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A traveller for Christ
The life and work of the Reverend Trebor Mai Thomas (1910-1984)

by Rev Dr D Ben Rees

Trebor Mai Thomas was always proud of his evolvement as a missionary in Shillong in North-East India. He was born on 3 May 1910 in Boncyn, Gaiman, Patagonia in Argentina, the son of Laura and Edward Owen Thomas, and a grandson of one of the early pioneers of the Welsh Colony. E O Thomas was an elder at the Welsh Chapel of Bethel, Gaiman, and his son was educated locally and at the High School. At the age of 18 he left his family in Bootle, becoming a member of Stanley Road Presbyterian Church of Wales. When he sailed from South America, Welsh and Spanish were his languages, so he went to the Preparatory College at Rhyl, called Coleg Clwyd, for instruction in the English language. From there he gained access to the University College of North Wales, Bangor, where he gained the degree of BA with honours in Hebrew studies.
From Bangor he entered the United Theological College, Aberystwyth, gaining the degree of BD in 1940. He went as one of five young ministerial students of the Presbyterian Church of Wales – each of them a proud possess of BA and BD degrees – to study at Selly Oak, Birmingham. The other four were George Hill Morgan, Basil Jones, J Meirion Lloyd and D G Merfyn Jones.
Ordained at a Special Association meeting at Abergele on 18 September 1941, he had married a month earlier with Nansi Davies, a teacher in Liverpool and an organist at Heathfield Road Welsh Chapel. He was the only on of his four contemporaries given permission to sail to India in the autumn of 1941.
Trebor Mai Thomas was sent out by the Mission Board of the Presbyterian Church of Wales to serve among the young people in Shillong and on the Khasi Hills but tat the outset he had to concentrate on ministering to the hundreds of British soldiers from Burma (many of them being Welsh) who had come to Shillong. He prepared weekday meetings for them very carefully, and also Sunday services, as well as rearranging the work of the Christian Council of Assam, extending its appeal considerably during the time he acted as its Secretary.
Reverend Trebor Mai Thomas accomplished tremendous success in the development of the Sunday School in North-East India. In Khasia the Sunday School became a member of the Union of Sunday Schools of India, adopting its methods of standardising its classes in particular among the children and young people. New commentaries were prepared in the Khasi language for every department and weekly classes were established in the Church to train and provide the resources for the teachers. He was responsible for the tremendous renewal in Christian education, and today there is a full-time secretary directing the work of which Trebor Mai Thomas was such as integral part in the period following the Second World War.
Trebor Mai was also a pioneer in the task of establishing a Christian College at Barapani under the auspices of the Christian College of Assam. The Revd Trebor Mai Thomas received a call to be the full-time minister of Mawkhar Church, Shillong with 4,000 members, and he saw the Church grow year after year during his ministry. Returning with his family in 1959, he received a call to the Presbyterian chapels of Rehoboth, Holywell, and Presbytery on 28 September 1960 and this was a different world from Shillong, but he remained a faithful traveller for Christ until his retirement. The service to release him from the full-time ministry was held on 9 January 1980. The Revd T M Thomas stayed at Holywell under the ministry of the Revd John H Tudor (who had been a missionary himself in Taiwan) and died on 25 August 1984. The funeral service was held at Pentrebychan Crematorium, Wrexham on 31 August 1984 and north east Wales had lost a fine and enthusiastic servant of God.
After returning to Wales from India he was prominent in the work of the missionary committees and in the formation of the Mission Board of the Presbyterian Church of Wales, of which he was the first secretary. He had unbounded enthusiasm for mission work and acknowledged that this urge to be a missionary was to be credited to the influence of his minister in Bootle, the Revd William Davies. During his college days he had been prominent in the Student Christian Movement and the Student in Wales a catalyst for the lay training centre at Trefeca, for the new Mission Board at the Cardiff Office and in the Council for World Mission. For those who would like to know more about him I would recommend you to read, the articles by J Hughes Morris Ein cenhadwr newydd (Our new missionary). Y Cenhadwr, Vol XX, No 11, November 1941, pp 161-2; Ednyfed Thomas. Cyrraedd Gwlad yr Addewid (Reaching the Promised Land). Y Goleuad, 14 September 1984, p7; Dr R Arthur Hughes. Y diweddar Barch (The late Revd) Trebor Mai Thomas. Y Goleuad, 12 October 1984, p 3; J H Tudor. Parch (The Revd) Trebor Mai Thomas, BA, BD [in] Yearbook of the Presbyterian Church of Wales, 1985, p 211.

