Archive: Confrontation at the Prayer Cave

Archive: Confrontation at the Prayer Cave

Archive: Confrontation at the Prayer Cave

Would Gideon-like faith and enthusiasm for Jesus lead the Indian Christians into a violent conflict with the Hindu idol worshipers?

by Ruth Seamands, Methodist missionary to India for 20 years

Peace exploded on a mission compound in India one memorable Sunday morning in March 1924. The missionary, Rev. E.A. Seamands (my father-in-law), was preparing for worship service when suddenly a young man from Mirzapur village pounded on the door and breathlessly cried, “Sir! A Hindu priest and his wife are in our Prayer Cave! They have buried their idol in the floor! They have written the name of the god Vitoba on the wall encircling the idol! What shall we do? They are trying to steal our holy place and make it a Vitoba temple! We are going to gather an army of our Christian students, attack the two in the cave and throw out the idol! They cannot have our Prayer Cave!”

Since their baptism in 1896, this cave had been a sacred meeting place for the Mirzapur Christians – the very first Christians in the area. As new generations came on, a great love for the Prayer Cave permeated the whole area. It became a historic show place – all visitors would be led to this holy spot to hear its story. The cave was cut back about twenty feet into a rocky red-laterite cliff above the village of Kanarese Mirzapur. In front of the cave was a natural stone platform where several thousands could gather for worship. It was under the supervision of the young Christians of Mirzapur village, a hundred yards away in the valley. In turn they visited the cave every morning, saw that it was always clean, whitewashed, and that a Bible and hymnbook were kept inside. Now their place was in jeopardy.

The missionary was greatly concerned at this news. But he cautioned, “Go slowly. You know it is a serious offense to ‘molest the deity’ of another’s religion. Come, worship here now, hold steady, and we will pray for God’s wisdom in this matter.”

But there was great turmoil on the compound all day. The young people were ready to fight—and die, if necessary—for their Lord. By the end of the day, their strategy had changed. They announced to Tata (an honorific term of respect) Seamands, “Sir, all of us young people, and all the school children are going to assemble right in the mouth of the cave and we are going to SING and PRAY until God runs the priest and his wife out! Then we will repossess our cave. God will give us victory!” They dashed off.

The missionary followed them, climbing the hill to the mouth of the cave. He heard the singing, clapping, and shouting of “Jaya Christ!” (victory to Christ!) long before he reached the place. He stood and marveled at the robust enthusiasm of several hundred children and young people crowding before the cave. The face of the cliff became a loud speaker, broadcasting the clangor far down into the Manjra River valley. Thrilled with their boldness, soon he, too, joined in singing Christian songs and shouting, “Jaya Christ!” Some older Christians were also there, their presence giving comfort and strength. For hours the victory songs echoed from the summit, assaulting the ears of the two in the cave.

Suddenly there was a commotion at the mouth of the cave. The Hindu priest and his wife peeked fearfully out the door, looking for a path through the Lord’s host of exuberant Christians. With great glee, the regiment stood back and made a path for the two. Down the hill to their village the couple sprinted, as if a hundred demons were chasing them.

The singers milled about—not sure what to do next. Suddenly, with a victorious cry, a Christian carpenter from Mirzapur appeared, cradling a crowbar! Within seconds, the dethroned idol, Vitoba, imbedded in a round, grinding-stone-like base, was hauled out the cave door. Again the battalion speedily parted, and god and grindstone rolled down the incline. Then with triumphant clamor, the “army of the Lord” romped down the hill past the helpless god and bivouacked in their village.

But Monday was another faith-testing day. Overnight the priest and his followers had rescued the impotent idol and had reinstated it in the cave floor, the priest beside it. The priest’s wife was absent that day, but there were enough of his henchmen gathered nearby to challenge the Christians.

Father Seamands knew he must stand with the young people – who were already gathering before he heard of it. As he left the house, he grabbed up his old-fashioned camera, thinking to get visible proof of whatever happened. As he approached the cave, the possibility of a big battle was clearly evident. The Lord’s army was again in command at the mouth of the cave, singing and shouting. The army of the god of stone stood nearby, muttering angrily. Just as the missionary arrived at the edge of the crowd, several boys entered the cave, brandishing the crowbar. The terrified priest plunged out to join his group.

Dad Seamands called to his boys, “Wait! I want to photograph the idol!”

Seconds later, poor old Vitoba was again kicked down the slope.

