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Died: Chungthang Thiek, Pastor of Manipur’s Prayer Movement

The Indian evangelical leader sought a space in the hills where people “could commune with God without interruption.”
Died: Chungthang Thiek, Pastor of Manipur’s Prayer Movement
Image: Courtesy of Joshua Thiek / edits by Elizabeth Kaye

Chungthang Thiek, a revivalist and preacher who launched a prayer movement in the hills of Manipur, a northeastern state in India, died on January 4. He was 75 and had been battling vocal cord cancer for months.

Thiek obeyed the vision he received on July 11, 1986, the last day of a youth camp he was leading, instructing him to “Arise and rebuild,” words that first led him to build a discipleship and evangelistic ministry that soon evolved into something more specific.

Following a trip to South Korea, Thiek returned with a vision to provide a place for people to pray and started to pray for the same. In 1990, he established “Prayer Mountain” right outside Manipur’s second largest city of Churachandpur, which has welcomed hundreds of thousands of Christians from across the country since.

A former math teacher turned evangelist, Thiek had a heart for Manipur and learned all of the state’s languages and dialects. His life’s work became defined by that vision at youth camp. There, he later recalled, God spoke to him from the book of Nehemiah 2:17:

Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.”

“The situation in Manipur and especially in Churachandpur at that time (1986) was very bad. Alcoholism had gripped most of our young people, as well as drug abuse,” said Thiek’s former ministry partner Lalmanlien Mana, who at that time was one of the campers. “Their spiritual lives were way down in the pit.”

But the vision Thiek shared with these young people in his characteristic bluntness and passion stirred their hearts.

“Thiek said, ‘Let us join together to rebuild our spiritual lives, our families, our community, as well as our society,’ and Nehemiah Prayer Team (NPT) was born that day,” Mana said.

Mana remembers that this message resonated so deeply that 115 youth out of the 200 in the camp came forward and committed their lives to praying for their communities and country.

“Many from the NPT in the years to come became leaders, trainers, pastors, and people of influence,” Mana said.

The NPT asked young Christians to fast as individuals or groups and to donate a share of rice (the staple food of the people of that region) to the ministry. The collected rice would be sold, and the NPT would use these funds to organize gospel camps, seminars, and crusades.

In 1989, Thiek and few NPT members traveled to South Korea and learned about “prayer mountains,” a movement where once-persecuted Christians sought momentary refuge by talking to God in nature.

“Dad was burdened to provide a place for people to pray,” said Joshua Thiek, the oldest of Thiek’s three sons. “A solitude where they could commune with God without interruption, as long as they wanted, one on one, and refresh their soul and spirit before they left.”

In 1990, a local leader in the area gave a mountain property to Thiek, and soon local Christians began heading to the area. Since its inception, the experience has been free and runs entirely on donations and rice sales. Between 4,500 and 6,000 visit each month and stay in the campus’s 70 cabins.

“People come to the Prayer Mountain to fast and pray,” Mana said. “Some for a day (morning till evening), some for three days, some for a week, and some for 40 days. They are free to stay as long as they like.”

Through NPT, around 3,000 Indian Christians have currently committed themselves to praying. The organization, whose motto is “Ask, Rise and Build,” has also spread to Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and New Delhi and today is a department of the Independent Church of India.

Thiek was born in Jinam Paithe Punji village in the state of Assam, which borders Manipur. Though there are no official records from his birth, his son said he was born in 1949. He lost his father at age four.

When Thiek moved to a new village to attend school, he stayed in various families’ homes, where he did odd jobs for them like collecting sticks from the forest or carrying water from the well.

Later, he moved to Manipur to a village outside of Churachandpur, where he attended high school. He received a bachelor’s degree in zoology and mathematics and later a Bachelor of Divinity from Union Biblical Seminary, in the western Indian state of Maharashtra.

While his greatest impact came from his work within the borders of Manipur, Thiek also served as northeast regional secretary for the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), the umbrella body for evangelicals in India. He served with EFI for 28 years and helped develop Christian unity and leadership in the region.

“He appeared small in stature but was a very tall leader respected throughout the nation,” said Vijayesh Lal, the present general secretary of EFI. “I had the privilege of ministering alongside him many times. He was the one who opened the northeast region for me. His passion for people, simplicity, cheerfulness, straightforwardness, and his willingness to serve even a younger person like me will stay with me forever. He was a true missionary.”

Richard Howell, former general secretary of EFI and Thiek’s colleague, remembers him as a man dedicated to prayer and fasting.

“He was exceptionally gifted to network and develop partnerships,” said Howell, who worked with Thiek for 20 years. “His first convert to Christ was when he was practicing preaching on an empty road, and lo and behold a drunkard came stumbling, who then committed his life to Christ.”

Leaders also remembered the way Thiek was able to recognize and overcome his own biases and shortcomings through prayer and by listening to others.

Leela Manasseh, former secretary for EFI’s Women Commission, worked alongside Thiek for many years. At one point she asked him to keynote a women’s conference.

“First, he wept … then he shared: ‘My wife told me last month to go to the Prayer Mountain. … She asked me to spend time with the Lord to correct my thinking about women leaders. I had never accepted that God gives the gift of leadership to women. I returned home from the mountain and said sorry to my wife,’” Manasseh said. “‘I shared with her how God helped me to understand that God blesses both men and women with the gift of leadership.’

“We were all moved to tears of joy,” Manasseh said. “That was the best keynote address that I have ever heard so far. A man in leadership testified to women leaders and how God changed him before he could address a gathering of women leaders. It spoke volumes.”

After retiring from EFI in 2021, Thiek founded the Ministry of the Saints, an organization that sought to provide education for the children of day laborers, whose parents could not afford to send them to school.

“Dad one day encountered two very feeble children … doing nothing while their parents were working in the field. He asked them why they were not in school, and the children said that their parents cannot afford to send them and they stay idle the entire day waiting for them to return,” Joshua Thiek said. “Dad was deeply moved. His personal experience of losing his father at a very young age fueled his passion for providing a brighter future for such children.”

The ministry today supports the education of 57 children and is overseen by Joshua Thiek.

One year before Prayer Mountain opened, in 1989, Chungthang Thiek moved to Imphal, Manipur’s capital. After his cancer diagnosis, he moved to Guwahati, Assam, just weeks before violence killed dozens of Christians, many of them from Thiek’s minority Kuki-Zo community. His own family fled to a relief camp before joining him in Assam.

“My father’s last days would have been harder if he would have witnessed the violence with his own eyes,” Joshua Thiek said.

Weeks before leaving to begin cancer treatments, Thiek spoke at Prayer Mountain’s 2023 convention last March, which drew 600 Christians, and met with Mana there in April, sharing his dreams for the next stages of his ministry.

“Thiek started this in 1986, and the Lord has been leading us till today; and now when Thiek is gone, I believe that the Lord will continue to lead us till Jesus’ second coming,” Mana said.

Thiek is survived by his wife, three sons, and three grandchildren.

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