Kawl Khuma, born in 1890, was brought up with beliefs in spirits surrounding his village - spirits to be appeased by offerings of cocks, pigs and other animals. It was not until he attended school in Aizawl that he heard the Christian gospel. The words of the Mizo pastor spoke directly to the 14-year-old boy and he decided there and then to become a Christian.
After passing the middle school examination in English he was accepted for training as a compounder by the local civil hospital. In his spare time he would go from village to village, together with a Christian friend, preaching the gospel of Christ, winning many converts. One day, sitting among a group of Christian friends, Kawl Khuma suddenly exclaimed, ‘Let us form ourselves into an association of Christians and draw up a special set of rules by which to guide our lives. We could all live together in a separate community, and to give a better witness I think we should wear uniform.’ After discussing the possibility of such a venture, they decided their uniform should consist of a kaki coat with a piece of red cloth sewn on the upper edge of the breast pocket.
He was told that his association resembled The Salvation Army. Having studied English he had no difficulty in explaining to his friends, and their reaction was – how can we contact The Salvation Army? Someone told them of Booth-Tucker being the leader and that the headquarters was in Simla in north India. Kawl Khuma wrote to him. When the reply came with an invitation to come to Simla, Kawl Khuma and his friend Pu Chalchhuna, with whom he had formed the group of uniformed Christians, decided to make the journey together.
Chalchhuna’s health, unfortunately, was giving cause for anxiety. Admitted to hospital the doctor diagnosed ‘double pneumonia’. On the seventh day Chalchhuna passed away. He was given an Army funeral and Salvationists stood by Kawl Khuma in the loss of his dearest friend.
A few days later Kawl Khuma was called to Commissioner Booth-Tucker’s office. ‘Are you willing to travel to Bombay and undergo training in The Salvation Army training home, and then give your life in service for God in the Army?’ asked the Commissioner. Seeing the Army at close quarters had strengthened his determination to become a Salvation Army officer. Once again he set out, this time alone, on the two-day journey to Bombay.
Kawl Khuma had only one idea, and that was to open up the work of The Salvation Army among his own people. Army leaders were not sure that the time was ripe. Two missions were already operating in the area and The Salvation Army did not want to cause dissension. On the day of commissioning when the cadets, true to Army traditions, accepted the appointment given wherever it may be, Kawl Khuma was appointed to the criminal tribes settlement in Gorakhpur. Convinced that God wanted him to preach to his own people, he wrote after a short time and Commissioner Booth-Tucker allowed him to return to his home.
Arriving in Aizawl he was greeted with affection by family and friends, all eager to hear of his adventures in the world beyond the hills, and especially about the international Chhandamna Sipai. Kawl Khuma hadn’t been home long before he received a letter from Colonel Sukh Singh (Blowers), Chief Secretary for India and Ceylon, which stated:
As we are unable at present to commence Salvation Army work officially in your district, we advise you to return to your former occupation. You will still retain your rank of Lieutenant, but we will be unable to pay you any remuneration. However, we shall constantly pray for you that the Lord may use you mightily in His service.
The reason for this letter was a refusal from the government to permit more than the two existing missions to operate in Mizoram. Kawl Khuma believed that God had directed him to The Salvation Army and it was within this framework that he wanted to work. Many of his friends encouraged him. Together they constructed two large communal houses of bamboo and grass in Sawleng village. In order to support themselves they brought two pack animals and set up a transport business carrying rice and other products for sale to Aizawl. Kawl Khuma was made responsible for the business.
However he was happiest when, with a Salvation Army flag held high on a bamboo pole, he marched from village to village conducting meetings in Salvation Army fashion. He even got a drum, which delighted the music-loving Mizo people. Marching to its beat behind the flag they visited Aizawl. A revival spread throughout the hills and thousands turned in faith to Christ.
Kawl Khuma realised that instruction in the new faith was essential to make strong Christians. He wanted every convert to have a copy of the Handbook of Doctrine and Orders and Regulations for Soldiers in their own language. The Salvationists gathered in conference. It was decided that another should take over the transport business and leave Kawl Khuma free to translate the books. He also translated Salvation Army songs into Mizo.
When in April 1921 Mizo Salvationists heard that a training home was established in Calcutta, they applied for some of their young men to be admitted. Six candidates, under Kawl Khuma’s leadership were accepted. On their return to Mizoram they established six corps from which sprang 31 outposts in neighbouring villages.
A year later Kawl Khuma was called to Calcutta. Complaints had been sent in to the government that Salvationists were causing disturbance by interfering with the already established churches and headquarters was advised to withdraw its forces.
Some months later, in the latter part of 1924, the Territorial Commander of the Eastern India Territory, accompanied by Kawl Khuma and two missionary officers, made a week-long journey from Calcutta to Aizawl to inquire into the allegations. Interviews were arranged with leaders from the Welsh Presbyterian Church. The complaints were evidently unfounded and the authorities lifted some of the restrictions and officers were permitted to resume their ranks and uniform wearing. Headquarters advised the officers to take responsibility for the work in their home villages. A salt-selling business was organised by Salvationists to support the work.
April 1925 Kawl Khuma was transferred from his appointment in Bengal to return to Mizoram to strengthen and encourage the faithful Salvationists. It was not until the early part of 1928, however, that government permitted The Salvation Army to operate officially in Mizoram.
In 1945 Mizoram, with 30 corps, became a division and Brigadier Kawl Khuma designated the divisional commander.
In 1959, leaving Senior-Major Coxhead to take charge of the 39 corps which had so far been established, Brigadier Kawl Khuma set out to pioneer the work in Cachar in Assam. The district was in a state of political upheaval following the partitioning of nearby East Pakistan from India. Thousands of Hindu refugees had flooded the town of Silchar, the capital. Communal strife between Hindus and Muslims expressed itself in arson. It was not an easy task for the 60-year old officer and his wife to face this challenge; neither did a different language make it any easier. Kawl Khuma, however, was undaunted. When conditions settled he set out to contact Mizos who had moved to the district. He also commenced work in Manipur. When in January 1956 Kawl Khuma returned to Aizawl to enter retirement he left this opening with a soldiers’ roll of 400 names.
General Frederick Coutts admitted Lieut. Colonel Kawl Khuma (R) to the Order of the Founder in 1966.
Source: By Love Compelled – by Solveig Smith