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My Pastor Friend: Dr David Tongkhoyam Haokip

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

/ by VIRTHLI HMAR
~ By Prof Dr Lal Dena, Manipur University

Can two strangers, born and brought up in different countries with different backgrounds, become bosom friends? YES, they can. In these days of fb, this is common. But the friendship between me and David Tong was not through fb. The story our meeting, that too in foreign capital, Seoul (South Korea) is stranger than fiction.

When I was in Seoul in 1997 as a Visiting Fellow of Korea Foundation, attached to Yonsei University, David came to know my presence in Seoul through some theological students who studied at the Asian Centre for Theological Studies (ACTS), South Korea. It so happened one day we could talk and introduce to each other on phone and then planned a rendezvous at one underground railway station.

We met at the fixed place on the appointed day. I was then with my wife? This was our first meeting. We then entered the nearby cafeteria and our conversation got started in a friendly atmosphere. We mixed Thadou language and English. After an hour’s journey by green tube (underground train) we reached his place. His apartment was not properly ventilated and only one person can stand in his kitchen. What was most important was the warm heart of the host. We had pork of our own preparation. How refreshed and happy we were and more important, the two strangers becoming fast friends from that day onward.

Having got the call of God, David Haokip. born and brought up in Myanmar, started his theological training since June, 1979 to 1983 at the Holy Cross Theological College, Yangon; got B.Th from Serampore Theological College, Kolkata and M. Div from Madras Bible Seminary. David got ordination as priest on 10 November, 1985. But military rule in Myanmar resulted in mass exodus of Myanmerese nationals throughout Asia and even in Western countries. David and his family had to escape to Manipur, India in 1993. In Manipur alone, there were more than 20,000 Myanmerese refugees mostly labourers, students and business people. Because of his gift of being able to speak several languages, particularly Burmese, David began to join the Myanmar Democratic Movement and became president of the Burma League for Human Rights. Belonging to the Kuki ethnic group in Myanmar, he also founded the Kuki Students’ Democratic Front, Myanmar.

With the support of local churches, David began a Burmese Fellowship at Imphal. Deeply impressed by his organizing capacity and his unflinching commitment to God, a South Korean missionary who happened to visit Imphal, capital of Manipur, invited David to shepherd the Burmese community in Seoul. In 1996, David started his ministry among the Burmese labourer-community in South Korea. It was during his ministry in Seoul in 1997 that my friendship with David began to grow and I and my wife used to go to his place almost every weekend. On his invitation, I even had a chance to share my testimony with his congregation on one Sunday meeting. In the meantime, Korea and other Asian countries began to reel under severe economic depression. As a result, many Burmese labourers began to lose their jobs and had to return to Burma. David too had to leave Korea, knowing not where to go. It was indeed a real test of his faith in God.

God had a greater plan in David Haokip. David luckly got selected for study at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. His wife and two children joined him in October, 1998. In London, David came across four Burmese Buddhist monasteries, but no Burmese Church. With the support of some friends, David began to establish the Myanmar Christian Fellowship from 1998 onwards. At this time, I and my wife had a three months' holiday trip to France staying with our grand daughters near Grenoble, south France. Leaving behind my wife, I alone travelled to Aberyswyth, Mid-Wales to locate and visit the house of Watkins R.Roberts, the first missionary to South Manipur. This was my second visit to Wales, the first being in 1982.

After my return trip from Wales in October, 1998, David invited me to their place at Croydon, South London. David and Tinnu and their two children received me at the Waterloo Station. After having something at the café in the station, we took a local train to Croydon. By that time David’s family was attached to one Burmese couple, Mr and Mrs Deas who were from Burma and there was no place for a guest in their small house. I looked around and found no place to sleep except the sofa in the sitting room. I asked myself, “Why does Pu Haokip invite me to somebody's house?" I cursed myself for having accepted his invitation. After dinner, David, like the Good Samaritan, put me at one nearby motel ‘telling the manager that he would come the next morning and pay all the bills’. What a friend I have in David!

The next day we roamed about in London almost the whole day, chatting and sometimes eating at café. The evening drew nearer, and we had to part. David told me that he had a ‘night duty’ that night. What kind of ‘night duty’ my pastor friend had to do?Just imagine it. Because living in London is so costly that my friend had to do odd jobs to make both ends meet as he did it in Seoul. I felt so sad for him but sadder was I when I shook his hands, saying “Damselin, Mangpha, (May you live long, Goodbye)” before leaving for France by Eurotrain in the same evening.

Despite hardships, David continued his Biblical study. In fact, with his sound theological standing, David did combine in himself true discipleship and scholarship. He became Team Vicar of St Mathew’s Church, Newton in Southampton in 2000 till 2005. After this, he was appointed as Vicar of St George and Ethelbert Parish, East Ham from July 2005. In the same year, the London College of Business and Theological Studies had awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity to him in recognition of his commitment and faithful ministry over the past 25 years. What an achievement!

David Haokip is a true servant of God. He is a man full of milk of human kindness. He is so humble, kind-hearted, loving, soft-spoken and ever-smiling. Right from the day he dedicated his life to his Master, as far as I know, David has been living to serve the poor and the needy in Homalin, Yangon, Manipur, Seoul, Southampton and London. Like his Master, Jesus Christ, David Haokip is born to serve, not to be served. In fact, there is no job which is too low for him. While having been pastoring the Burmese migrant labourers in Seoul also, David told me that he had to do all kinds of menial jobs to supplement his meager salary.

Last time when David came to Manipur I had invited him with his beautiful sister, Esther Haokip at my quarter at the Manipur University, Imphal. David whispered into my ear, saying with all humility that “he has now become a full time Minister of the Church of England and is entitled to all rights and privileges which the English middle class are enjoying in English society.” I replied, “Pu Haokip. It is your living faith in God which helps you to become what you are today." By the beginning of the 19th century A.D. the western missionaries came to preach the message of the gospel to the Asian people at the cost of their life. The time has now come for the Asian Christian priests to reciprocate and my pastor friend David Haokip has now been shepherding the "the white people" who once colonized us. Is it not WONDERFUL?
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