Tributes paid to the last American Baptist missionary to Burma

By: Derick Ho
Thursday, 25 June 2009, 11:36 (IST)
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Thousands of Burma’s ethnic minority Chin Christians around the world pay their last “respect and tribute” to the last American Baptist Missionary to Chin Hills in Burma, who died in California on 9 June.

“The Chin people across the world sent their deepest condolences and sympathies to family of Rev. Dr. Robert G. Johnson, 94,” reported the Chinland Guardian online newspaper yesterday.

“When the tragic news broke out early this month, Chin email groups have been mushroomed with letters and messages of condolences till today, showing their inspirations, gratitude and recalling the works of missionaries in the Chin Hills.”

“Chin churches and communities across the globe held memorial services in their residing places, paying their last respect and tribute to their missionary,” who is better known as “Siangbawipa.”

Sources said Siangbawipa died of complications from pneumonia at the Health Centre of Plymouth Village, Redlands, California on 9 June 2009 and subsequent memorial and funeral services were held on 14 and 15 June in Redlands, California.

Rev. Johnson, a former Chaplain in the US army during World War II is remembered as the “spiritual leader of Chin people, missionary, architect, Bible translator and author.”

For 20 years, Johnson and his family served in Burma also known as Myanmar until Burma military government ordered them to leave the country in 1966.

Chin people are an ethnic group who are the main inhabitants of Chin Hills later named as Chin State, a Burmese state in western mountainous region of Burma bordering Mizoram state of India. They were animists before Christianity was first brought to them in March, 1899 by the Baptist American missionary couple, Rev. and Mrs. Arthur Carson, whose good work was later continued by Rev. & Mrs. Robert Johnson.

As many as 90 percent Chins are Christians today due to the missionary efforts of American Baptist Foreign Mission Society starting in 1899, of which Dr. Johnson played an important role in shaping up the ethnic Chin Christians.

Many ethnic Chins have fled Burma due to religious persecutions and violation of human rights under the military regime that has been in power since 1962.

And they remembered and paid tribute to the last missionary to their people from wherever they are.

Chin “refugees in Malaysia braved and had memorial services at houses and churches amid fears of being raided and arrested by Malaysian authority.” Chindland Guardian stated.

Chin Christians in Japan, according to one Chin pastor said “we had, after the church service, a separate memorial service dedicated to Siangbawipa, where everyone shed tears and was silent in grief.”

One of the many condolence letters ready by Rev. Dr. C. Duh Kam, Executive Minister of Chin Baptist Fellowship of America (CBFA), said Siangbawipa Johnson was described as the “spiritual leader of the Chin people.”

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