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William Pettigrew was the first Christian missionary in Manipur, one of the northeastern states of India. He was born on 5th January 1869 in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was born into a very devoted Anglican family. And he used to attend weekly Bible camp. The story of his conversion is not known to us. It is believed that he was saved from attending a Bible camp. And it is also at one of those Bible camps that he was inspired by the life and missionary work of Adoniram Judson, the first American Christian missionary to the Burmese in Myanmar.
After learning about Judson’s life, Pettigrew aspired to become a missionary to India. With his newly found passion for missionary work, he underwent his missionary training at the Ardington Aborigines Training School. This was a school run by the Ardington Aborigines Mission which was primarily and largely funded by one Mr Roberts Arthington, an English gentleman of the Society of Friends. And under the sponsorship of the same Mission, he arrived at Kolkata in 1890 when he was a 20 years old unmarried young man.
Until the end of 1893, no missionary was ever allowed to do missions in Manipur though various other missionaries, including William Carey, had made attempts. Various requests were made for the allowance of the entrance of missionaries but the British political agent of that time, Mr Maxwell did not grant them permission. The reason behind such a denial was on both political and religious grounds. The unsettling political turmoil led to the Anglo-Manipuri war of 1891, and the rise of Hinduism in Manipur with the support of the King of Manipur.
But God is Sovereign and Christ does build His church. Pettigrew prayed to God to open the door of the mission’s work in Manipur and rigorous attempts were made. Though denied several times, he waited while wasting no time learning Manipuri (both reading -writing). His prayer was answered providentially by Mr A. Porteous granting permission. He was the Political Agent of Manipur while Maxwell was on leave. Pettigrew arrived in Imphal in 1894. He came as a Baptist missionary under the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society. He had left Anglicanism some years before and disassociated from Ardington Aborigines Missions.
He preached the Gospel in the valley region of Manipur – in the streets and marketplaces. After two years of labour, a young man named Angom Porom Singh was saved through the preaching of the Gospel in 1896. He became the first fruit of Pettigrew’s work of missions in Manipur. That same year, with the arrival of the political Agent of Manipur, came a new challenge: people began complaining to the King because of Pettigrew’s preaching and baptising of Angom Porom Singh. Mr Maxwell gave two options to Pettigrew: either leave the state or go to the hill region of Manipur. Pettigrew decided to move to the hill region. Porom Singh went along with him to Ukhrul in 1896. After labouring for 7 years, God saved 12 people from Ukhrul and the first Manipuri Baptist Church was planted in (Phungyo Baptist Church) on 29th Sep 1901. Pettigrew also translated New Testament into the Manipuri language and Tangkhul dialects. He died in the UK in 1943, 10 years after his return from Manipur.
We must learn from William Pettigrew’s trust in God for missions amidst the rising opposition. His hard work and sacrifices for the salvation of the lost in the region of Manipur still minister to us. After he was stopped from doing ministry in the valley of Manipur, Pettigrew spent most of his time investing in faithful Christians. These believers later became a means through which the Gospel was taken to the valley and as a result, thousands were converted.
Pettigrew’s work has continued to bless generations, and today more than 38% of the total population of Manipur are considered to be Christians. We praise God for the life and work of Rev. William Pettigrew. And we give all the glory to the God of our salvation.
Soli Deo Gloria.