At this the priest’s hit-men started up, and Dad Seamands turned around to get their pictures. His old camera was a very large one—it took huge, postcard size pictures. As he aimed the camera at the guerrillas, they suddenly froze in the Indian sun. They had never seen a weapon like that! Thinking the big black box must be some kind of new artillery, they panicked and abandoned Vitoba.

Once again the valley rang with a victory celebration!

Later, the “idol group” filed a case in court against the Christians, suing to get “their” cave back. But everyone knew the cave first belonged to the Christians, so the judge threw the case out of court. The judge was a Muslim – and Muslims abhor idols.

So to the Christians in the Bidar area of the Methodist South India Conference, Easter is an extra-special day. It’s Resurrection, Thanksgiving, and a Hallelujah day—because the Prayer Cave is theirs!

Let the hills and the caves rejoice … JAYA CHRIST!

Archive: Confrontation at the Prayer Cave

Archive: Son-Rise

Archive: Son-Rise

An Easter morning experience

By Barbara Mary Johnson Chatsworth, CA

Bright red caught my eye through the gray morning haze. As I bicycled past the duck pond, the road turned due east, and in the space between mountain and foothill appeared a startling, pulsating wedge of red. What was it?

Quickly my mind reviewed the possibilities: a red van, a firetruck, a flying saucer. The fact that I was pedaling to the Easter Sunrise Service should have given me a clue. Yet I didn’t know—at least right away—that, yes, it was the sun. The sun was peeking over the horizon.

I laughed to myself as I coasted down the little slope in the road toward the dawn. The excitement of the glorious sunrise overcame the numbness of my cold fingers and any sleepy regrets about leaving my warm bed so early. “Christ is risen,” my heart sang as I inhaled the awakening breeze of daybreak. I wanted to shout to the world, “Christ is risen!” but there was no one around. I yearned for someone to answer, “He is, indeed.”

In earlier days Christians didn’t wish each other “Happy Easter.” Instead Christians greeted one another with, “Christ is risen,” and were answered, “He is, indeed.” What a meaningful custom, I thought, as I turned past a horse ranch and looked for people to greet. But there were none, even the horses were in their sheds. As my route passed a residential area, I saw a woman walking her dog. I wanted to shout to her the great truth of the day: “Christ is risen!” But she and her black Scotty turned into their driveway before I could reach them.

I came to a deserted intersection and waited at the traffic light as one car approached. The fogged-up windows made it hard to see the faces of the people inside. I pedaled to the rhythm of my Easter greeting: “Christ is risen. He is, indeed.”

The last few blocks of my ride were crowded with cars slowing down, turning and parking. Soon I was in the midst of fellow worshipers carrying lap robes and blankets to the outdoor service. “Christ· is risen,” I said to a man getting out of his car.

“What?” he answered.

As I locked my bike, I spoke to a child examining my helmet and rearview mirror, “Christ is risen.”

“Yeah,” he said and shyly turned away.

The usher gave me a bulletin. “Christ is risen,” I said. He nodded and replied, “Good morning.”

By now the sun was completely visible, not as startling as it had seemed earlier. But my mind kept repeating the Easter message as the service began. Following the printed program, the minister said, “Christ is risen.”

“He is, indeed,” was the satisfying answer from the worshipers.

Knowing that Christ is risen, I thought, is something like knowing that the sun will rise every day. We are no longer surprised by the resurrection, not any more than we are by the morning light. We know that Christ is risen. We’ve read it in the Bible, heard sermons and songs about it, and viewed the resurrection scene in all forms of art. We also know the sun will appear; the newspapers even tell us exactly what time each day. We don’t always have to be told about Christ’s resurrection. We know that Christ is risen.

But what a surprise when the reality hits us. “What is it?” we ask, just as I did when I was startled by the actuality of the rising sun. What is it? Christ’s resurrection catches us up in its mystery and wonder to make every day Easter.

Yet some people don’t understand our message and reply, “What?” Others misinterpret, like the usher who blandly answered, “Good morning.” The child who turned away wasn’t ready. Perhaps we all live in a deserted world resembling the quiet landscape I had pedaled through earlier in the morning. Maybe people turn off, literally and figuratively, before we can reach them, just as the woman did who was walking her dog. Sometimes we’re greeted with fogged-up eyes and minds, like car windows through which we cannot see.

This Easter sing it out: “He is risen!” He is, indeed!