From Headhunters to Heart Hunters: How the Hmar People Met Jesus

From Headhunters to Heart Hunters: How the Hmar People Met Jesus

May 28, 2020


The story below celebrates the salvation of a people group no one would have ever guessed would become devout followers of God. But God does the impossible, transforming the hardest of hearts through his Word and the courage of people who willingly open their arms to others with the gospel.

Whenever Mary Pudaite Keating shares her story, she remembers her mother’s words very clearly:

“I tremble to think what my life would be like if the gospel had not come to our people.”

Mary considers herself living fruit of the power of the gospel and of the power God unleashes when his people give generously and selflessly to the work of the kingdom. “If it weren’t for the gospel I would not be here today—I wouldn’t even exist!” she says adamantly.

“Only three generations ago,” Mary says, “my people were headhunters.” She pauses to let that reality sink in.

“My great grandfather—HE was a headhunter!”

Mary and her parents are only a generation apart but were born into completely different worlds. Rochunga and Mawii Pudaite grew up in the foothills of the Himalayas as members of the Hmar tribe. Mary was born in Delnor Hospital in St. Charles, Illinois.

Although the Hmar were very religious, they did not worship God. They didn’t know who God was. Instead, they worshiped the things he created. “My ancestors believed that if you cut off a head in this life, they would be your servants in the next life,” Mary says.

In 1871 the British, who had already taken over most of India, moved into the jungle of the Himalayan foothills. Mary says the British called the indigenous people “barbaric tribesman” because when they attempted to make incursions into Hmar territory, the tribal warriors swooped down on a British tea plantation and took more than 100 heads.

The Gospel Changes Everything

As the story unfolds, Mary’s excitement is contagious:

“Because of the faithfulness of one man—who heard God’s call and defied the British ruler’s instructions not to go into our tribal land—our people were never the same!”

Watkin Roberts, a 22-year-old Welsh missionary, sent the Gospel of John to the chiefs of the Hmar tribe. Mary’s grandfather’s village received a copy, but the book was not in their mother tongue, or heart language. Instead, it was translated into a neighboring language, and they were unable to understand it. They asked Roberts to come and explain it to them.

In February 1910, against the command of British leaders, Roberts disappeared into the jungle and walked seven days to reach the village. He spent five days with the Hmar people, and five men received Christ. “One of those men was my grandfather, Chawnga Pudaite,” Mary says.

Chawnga became a traveling evangelist, and along with other young Hmar men, took the message of salvation through Jesus Christ to their own people. The truth of God’s Word reached every village without the influence of other evangelists.

A Mandate for the Transforming Word of God

Upon returning home from one of his trips across the mountainside, Chawnga met with Mary’s father, Rochunga, who was 10 years old at the time. He had given his heart to Jesus. Chawnga gave Rochunga a mandate to go to school and translate the entire Bible into the language of the Hmar.

It would prove to be a challenge since the nearest school was a journey of nearly 100 miles through the jungle.

Rochunga did as his father asked; he attended boarding school, where he excelled and earned a university scholarship. He studied at St. Paul’s Cathedral Mission College in Kolkata and the University of Allahabad. He attended the Bible Training Institute, now International Christian College (Scotland) and then Wheaton College (Illinois) to study biblical Greek and Hebrew. And in 1962 Rochunga completed the translation of the New Testament from Greek into the Hmar language.

Mary’s story began with one person with a heart for God. Today it affects the lives of thousands of descendants of the Hmar tribe.

Individual lives, families, the culture of Northeast India, and the world are changed because of the transforming work of God’s Word. In Mary’s words:

“People from our tribe are impacting the world as mothers, fathers, ambassadors, judges, doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, and entrepreneurs—they have gone from HEADHUNTERS to HEART HUNTERS for Christ!”

Do you have anyone in your life who seems far from accepting the grace and truth found in God? May this testimony serve as an encouragement to you as you boldly share your faith, trusting God to do what only he and his Word can do.

Think again about how God pursued you, sought you out, and rescued you. You have an opportunity to proclaim the gospel and share the great need for it among all people. Today you can pray for and go after the most marginalized people groups, to let them know God loves them and speaks their language.

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