Thomas Jones School of Mission and Evangelism

Thomas Jones School of Mission and Evangelism

Sohra, formerly known as Cherrapunjee, is an important place in the Khasi-Jaintia Hills, in Meghalaya, in fact, in the whole of North-East India, for many well-founded reasons. Here Sohra is used in its border, inclusive sense of the plateau-edge region from Khliehshnong to Saitsohpen. First, a look at the historical and geographical reasons: Sohra (Saitsohpen) was the site of the first capital of the British Raj in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills from 1835 to 1866. Again Geographically, Sohra is significant for its long-standing record of the heaviest annual rainfall in the world. Second, the religious reasons: Sohra was where Christian missionaries (English Baptists initially and Welsh Presbyterians later) began their work among the Khasis. Sohra (Nongsawlia) was the mission centre for most of the 19th Century, till Shillong gradually gained in importance. Again, Sohra (Khliehshnong) was the base of Hindu missionary work, like the Ramakrishna Mission, in the entire North-East India. Third, the Educational reasons: Sohra was where the first schools and the first college among the Khasis were established. Its dialect was adopted as the written - and therefore official - form of the Khasi language, which transformed Sohra into the literary centre of the Khasi Jaintia tribe. Fourth, the Cultural reasons: from a traditional Khasi prespective, it was Sohra culture and folk religion that became the definitive Khasi forms. From a Christian perspective, it was converts from Sohra who developed Khasi Christian Culture and carried it with them to Shillong when they migrated to this new capital. Fifth, the politico-economic reasons: since early times, Sohra had been the main trading centre between the Khasi Hills and the Bangla plains. Consequently, Hima Sohra or the Sohra Kingdom became the foremost among the Khasi Kingdoms, which raised the standing of its Syiem or Chieftain.

It was on the 22nd June 1841 that Rev. Thomas Jones and his wife, Anne Jones who established the first permanent mission among the Khasis arrived at Sohra and pioneered the Khasi alphabet, literacy and literature. Through out the history, this day has been a red letter day in the history of the Church in Khasi and Jaintia Hills. Thomas Jones taught the Khasis to commercially extract lime by burning limestone with coal; he introduced the saw and other iron tools and improved their agricultural and construction techniques. This pioneer was followed by many other missionaries who bolstered the Welsh contribution to the growth and development of the Khasi-Jaintia people.

The Thomas Jones School of Mission previously known as Cherra Theological College, was one among the oldest buildings in the Khasi-Jaintia Hills; it is representative of early 20th Century colonial architecture in Sohra. The claim to being one of the oldest major buildings can easily be sustained because nearly all human-made structures were destroyed by the Great Earthquake of1897. The oldest major building is the neighbouring Nongsawlia Presbyterian Church, which was rebuilt in 1898. Perhaps the next oldest is the main building of the erstwhile Cherra Theological College, which had been founded by Dr. John Roberts in 1887. This structure combined the academic block, the library, the chapel, the hall and the administrative rooms under one roof, for better protection against the extremely damp Sohra climate. Construction work began in the first few years of the 20th Century and church records show that the building was dedicated in 1912, during the annual Assembly of the mission held at Nongsawlia. Here, the identification of this building with the college established by Dr. John Roberts in 1887 must be emphasized, if we are to preserve our sense of institutional history.

The building was constructed under the supervision of Robert Jones, the Second principal of Cherra Theological College and skillful builder. The building's design was carefully planned to combat the rainy, foggy, soggy climate of Sohra; to protect books and documents and people from dampness and fungus. It has a distinctive ultra-high roof that slopes down very low on the veranda all around. The veranda has glass panes fitted on the upper portions to keep out the ever-present fog, while allowing in the sunlight. It has double walls, especially around the library, to absorb the extreme humidity. Although the building materials of stone, lime, hardwood and cane are quite common in the Khasi-Jaintia Hills, the architecture is truly unique. The present buildings of the Thomas Jones School of Mission merit preservation as representative of early 20th century colonial architecture amidst rainy, foggy conditions.

Content provided by Rev.W. K. Hujon, Pastor-Incharge, Thomas Jones School of Mission and Evangelism