Some time ago,
Christian priests in India conducting ceremonies for people based in Western
countries made news as a new form of outsourcing. The practice has since
increased with several ceremonies and services being regularly outsourced to
chapels in India for a fee.

But the
globalisation of religion is clearly a two-way process. In a reversal of the
path trekked by Western missionaries in the 19th century to remote tribal areas
of India, the converted tribes are now returning the favour by moving to places
such as Wales to meet a shortage of priests there.

One of the first
to arrive in Wales to preach Christianity is Rev Hmar Sangkhuma, from the
Diocese of Mizoram in northeastern India. Mizoram has a majority Christian
population that was initially converted by missionaries from Wales between 1840
and 1960. It was then called the Lushai Hills district of Assam.

Sangkhuma has
been offering spiritual guidance to the local Welsh population in Maesteg, near
Bridgend. A second priest from the Diocese of Mizoram, Rev John Colney, is
expected to arrive in Wales in April.

During the
colonial regime, Christian missionaries were encouraged to spread the gospel in
India’s tribal areas, including the northeast. Much of the work was undertaken
by missionaries from Wales, Ireland and Scotland.

Wrote former Home
Secretary B.P. Singh in his book, “The Problem of Change: A Study of North-East
India”: “(The) impact of Christian missionaries on the tribal population was

“The Nagas, Mizos
and Khasis in particular have undergone profound changes as a result of the
spread of Christian ideals among them. Christianity taught these tribes the
value of peace, tolerance and co-existence.”The familiarisation of these tribes
with new ideals, coupled with the subsequent independence and democratisation of
the polity, have taken them into the modern world, with all its strengths and

“The picturesque
region of Wales is traditionally seen as one of Britain’s most religious areas.
From the middle of the 18th century to the mid-19th, Wales experienced some 15
major revivals, resulting in its reputation as ‘the land of revivals’.

However, things
have changed in recent times. The 2001 census showed that fewer than one in 10
people in Wales regularly attended church or chapel that also faces a shortage
of priests.

Church leaders in
India’s northeast maintain close links with their counterparts in the West.
However, this is the first time that a priest from the region has travelled West
to offer spiritual guidance in a church that is considered the ‘mother church’ –
as the Mizos consider the Welsh Presbyterian Church.

Sangkhuma, 49, is
married with four children and runs yoga classes for the elderly and works as a
‘mission enabler’ in Maesteg. He believes that the church in Wales has been
“decimated” and has called for preaching as a form of evangelism in the area.

According to him,
many people in Wales are suffering from a “spiritual void”. “There is a
perceived lack of relevance of Christianity to lives based on materialism”, he

Rev Dafydd Jones,
mission secretary for the Presbyterian Church of Wales, told the local media
that Sangkhuma was helping with the fact that there was a shortage of ministers
in the church.

“It is quite
moving for us to hear and see how the Mizos describe us as their mother church,”
he said.

The Rev. Zosang
Colney of the Diocese of Mizoram said churches in Wales seemed to be “declining
physically and spiritually”.

He added: “Many
church buildings have been closed down. The Mizos, therefore, have a burden to
do something for their mother church in Wales”

Meanwhile, due to
the shortage of priests, requests to conduct services and ceremonies are emailed
from Western countries such as France and Germany to churches in Kerala and
other places in India. The requests are then carried out for a fee, marking yet
another dimension to the idea of outsourcing.

One of the first
to avail of the prayers-for-cash market was a German fan of sports hero Michael
Schumacher. After he won the Australian Grand Prix in 2004, the fan paid for a
thanksgiving mass in honour of his hero in Kerala.

After requests
are received by email or post, each mass is reportedly said in front of a public
congregation in Malayalam. Rates for the service vary from country to country: a
request from North America or Europe can net a priest three pounds or four
pounds; poorer countries pay less.

Church officials
believe that prayers for the dead have been outsourced for decades but the
tradition has been thrust into the spotlight only because of the controversy
over corporate outsourcing in Western countries.