The most Rev. Dr. T. Lunkim: Our man of destiny
By N. Lhungdim
April 10, 2006
“No man of woman born, coward or brave can shun his destiny” — Homer
Pu Tongkhojang Lunkim, popularly known as T. Lunkim is inarguably the most distinguished personality among the Kukis. Lunkim combined in his person all contradictions that characterize exceptional men. Some of his achievements are highlighted in the accompanying box. If the list therein looks exiguous, it is because life is governed by such unpleasant reality as word limits.
Lunkim was born in Kamu, a nondescript village, about 20 kms from Imphal. He was married at the age of 16 to Pi Deiting, daughter of his maternal uncle, considered customarily right among the Kukis. It was only after his marriage that he became a Christian and also-started his peripatetic schooling. He realized that learning and understanding English had great prospects and it was this vision and that gave him the drive to pursue his education when he was already in his twenties. He was not satisfied with the quality of teaching in the village schools and so, while making the best use of his potentialities he contrived to educate himself and through self study read up to standard VIII.
Meanwhile, he got actively involved in nascent church planting and its organization. He was hardly 22 when he became the leader of the North East Kuki Baptist Christian Circle Conference, which later on became to be known as North East Kuki Baptist Association (NEKBAM). This is an affiliated association of the Kuki Baptist Convention (KBC), the apex body of Kuki Baptist Christians in Manipur. In 1955, he became the first Field Director of NEKBAM and in 1958, he became the general secretary of K.B.C. The next year, in 1959 he became the founder president of the Kuki Christian Council (KCC), a federal body of the Kuki Christians belonging to different denominations scattering over Manipur, Nagaland and Assam.
Soon, by self education he appeared and passed the matriculation exam of Serampore College. The exam also known as ‘Serampore Matric’ was a gateway to joining the Serampore Theological College and he then joined the Pre-BD course, which he passed with distinction. He then took up the BD degree course from the same college which he completed in April 1964. By the time he graduated, his sense of mission was not in doubt. Destiny had much more in store for him.
In May 1964, he was selected/appointed as ‘Translator’ of the Holy Bible in Kuki dialect by the Bible Society of India, Bangalore. It was this work that meant more to him than any other though it bought him most heartache. He had to undergo huge obstacles and though it was this work that catapulted him to fame, it also landed him in controversy and even a brief jail term of 43 days from 23 Nov, 1966 to Jan, 1967. This was due to the machination and conspiracy of some of his adversaries who were vehemently opposed to new ideas. But neither the highest honors nor the barbs flung at him by a small but noisy band of detractors could distract him from his mission. Instead of feeling frustrated by these uncontrolled elements, he was determined to continue his work.
Driven to the wall by his antagonists who made it clearly impossible for him to stay in Manipur, he left for Madras where he joined the Gurukul Theological College. There he not only pursued his MTh degree course in the Old Testament but continued his Bible translation work. A year later he joined Fuller Theological College at Pasadena, USA where he completed his MTh degree in the Old Testament, Hebrew and Greek language.
John Wycliffe (1330-1390) translated the first complete Bible in English from the original Latin text as did Lunkim in Kuki. So he can be called the John Wycliffe of the Kukis. One remarkable achievement of Lunkim is the completion of the Bible in a record time of four and a half years – from May 1964 to Dec. 1968. It is the shortest time ever taken by any Bible translator, a feat unparalleled in the history of bible translation. He did the translation work from the original Hebrew text for the Old Testament and Greek text for the New Testament. However, it took another three years for printing and other details. It was finally released for distribution on 20 June 1971, at Molvom Baptist Church, Nagaland. On that day 1000 copies of Pathen Lekhabu Theng was sold in a short 15 minutes. The next consignment of 4000 copies was sold within six months.
Such was the thirst of the people and the eagerness to read the scripture in their own dialect. A section of people might have opposed his work for reasons best known to them but the cold fact is that were it not for his efforts, the Kukis would be deprived of reading the bible in their own language. At present, almost all the tribes in the North East have translated the Bible in their own dialects but none have completed in such a short span as did Pu Lunkim. Also none have encountered such hardship and torture in the process of their translation work except William Tyndale (1490-1530), who was martyred for similar work in the hands of Roman Catholic inquisitors.
In his autobiography, ‘Son of a Shaman: Son of God’ Lunkim writes about the unmistakable revelation that God has chosen him for a definite purpose from very early in his life. In his book he talks about the invisible work of God in his life during his darkest hours, which he says is still a mystery to him. In 1965, in fulfillment of the ultimate wish and desire of any church leader he was ordained as Pastor by Rev. Seikholet Singson at the annual Assembly at Bongmol. He quite fulfilled his fathers’ desire when he became a Christian priest as he had groomed him to be an animist priest but fate turned his father’s desire in a rather different way but true in principle.
In a befitting recognition of his distinguishing services in the growth and development of the Church, the Louisville Theological College, Kentucky, USA conferred upon Rev. T Lunkim the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity (DD) in 1984 and henceforth he became popularly known as Dr T Lunkim. He is the first to be conferred DO among the church leaders of Manipur. In addition to this honor, in 1994, the Senate of Serampore, a deemed university in theological studies conferred on him the honorary degree of the Doctor of Divinity. He thus had the sole distinction of holding two theological doctorate degrees i.e., a Double DD-a rare honor and distinction received by any church leader in the North- East India.
Undeniably Dr T Lunkim is surely made of sterner stuff highly intelligent, always assertive, having proactive views and ideas; he is truly devoted to his work and has a great passion for work. Nothing stops him from doing what he feels right and good for the church as well as his community. For Lunkim, engaging himself in God’s Ministry is not only a vocation but a passion which he pursues with great zeal and enthusiasm.
Love him or hate him, but none can ignore him. His contributions to the community cannot be ignored. He may be called the angry old man of the Kukis, but his anger is for a reason. His anger is towards the social obscurantists in the community who failed to see the changed reality. It is indeed remarkable that a man who never entered a high school building would scale such heights in academics, scholarships and learning. He has achieved more in his life than most of us would hope to accomplish in two lifetimes. Indeed he is our man of destiny- Gods ‘chosen man.
“We are but the instrument of heaven, our work is not design, but destiny“. — Owen Meredith