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Good News : Thomas Jones Arrived

by Reverend H Mashel Rapthap, Shillong

The Reverend Thomas Jones arrived at Cherrapunjee on the 22 June 1841. He was the first Missionary sent out to the Khasi Hills in India by the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Foreign Missionary Society (now known as the Foreign Mission of the Presbyterian Church of Wales).
His arrival at Cherrapunjee was greeted and welcomed by the Khasi people with great enthusiasm. They gathered around him and requested him to teach them English because they felt once they knew English they would be able to earn their livelihood anywhere. With the help of two persons in the locality Viz U Jonkha and u Duwan Rai, Thomas Jones himself was able to speak and preach in the Khasi language within a short period of around 8 (eight) months only.
Thomas Jones was a man of vision gifted with many talents which he used for the spread of the Gospel and for the progress and development of the Khasi Society. He demonstrated his love for the people and very soon won their hearts and confidence. To him goes the credit of many “Firsts” in the Khasi hills. He was the first to introduce the Khasi Alphabet in Roman Script giving it a phonetic structure by re-assigning the sounds represented by various letters. This suited the language admirable unlike the previous Bengali Script used by Alexander Lish (who came to the Khasi Hills before Thomas Jones) and the Baptist Mission in Serampore. In Khasi Literature up till now, Thomas Jones is referred to as the father of the Khasi Alphabet. He laid the Khasi literature on a firm foundation.
He started the first school in his residence for both boys and girls. Around 20 students collected in his residence every morning for prayer and Bible reading. This was in addition to his teaching in the school. In 1842 he opened 3 schools at Mawmluh, and Sohra thus heralding the beginning of formal education and educational institutions in the Khasi Hills. The same year he introduced the first Khasi book entitled: Ka Kot Pule banyngkong (The first Khasi Reader) followed by Rhodd Man (The Mother’s Gift). He wrote the first Catechism in Khasi know as Ka Jingai ka Kumi is la ki Koon and also translated the Gospel according to St Matthew.
Thomas Jones taught the Khasis how to burn lime with coal which was much cheaper than the usual practice of burning with wood. He himself a born carpenter was the first at Cherrapunjee to use the saw for cutting the timber and thus brought rudiments of modern carpentry replacing the dae and axe which had been used in the past for the purpose. He also taught them how to cut and dress the stones meant for building construction and introduced new methods of potato cultivation.
Above all, Thomas Jones was a Missionary and a Preacher of the Gospel. His main concern was to lead people to the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Using Cherrapunjee as a missionary station he travelled very widely preaching the good news and asked people to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Many of them responded sayings: ‘his words are very good and very sweet indeed.’ His open air preaching in market places touched the hearts of many people especially when he talked to them about man’s sin and the need for repentance.
Although Thomas Jones served in the Khasi Hills and with the Mission for a short period of six years only, but he made a significant contribution to the success of the Welsh Mission on these hills.
The Khasi Jaintia Presbyterian Synod has decided to celebrate the Sesquicentential anniversary of the arrived of Thomas Jones I and the beginning of the Christian Church in the Khasi Hills in a befitting manner in March 1991; and as we do so, it is right and proper that we give thanks to God for Thomas Jones and for what he has done as a pioneer missionary on these hills.

A short write-up by
Rev H M Rapthap
Sr Executive Secretary
K J P Synod


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The Significance of Thomas Jones (1810-1849),
Liverpool and Khasia Hills, North East India

by Dr R Arthur Hughes, OBE, FRCE

We meet to celebrate an event which initiated the most significant work of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Church or the Presbyterian Church of Wales in al the years of its existence; the departure of Thomas Jones and his wife Annie on the 25 November 1840 from Georges Dock, Liverpool, as their first missionaries to North East India, then called Assam. It would be a notable day for the history of the Presbyterian Church of Wales that their first missionary went out on the 25 November. Without a doubt the news was responsible for a demonstration of enthusiasm in the churches and presbyteries and led to great generosity on their part, but it is important to remember that this man Thomas Jones was that first man, for we can say that is him and his service was seen the germ of many of he virtues and tensions of missionary policy.

