Hymn Story: I Have Decided to Follow Jesus

This is an interesting hymn story, my brother asked me to write. I can’t believe it took me so long to discover this hymn story.

I Have Decided to Follow Jesus originated in Assam, India.

By the late 1800s, India was formally closed to the gospel.  However, it did not stop the sweeping missionary movement from Wales, England, Australia, and the U.S. which swept throughout the region. 

Much of the missionary endeavor focused on Northern India, where Hinduism was entrenched.

Many of the provinces were hostile to foreigners and many of these missionaries were martyred.  However, the gospel began to make inroads.

In the 1880’s, a Welsh missionary endured severe persecution before finally obtaining his first convert.

This convert was from a particularly brutal village in the province of Assam.

There he baptized a husband, wife and their two children.  The village chief decided to make an example of the husband and family, demanding they renounce Christ.

According to Dr P. Job, “the lyrics are based on the last words of Nokseng, a Garo man, a tribe from Meghalaya which then was in Assam, who along with his family decided to follow Jesus Christ in the middle of the 19th century through the efforts of an American Baptist missionary. Called to renounce his faith by the village chief, the convert declared, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” His two children were killed and in response to threats to his wife, he continued, “Though no one join me, still I will follow.” His wife was killed, and he was executed while singing, “The world behind me, The cross before me.” This display of faith is reported to have led to the conversion of the chief and others in the village. The fierce opposition is possible, as various tribes in that area were formerly renowned for head-hunting.”

It is said that the chief who ordered the execution of his family of faith began to wonder “Why should this man, his wife and two children die for a Man who lived in a far-away land on another continent some 2,000 years ago? There must be some remarkable power behind the family’s faith, and I too want to taste that faith.”

The chief spontaneously confessed his faith and said, “I too belong to Jesus Christ!” “When the crowd heard this from the mouth of their chief, the whole village accepted Christ as their Lord and Saviour.”

The missionary who converted Nokseng, stated when he returned to the village, a revival had broken out. “Those that had murdered the first converts and since come to faith themselves.”

Sadhu Sundar Singh

The Welsh missionary shared the story and words with a famous Indian evangelist, Sandhu Singh.

The words spoken by this martyr were turned into a hymn which is attributed to Indian missionary Sadhu Sundar Singh. He took the well-known story and words to create a hymn.

The melody is of Indian origins and titled “Assam”. This name is derived from the region where the text originated. This hymn became the first uniquely Indian hymn.

“The song immediately became popular in Indian churches, and it remains a mainstay of worship music there to this day.”

As American missionaries returned from India, they brought the song with them.

American hymn editor, William Jensen Reynolds, composed an arrangement he published in the Assembly Songbook in 1959. 

Reynold’s version became a regular fixture in the Billy Graham Crusades and soon spread in popularity.

The Jerry Jenkins novel and subsequent 2006 film, Though None Go With Me, uses a line from this song.

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