Arunachal Pradesh is a mountainous region blessed by the morning sun. But this region on the far north-eastern tip of India is also described as a ‘forgotten land’ as state-sponsored development programmes do not reach as far as this region. But the Church has not forgotten the 32 tribes living on the frontier with China, Burma and Tibet – she is helping them. And many are seeking baptism.

Arunachal is mission territory. But once things were worse than they are today. Up until some 23 years ago Christians were still being persecuted, their churches burned down, their crops destroyed. Indeed, around the middle of the 19th century there were even headhunters abroad; missionaries were beaten and tortured, and the blood of martyrs reflected in the red sunlight of the mountain dawn.

But, towards the end of the 20th century, some of the missionaries invited the local people to visit their mission outpost on the border with Assam. Many came, saw the goodness and joy that the Good News of Christ can bring, and took the message back to their own villages. Now they say, with wholehearted conviction, ‘Jesus is the best doctor of all. When we call on the name of Jesus, we do not have to pay anything; we don’t have to give a chicken, or a hen.’

Despite continuing persecution, almost 150,000 people have been baptised in the past 30 years, and the number is growing daily. In the newly established diocese of Miao the largest Catholic village is Neotan. In the past the villagers were animists, or in some cases members of a Protestant community. Then in the year 2000 the village elders came to the conclusion that the Catholic Church was the true Church of Christ.

Over 500 people joined the elders in being baptised. Overnight, the former Baptist church became a Catholic church, and the local Catholics built a new chapel for those Baptists who chose not to convert, ‘so that they could continue to meet and pray together’.

By now the persecution has ceased. The seed is beginning to sprout. But all the natural and physical challenges of this mountainous region remain, the heights and distances that cannot be compassed in the time available without a suitable and sturdy vehicle.

The old pickup truck, which Father Felix and Father Esack use to transport the sick to the nearest hospital – a journey of four hours covering 100 miles (160 km) – and they also use it to bring food to the three communities of religious sisters and visit the villages to celebrate Holy Mass, baptise and hear confessions – this old workhorse is now in the repair shop every couple of weeks and no longer worth the expense.

‘We feel guilty’, says Father Felix, ‘in using the savings of the children and their families on maintaining this vehicle – even though they give them gladly, knowing that without it we could only visit them rarely.’ More and more children and families are now waiting for the priests to come with the Good News. And so, in your name, we were happy to promise them the help they need for a new pickup truck. For this too is a means of sowing the seed of faith in this mission soil.

This article can be found in Mirror 0716.