India (MNN) — There’s a group in India whose translated name means “peddlers pack,” or backpack. Appropriately translated, the Banjara people are gypsies who often move around.
Located in half the districts of India, the people group is known as one of the largest gypsy groups in the country. Yet, they’re treated like they don’t belong, like they are untouchables.
“They’re looked down upon as one of the lower castes of India, and there’s definitely persecution placed on them,” says Greg Kelly of World Mission.
But because of the rejection, doors are opening for Christians to love, accept, and share the Gospel with them.
Who they are
Often times, when people think the word gypsy, they imagine a band of travelling fortunetellers. But for the Banjara, this is an archaic view.
Joshua Project reports the people group used to trade and transport goods. Some of their traditional jobs have stayed the same.
“They make ornaments and ornate jewelry, which the women also wear,” according to Joshua Project. “Some specialize in making items such as broomsticks, iron tools, and needles. They may also repair tools or work with stone. Others believe that one does not have to work for a living and gain income by ‘religious begging.’”
But most jobs have changed over recent years. A majority of the Banjara has now settled into farming, raising cattle, and growing grain. In other cases, people work at white-collar jobs or as government servants.
Despite the changes, they still keep their rich culture by singing, dancing, and sewing. And, their beliefs are still the same.
They are primarily Hindu, but others follow Islam, and some are Sikhs. Sadly, less than 5% are Christian.
“There’s over 6 million of them just in India alone, and the evangelical percentage is 0%–literally 0.0,” Kelly says.
In nearly every community of America, there is some sort of Christian influence, but hardly anyone in the Banjara people group has heard the Truth. “It’s almost incomprehensible for us as Americans to think of a setting or an environment where there’s zero Christian presence.”
Instead, they follow folk beliefs and strict religious taboos.
“A woman’s hair must not be combed or let down long in the presence of men. Another is that a woman should not pass in front of a man who is sitting, but rather behind him,” Joshua Project says, pointing out several rules.
“Even though Gypsies are unreserved in speech, many have high moral standards.”
But, despite having high standards, and some Banjara having white-collar jobs, education is not of great importance to them.
“Illiteracy is a huge issue among the Banjara,” Kelly says. “What they say is less than 5% of the women can read anything.” And, only about 12% of men can read.
“When that’s the case, usually just getting print materials in their hands is going to create a real challenge from communicating the Gospel with them.”
The Treasure Brings Truth to Illiterate People
However, with The Treasure, the Banjara don’t have to worry about reading, just listening.
“[They’re] a target for World Mission because we identify unreached people groups in the world, and we bring The Treasure, which is our solar-powered audio Bible to give them access to the Gospel,” Kelly explains.
“In this case, with the Banjaras, [it’s] the first time, literally, that they’re hearing the good news of Jesus Christ.”
World Mission is reaching out through national partners to create relationships, share the Word of God, and help change lives.
“We’re talking about spiritual transformation that is supernatural. And one of the main manifestations of that being present is when somebody who hasn’t known the Gospel, receives it and then is motivated to go share it with other people.”
World Mission is using different techniques to make it easier to share the Truth with the Banjara.
“As an example, our people and our nationals on the ground recently provided a free medical clinic, where hundreds of Banjara came,” Kelly says.
“They heard the Gospel message for the first time, and they just saw a demonstration of love that attracted them to the Gospel. As a result, many of them asked Jesus to be their Lord and Savior.”
Recently, they also had an audio Bible distribution.
“We’ve been targeting a group of about 3,000 people, and out of that has come two churches,” says Kelley.
“We’re really just beginning, but because we’re seeing the model, this relational model work, and we have people on the ground working among them, we really believe now is the opportunity to increase that.”
You can help World Mission continue quickly spreading the Gospel. Help provide audio Bibles to the Banjara!
Pray for the Banjara people group to have open, accepting hearts and to listen to the Word. Also, pray for World Mission to get The Treasure out to as many people as they can.