Obituary: The Rev D. G. Merfyn Jones

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The Independent Online
Dafydd Gwilym Merfyn Jones, minister of the church, missionary and writer: born Llan Festiniog, Merionethshire 4 January 1916; married (two sons, one daughter); died Aberystwyth, Dyfed 2 February 1998.

D. G. Merfyn Jones made a lasting contribution as a missionary to the Indian subcontinent. The son of a Welsh Presbyterian minister, he served his denomination well for 57 years - remaining as "able, keen and refreshing" a minister as when first so described on arriving in India.

Ordained in 1941, Jones arrived in the Sylhet region (which became part of East Pakistan after independence, and is now in Bangladesh) and within six months he was in charge of the missionary station in Shaistaganj, a community which had been showered with gifts by his predecessor, a kind- hearted lady who had spoilt the local Cohorgao tribe. He had to exert discipline and, when the gifts ceased, many reverted to Islam. They had been "rice Christians" or "disciples of the loaves".

He saw a great deal of sectarian and religious conflict, Moslems and Hindus murdering each other on the streets of Sylhet, and during the Silchar flood in 1946 he had to flee for safety in the middle of the night on a makeshift raft made of banana wood. Jones travelled the wild terrain of the Hachchek hills, establishing three new churches among the Riang tribe.

His lasting contribution was as a translator. A first-class linguist, he had a firm grasp of many languages - Khasi, Hindustani, Bengali, not forgetting English and Welsh - and in 1955 he and his wife Beryl decided to learn a new language, Zeme Naga. He formed a team under his chairmanship to translate for the first time ever portions of the New Testament into Zeme Naga. He translated two of the Gospels (Luke and John, as well as much of Matthew) and edited a new hymnbook.

He and his wife and son Arfon travelled extensively on foot through the Barail mountains, from their base in Haflong, visiting villages where the Zeme Naga, Thado and Hmar languages were spoken.

They returned to Wales in 1960, and for the next 38 years he ministered, like his father before him, in the Conwy valley, then at Trawsfynydd and Bryncrug in Merionethshire; he served from Swansea as travelling secretary for the Leprosy Mission before returning to Towyn in Merionethshire.

In this period he wrote seven novels in Welsh, all based on his missionary work. He won prizes galore for his Welsh poetry, and wrote a fine book in Welsh on the missionary activities of the Welsh Presbyterians in Sylhet- Cachur since the mid-19th century, Popty Poeth ("The Hot Bakehouse", 1990). Merfyn Jones was not afraid of expressing his own opinions, and his considerable experience as a missionary is evident.

- D. Ben Rees