Peter Keingamba was an enemy of Seventh-day Adventists. He hated them because he felt that they were breaking up his family with their strange doctrines, especially the Sabbath. He was determined to stop their evangelism even if that meant using threats and violence.
Keingamba was born on April 10, 1935, in a beautiful and remote village of Manipur in northeast India. As the eldest of seven children, he was expected by Rongmei tribal custom to be a leader in his family. His parents were farmers, too poor to provide proper education for their children. Hunger and poverty were their constant reality as he grew up. Keingamba (often called K. B. Peter) completed only grade 2 in the village school. As a young man he got a break when he was selected to undergo medic training in the city of Pune, 2,000 miles from his village. As a paramedic, his medical skill would become an indispensable tool in his life.
Keingamba’s parents were animists, as were most of their fellow tribe members before they embraced Christianity. Although a Christian, he had little interest in religion. He felt no guilt living with two wives, who bore him two sons and eight daughters. Keingamba was also a “drinker, smoker, gambler, and a heavy meat eater, indulging in the use of all sorts of unclean meat.”
In 1963, when he turned 28, his life underwent a dramatic change.
Several evangelists had turned down invitations to conduct evangelistic meetings in Keingamba’s village. The Village Volunteer Force (VVF), a counterinsurgency unit of the Indian Army, was known for beating people and causing fear in the community. C. Pheirim, a newly married evangelist, agreed to hold meetings in spite of the challenges. From the start Keingamba, a member of the VVF, was determined to oppose the young evangelist. As his parents seemed inclined to accept the new teachings, especially the Sabbath, Keingamba became angry and more determined to stop the meetings. He felt that the Adventist preacher was causing a division among his family and other Baptists with his strange doctrines.
Keingamba attended every meeting and carefully listened to every word, not intending to become an Adventist but to catch the preacher on some divisive words against the Baptist Church. To his disappointment, Pheirim preached only biblical truths. On several nights Keingamba came drunk to disrupt the meetings and to threaten Pheirim verbally. He made multiple plans to assault him, even instigating army personnel to beat up the evangelist. Whenever Pheirim went to his house to give Bible studies to his parents, Keingamba would either walk out of the house or listen in a state of drunkenness.
Pheirim returned home at the end of the meetings having baptized 94 converts. A few months later the two men—Pheirim and Keingamba—had a chance encounter on the streets of Imphal, the capital of Manipur. They spent more than an hour talking as Keingamba narrated the story of his conversion. Keingamba told Pheirim that although he had opposed him, he had been convicted by his message. He also disclosed to the still-stunned evangelist that he had been baptized and had started preaching the Adventist message after resigning from his well-paid job. Indeed, he was on his way to preach when they met that day. He pulled out a Bible and said that he had decided to become a preacher like him.
Keingamba also made a heart-wrenching decision about his polygamous lifestyle. He informed his family that since it was a sin to live with two wives, he would have to separate from his second wife. After words of prayer and farewell, he sent his younger wife away with her four children. Dhormo Kamei says that the separation was very painful for his mother, but that his father loved her with unselfish love and wished her to remarry, which she politely refused to do.
Although Keingamba never went to seminary, he became a successful self-made evangelist. He studied the Bible and every Adventist piece of literature he could lay his hands on. Pheirim says that he has not known any mission worker in Manipur who knew the Bible better than Keingamba. He “mastered the Bible” and memorized verses for every subject. He was a true “Bible scholar.”
4 He was also well versed in the writings of Ellen White. His two sons acknowledge that their father’s knowledge of the Bible was greater than theirs, even though they both completed a masters degree in theology. His memorization of Bible verses made people ask, “Did Keingamba write the Bible?”
Keingamba became a pioneering evangelist, medical missionary, gospel singer, church planter, and minister. He often went on preaching tours carrying a guitar, a blackboard, a lantern, books, Picture Roll, first-aid box, a typewriter, and several versions of the Bible. At a village public area he would give medical consultations, sing a few songs as he accompanied himself with his guitar, and preach the Adventist message. Sometimes he charged a minimal fee for his medical services. He also recorded songs for All India Radio, for which he received payment. He used most of the earnings for his lay ministry.
5 Although many villages prohibited the preaching of Adventist messages, his medical expertise and fame as a singer won him a ready access to the villages. Keingamba was gifted in many languages, preaching fluently in seven. P. Gangte, a close friend of Keingamba, called him the “one-man army of Jesus.”6
Preaching came naturally to Keingamba. He had an ability to keep his audience in rapt attention with his sermons. His evangelistic efforts usually lasted 30 to 40 days. He preached without notes and wove captivating stories into his sermons. He faced many hardships and persecution in his ministry. He survived at least three shootings and seven vehicle accidents. On one occasion a bullet missed him and hit the blackboard. In another village a group of angry men were ready to beat him when a man saved him by standing between him and the angry mob.
Keingamba’s ministry spanned more than four decades, during which he preached in many villages and towns of Manipur, Nagaland, and Assam. When he retired, his converts numbered nearly 3,000. One source claims that Keingamba’s “efforts have probably brought more people to Christ than those of any other Adventist evangelist in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church of Manipur and Nagaland.”
8 According to Cornelius Kamei, his father raised up 31 churches and inspired many individuals to share the Adventist message.9 He pioneered the work among several language groups.10 Additionally, Keingamba brought revival and reformation to many Adventist churches.
Keingamba was chosen as a lay representative to the 1980 General Conference Session in Dallas, Texas, where he shared his testimony. His picture appeared on the cover of the
Adventist Review (Apr. 24, 1980). In January 1987 his outstanding service to the church was complimented when he was appointed a regular evangelist and ordained by Pheirim, the evangelist who first introduced him to Adventism. An enemy of Adventism had become its mighty champion.
Keingamba retired from active ministry in 1998. Years later he suffered a stroke that kept him stricken until he passed away on August 23, 2013, at the age of 78. Though he is gone, his legacy lives on through the lives of his children, his converts, and the churches he planted.
Koberson Langhu is an assistant professor of church history at Spicer University in Pune, India.