Thomas Jones was the son of a Montgomeryshire carpenter, Edward Jones and his wife Mary Jones, Tan-y-ffridd, Llangynyw, and followed in his father’s craft. He picked up other skills also as stone mason and farmer and miller and several others. He began to preach when he was about 25 years of age, about 1836, he became one of the earliest students in Bala College under Dr Lewis Edwards. His growing understanding of the Gospel exposed him to the challenge of a missionary calling and, try to avoid it as he might, it became the greatest imperative of his life. Furthermore it was a call to him to serve in India-precisely where he could not say. He was interviewed at North Wales Association meeting and his teachers in Bala were asked to get into touch with the London Missionary Society on his behalf. That Society was the agency by which Missionaries from the Calvinistic Methodist Church of Wales found their field of labour. They had gone, through this agency, to the South Sea Islands, to South Africa, to Malacca. None of them had returned to Wales, apart from one who returned and died within the year. The latest of them was the Rev Josiah Hughes whose father John Hughes was an office of Rose Place Chapel, Liverpool. He had been sent to Malacca in 1830 but had served his connection with the LMS after six years. He had however stayed in the country as a chaplain after being ordained by the Bishop of Calcutta. He was well known to, and corresponded regularly with the Rev John Roberts, the First Secretary of the Foreign Mission Office in Liverpool.

The cooperation between the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists and the London Missionary Society had begun in 1792 and two delegates, namely the Rev Thomas Charles and the Rev David Jones, Llangan, had represented the Welsh Church as Directors. These two championed with cause of the society in Wales. The financial support of the Welsh churches was generous indeed for many years, despite the general poverty of the country. There was a however a growing sense of disaffection with the Society on doctrinal grounds because it had become predominantly Congregational, and there was feeling that some candidates from amongst the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists had been rejected, or had been given less favourable consideration in placements, on no grounds other that that of their theology and church affiliation. At the same time there was zeal for a missionary cause, at home and overseas, and a growing sense that they should have a missionary society of their own.

In this somewhat tense situation, Thomas Jones was introduced to the Directors of the Society by his mentor Dr Lewis Edwards in Bala. Armed with medical certificates he met the directors, who first questioned his suitability on health grounds for the West Indies, then offered him appointment in South Africa. He was pleased initially to be accepted at all, but his burning desire to go to India made him reject South Africa, and, despite his production of medical certificates from two eminent physicians, Dr Addison of Guy’s Hospital, and Dr Carson of Liverpool, the Society would not send him to India. They did add to the note of rejection: ‘that a higher standard of education was needed for India than could possibly be attained by him in a reasonable period of time considering his age.’ None of them, obviously, knew the human geography of the sub-continent of India.

Ordained at an Association but rejected by the London Missionary Society, he went back to Liverpool and met his friends. An emergency committee was called in Rose Place Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Chapel on Friday night the 31 of January 1840 which decided after a heated debate to form an independent a Missionary Society and to send Thomas Jones and his wife on the perilous journey to India.

It cannot be denied that it was Thomas Jones’ pertinacity; his passion to go to India; his demand that he should be allowed to go; which precipitated the formation of the Missionary Society in Liverpool. True, there was a general sense in the church that an overseas missionary society should be formed but Thomas Jones was responsible for setting light to the flame. John Roberts (also known by his bardic name of Minimus) made up the flame, and Rev Richard Williams (a native of Llanbryn-mair) called upon the church to come and be warned by his new venture.

There was now a missionary society which had a pioneer to send out to India but no definite field of service, though several places had been suggested.
A strong individualistic missionary appeared on the scene, namely the Rev Jacob Tomlin. He was an ex-London Missionary Society worker in Malacca – where he had known and worked with Josiah Hughes (of Rose Place). After leaving Malacca he had gone to Calcutta where he knew the missionary leaders – Presbyterian and Baptist. He went to Cherrapunji on the Khasi Hills and stayed for nine months, and came to admire the people before moving to stay for a while in Wavertree Liverpool. The Serampore Baptists under William Carey had conducted work among the Khasis on the plain of Sylhet since 1813, and had translated the New Testament into Khasi using the Bengali script. They had a school in Cherrapunji on the Hills since 1830, with Alexander Lish in charge, but in 1837 they had to close, leaving behind not a single convert. The Gospels in Bengali script had proved to be inaccessible and ineffective.

