard to prepare a path that the Sumo can climb. After 45 minutes we’re pretty sure that its not going to be possible. We call ahead to folks in Jrikyndeng to see if they can help, and they agree to drive out with a truck that might be able to pull us up the hill. While we’re waiting, we continue to try to find a way up the hill. Amazingly, after about an hour, the Sumo climbs the hill. Obstacle 2 is overcome.
- Over the next hour or so there are a few more hills like the previous one that look like they’ll force us to turn around, but somehow our drivers find a way to continue along.
- Around 1pm we arrive in Rongkimi – a Karbi village which is entirely Unitarian. This community is planning to rebuild its Church and School over the next few months. We celebrate with them.
- Around 2:00pm we arrive in Jrikyndeng. There we meet with the leaders of the community, and have lunch with the very generous man who has donated the land and the expenses related to building a new Unitarian church. After lunch we have a dedication ceremony for the church that is incredibly inspiring. Every seat in the church is taken, and we wonder whether something bigger would have made more sense. The congregation tells us that they'll make room for each other. Amen.
- After the dedication we realize that we are going to have trouble getting back to a paved road before sunset. And, that means trouble if we get stuck. But, we depart with hope around 5pm and dusk quickly falls. We decide to return using the “A” route even though there was a significant danger of being unable to ford a river that had flooded because of recent rain.
- On the way towards the river, we encountered a number of other obstacles that, frankly, led us to think that we were likely to be sleeping in the Sumo. But each of these were eventually overcome. We are all incredibly grateful to our drivers.
- By about 10pm we reach the river. All of the passengers walk across a long footbridge while the Sumo heads further down hill to the ford. Above us is the cement bridge that has been under construction for a number of years. Someday it will be finished and help make these visits more frequent.
- When we, the passengers, reach the other side we are pleased to learn that the Sumo has made it across without a problem! Now, we are past every imaginable obstacle and likely to be home within a couple hours for certain.
- Unfortunately, a final insurmountable barrier appears. Bulldozers involved with the new bridge construction have left 8 or 9 10-foot high piles of sand in the middle of the road. At first the drivers try to dig a path through them, but it quickly becomes clear that this is futile. Alas.
- A solution is reached to call in a favor to the Sumo company to bring another truck out and pick us up on the other side of the sand piles. About an hour later they arrive, we all pile in, pull-in to Muklap at around midnight and eventually drive off to our final destinations for the night.