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!


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