Tomlin stayed with Lish just before the work on the Khasi Hills was wound up and during his stay he saw the need and the opportunities. Jacob Tomlin returned to Merseyside and settled in Liverpool for two years and there he met Josiah Hughes’ friend John Roberts and Thomas Jones. Tomlin in due course pressed the case for the Khasi Hills and the proper sphere for the Welsh Mission.

The decision was made.
Now there remained only the problem of finding the passage money – and money to support the work.

In due course they did sail in the Jamaica, a sailing ship built in 1834 and owned by Holt and Co of Liverpool. It was registered at Lloyds as plying between Liverpool and Jamaica, under its Captain J Johnson. It must have been chartered for this voyage to Calcutta, a ‘one off’ ship. Ships of this kind were primarily traders, but they would have a few cabins which were the perquisites of the captain to let as he wished.

The directors of this very young missionary society were encouraged to believe in the rightness of their choice of the Khasi Hills as the field for their labours by the fact that they had been offered cabin accommodation for Thomas and Mrs Ann Jones in the Jamaica to Calcutta at Fifty pounds less that the standard passage money. How could this have happened so providentially? I believe that the clue to this is that Richard Roberts, Ships chandler, from whom ship’s captains got their supplies, and the Rev John Roberts, his son, who was the secretary of the Mission committee and was also connected with a shipping firm J B Yates and Co of King Street Liverpool, turned to Capt J Johnson the master of the ‘Jamaica’ and simply asked for his generosity towards this young missionary society. Thomas Jones in his farewell address in Rose Place on the on the 4th November said ‘they tell me the Captain is a kind man’ and the way Captain Johnson demonstrated his kindness was by giving up fifty pounds of his legitimate perquisites. This was the providential means to make the voyage possible.

But it was the judgement made by John Roberts (Minimus), that the Khasi Hills was the best field, which determined this action, and we must say of him that he was without doubt the one man who knew most about missionary activity overseas. He had been in constant communication, subject to the delays of long transit times, with Josiah Hughes in Malacca and I believe he would have met socially with the leaders of the churches in Liverpool which had missionary activities especially Samuel Hope representing the Serampore group of the Baptist Missionary Society, who lived only a stones throw away from his residence.

The Jamaica had been delayed in sailing from Liverpool, it was planned for the 5 November 1840. The farewell meeting was on the 4 November. There was a terrible storm on the 17 November 1840 and four ships were dismasted or sunk off the Formby sandbanks and lives were lost – so near to the port and the young Thomas Jones and Ann Jones had a voyage of five months less two days before them with the prospect of being three months out of sight of land or sail. Is it a wonder that Thomas Jones addressed the Jamaica as he went on board. ‘Is it to the judgement or to India you will take me?’

They sailed as it were into a limbo beyond the reach of any communication. On the day they sailed, that is 25 November 1840, Josiah Hughes died of cholera in Malacca and his father in Rose Place might well not hear the news for another five or six months. This time gap imposed tremendous stresses on both missionary and directors. How could missionaries plead for emergency aid? How could the directors sustain interest and zeal without news? Prayer was the only channel for emergency aid and prayer and dedication and patience were needed at home as abroad.

They did arrive safely in Calcutta and were very kindly welcomed by both Presbyterians and Baptist friends. Mrs Ann Jones who had experienced a terrible voyage gave birth to a child soon after arrival in Calcutta. Four years later she was delivered of another child and she herself died ten days later. By this time the Rev William Lewis had arrived in Cherrapunji to support Thomas Jones and was hard at work. He wrote to tell the Directors of this sad news, and he added, ‘The Lord has worked wondrously with us to make us feel at home, for now we have a place to bury our dead.’ That was not black humour but faith.

I wonder if we can sense the awe in the hearts of the congregation at Rose Place, all 700 of them, in a three and half hour farewell service, as they saw before them two whose faces they might never see again, who faced a new world of experience in which their indomitable courage and the profundity of their faith alone could keep them in good heart. We cannot imagine the isolation of their experience, but at least we can be glad that they went – pioneers of the Christian faith.

