India (MNN) — While persecution of Christians continues in India, God is at work among an unreached people group. The Banjara (Lambadi) people have many challenges, and illiteracy is one that affects them the most.
Faith Comes By Hearing is reacting to that as they reach out with the Gospel.
A middle-aged Banjara man stood in front of about 100 men, women and children, holding a small black audio player. Everyone was transfixed on the words being broadcast across the room. When the time came, a lady stood to show the man the right button that turns off the device.
"I'm so illiterate I can't even write my own name," he said. "For all these years, I've heard others talk about the way to God and how to follow Him, but it was not until I heard the Words of the Bible on this Proclaimer that I knew how to turn my life over to Jesus Christ."
This man is participating in a listening group established under a pilot project between Faith Comes By Hearing and e3 Partners. Twice a week, he gathers the people of the tanda, or village, to listen to God's Word.
"Nearly half of his tanda is illiterate," said Doug Harstine, a regional manager with Faith Comes By Hearing, the world's foremost audio Bible ministry. "This is very common. About 70 percent of the people in India are illiterate."
Across the subcontinent there are widespread gaps in literacy between urban and rural communities, and men and women. According to the Joshua Project, only 12 percent of Banjara men and four percent of Banjara women can read.
Faith Comes By Hearing focuses on reaching the world's poor and illiterate people with God's Word in their heart language. The Banjara people are considered one of the least-reached people groups in the world.
"We are conducting a pilot project with e3 Partners to win and disciple the Banjara people," said Harstine, who recently returned from a trip to India. "They have several teams working with pastors in local villages to use Banjara (Lambadi) Audio New Testaments in their church-planting efforts. These pastors are using audio Bibles to help people understand God's Word."
"The goal is 100 percent saturation, and the feedback has been very positive," Harstine said. "The Banjara people are particularly receptive to the Gospel. We want to continue growing this project and see what God will do."
Harstine says they have a plan to do that. "22,000 listening groups would reach a majority of the Lambadi Banjara people. Well, we've only done about 3,300 since 2003. Funding is always the holdback." An entire village can be reached for $157.
The Banjara are a community of 35 million spread throughout India. Most live in deep poverty either in rural villages or city slums. They are related to the Roma people in Europe, who are often called "gypsies" or one of 53 other names.
India is a land of contrasts in peoples, geography, culture, beliefs and languages. With nearly 1.2 billion souls, India is the second-most populous country in the world.
"There are about 100 major languages spoken in India," said Harstine. "And we have the audio New Testament in 24 languages now, so we are only about a quarter of the way there."
Harstine said the number of languages is disputable because there are so many different dialects. According to the Ethnologue, there are 495 living languages in India.
Currently, Faith Comes By Hearing is recording six more Indian languages with more scheduled in 2010. This non-profit ministry records and uses heart-language audio Bibles to bring His church together and make disciples from every nation, tribe, language and people.
With each passing month, Faith Comes By Hearing comes closer to their goal of recording the New Testament in 2,000 languages and implementing two million Bible listening groups by the year 2016. When accomplished, these audio Bible listening programs will reach the majority of the world's speakers.
If you would like to help spread God's Word to reach poor and illiterate people of the Banjara group and around the world, join us in prayer, sponsor a village, or get your church involved. Call 1 (800) 545-6552. Or, click here to support them.