In one other thing we can see a tension exemplified in Thomas Jones’ work which exists in mission work at the end of the twentieth century – namely that between evangelism only and fall Mission which sees that all life is to be dedicated to the Lord and to His Glory.

Thomas Jones learnt a language which he set into the Roman script which has endured, Orgraff yr Iaith Gymraeg – the orthography of the Welsh Language – in Wales was not fixed till 1922 and the work of the scholars such as Sir John Rhys and Sir John Morris-Jones. Thomas Jones’ spelling needed little change, in one hundred and fifty years. Thomas Jones preached the Gospel of salvation and he made the wellsprings of faith accessible to the humble Khasi people by translating for them the Gospel of Matthew and other books in a script they could comprehend. He taught skills to a people without skills to give and women the dignity of craftsmen. He was moved by poverty and injustice and fought them ultimately at the cost of his own life. He died in Calcutta, 16 September 1849 and was buried in the Church of Scotland cemetery. They had arrived in Calcutta April 1841, and soon mastered the Khasi language.

Thank God for Thomas Jones and his wife Ann, poor dear, as the pioneers of an effective preaching of the Gospel and the calling of mankind to enjoy the dignity of the children of God.

[This address (edited by D Ben Rees) was given at St Nicholas Parish Church, Liverpool by the retired Liverpool Welsh medical missionary, Dr R Arthur Hughes (1910-1996) on 10 November 1990 in a special service. For further details of Dr R Arthur Hughes see The Call and Contribution of Dr Robert Arthur Hughes, edited by D Ben Rees (Liverpool, 2004). Price £8.00.]

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A letter from Dr R Arthur Hughes to the Reverend H M Rapthap, Khasi Jaintia Presbyterian Synod, Shillong, India from 84 Green Lane, Liverpool, L18 2ER

Dear Mr H M Rapthap

First of all I must thank you for sending the message that ‘Thomas Jones had arrived’. It was brought into the service by a Chief Inspector of Police who announced from the back of the church that a message had come and that ‘Thomas Jones had arrived’. It was quite a dramatic little touch. I will come back to that later.
We had a full congregation in this 700 year old church of Saint Nicholas, which stands only the width of a pavement from the site of the Georges Dock from which Thomas Jones sailed. The church’s history has been interrupted by several calamities, last of all by being bombed during the great blitz on Liverpool during the last war.
The English and Welsh Presbyteries on Merseyside were well represented and there were a number who had come from North Wales – including some of the old missionaries. We also had the Moderator of the General Assembly – the Reverend Leslies Jones (who will be coming to Shillong for the celebration), and the Moderator of the Association (Synod) in North Wales, and the Moderator Elect of the English Association. All the Welsh and English ministers on Merseyside took part and the whole service was very orderly and well done. The Canon (Rector of the Church of Saint Nicholas) welcomed us all and rejoiced to think that his church was a mute beholder of the departure of Thomas Jones and his wife 150 years ago.
We had contrived Welsh and English orders of service so that all could follow every part of the service. After introductory devotions I gave an address in English giving an outline of the history of the events leading up to the departure and then various voices acted out the parts of those who took part in the farewell service which had been held in Rose Place Chapel on 4 November 1840. Several have commented since that that section of the service could be rendered as a drama. Some of your young rangbah may think the same.
Your letter came next and this was followed by the greeting from the moderators and the Mission Board.
We will send you as soon as possible the English programme plus the historical introduction and the greetings and the hymn tunes. Perhaps we may even be able to send you a cassette of the hymn set to the tune ‘Calcutta’.
For us it was memorable service and some of us thought that the Khasi Hills had become nearer to our hearts.
Thank you very much for your part – it would have been a delight to have heard your voice giving the message! We will try to let you have the complete text as quickly as we can.
Khublei shibun eh is phi baroh para-bangeit bad nongtrei ha ka kam U Blei. Ka Kristmas kaba dap jingkmen bad Ka Snem Thymmai kaba dap jingsuk.
Na uba kynmaw ieit ia phi barch.

Yours sincerely

R A Hughes

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