Incarnational Mission, Part II: Refugees

Screen Shot 2016-11-28 at 12.08.31 PM                                                               Arrival in Lesbos

If we have grown accustomed to the internationals in our schools and on our trains, we do not have such a sanguine reaction to refugees.

Their arrivals in airports, bans from certain countries, photographs of trials, stories, and much more keep refugees before us and on our consciences. But do we like them? Are we glad they are here? Do we understand why they left their homes? How are we going to cope with them, wherever it is that we live?

For most people in the United States, having Muslims in the neighborhood is a rare thing. That is reflected in how many churches fail to respond to their presence. Several years ago I worked with an organization in Richmond, Virginia, whose mission was to alert churches to the presence of Muslims nearby, inform them about Islam, and equip them to share the faith of Jesus Christ with them.

In spite of gentle persistence and excellent resources, we were singularly unsuccessful. Some did respond and go the course. Many congregations, however, just had too many programs to keep going, a heavy worship schedule, endless pastoral care, and a stretched budget.  Facing the possibility of a Muslim inquirer on a Sunday was too much.

Much of that unsatisfactory response has deep roots in our unfamiliarity with people of other faiths, and in particular Muslims. Stereotypes overrule.

Other countries have a different history and a different presence with Muslims. Of course, we read of many ways people put up obstacles to “letting them in,” but we also read of anecdotal evidence of scores of Muslims coming to faith in Jesus Christ. The problem with anecdotal data is how easily it can be exaggerated or undervalued. Still, what we know, we do know.

One place, a church in Berlin, has recorded baptisms of Muslims in the hundreds. The congregation has grown to 700 from 150 before the arrival of refugees. In Bradford, England, one in four confirmations last year were of Muslim converts. A brief search turns up a series of other stories and statistics like these.

One researcher who tracks the number of converts from Islam told me that these refugee conversions are frequent in Europe but scarce in the United States. The reasons he mentioned for our slow response were those that I have outlined above.

Another Google search can bring out lists and articles of ways for us to respond as individuals. I will add my own list here. This comes because of the picture at the top of this page. The picture is a painting from a photograph by Antonio Masiello.  The painting is by my wife, Constance.

At the New Wineskins Mission Conference last May, Constance was challenged to use her art skill for issues of justice relating to refugees. Over the last ten months she has been painting scenes from the life of refugees. The series takes its title from Jeremiah, “Reaching for a Hope and a Future.” The series will be on exhibit for the months of June and July at the Richmond Public Library. Her full show can be seen at

Enough of a commercial. (Well, I am her patron, so some promotion is to be expected.) Back to a list of ways to respond, a list that has emerged from living alongside the creation of this exhibit:

What can I do to help?

1. Explore.  Commit time to go through websites about the current needs of refugees. This should include finding current and old news articles, especially those that track journeys of individual refugees. Other websites list agencies that are working on the various supports. Delve into each plank to our minds and hearts to the despair and the courage that prompted them to leave.

2. Focus. What particular phase of the refugees’ journey captures your attention: Where they came from, why they left home, what happens in their journey, who are those who assist, how are they received, or something else. Is it the deathly scenes back home, or the scandalous behavior of the moles, or the risks and compassion of the rescue boats, or the spectrum of health, depression, food, poverty, and education of them along the way? Something from our research will touch our hears, or already has. That is where each of us should decide for further pursuit

3. Research your topic. Contact local or international agencies that can inform you thoroughly about your specific interest. They are there—the agencies that address the very needs that have caught your attention. Contact them, learn what they do, find out how they operate, and keep asking questions until you find a place where you can join.

4. Be their advocate. First, bring them before God in prayer. He knows the life of refugees. He went ahead of Moses and the Hebrew people for 40 years. He watched over the Holy Family in their flight and escape to Egypt. He was with them when they returned and settled in a new place.

Second, be their advocate in conversation with nay-sayers, with elected officials, with church friends and leaders. Influence, attitudes, and decisions play a part in helping.

5. Take action. This is where it gets personal and individual. Find ways to volunteer, people to encourage, programs to support. Develop plans for your own response, plans that encompass time, money, and specific steps. Set out goals and benchmarks into the future so that it will be hard for you to lose heart and momentum.

What results from this is a two-way street: We can be Christ’s love to them. “The commandments are summed up in this, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” They can be Christ to us. “Like as you have done this unto them, you have done this unto Me.”

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Finding the Fields

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If we cannot be part of the lives in these unharvested fields, we go against biblical principles. Isn’t that the essence of Christ’s Great Commission in John: “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.” That’s the call to be incarnational in our missional efforts, and to do that with these unharvested fields is simply impractical and impossible.

Moving forward with the noble intent of “taking them the Gospel” leads to disparaging anthropology and dubious missiology. This is not to be obscure but to state the obvious. This anthropology assigns no value to their systems of health, education, justice, and family. They are merely souls to be won. The missiology justifies pressing on no matter what, but the results are all too often tales that leave Christians with red faces of embarrassment.

There are alternatives. We have inroads into a myriad of needy people within our reach. For these we can enter into their lives, understand their deep needs, and have the opportunity of influence, improvement, and mutual benefit. That is where we ought to be deploying our mission energy.

The question this raises is whether there are ways of incarnational mission to the fields that remain unharvested. The answer is, yes, there are, and the places are the cities of the world.

Before I give a microcosm of this from our recent trip to Ireland, let me give a link to a 16-minute talk I heard this recently at a Sunday School class. It is by Tim Keller, given at the Cape Town Assembly a couple of years ago. He expands on three simple points: why we must reach the cities, how we should, and why we can.

Now my microcosm. I’ll start with a report of our return trip from JFK airport to Leo House on 23rd Street, New York City. We took the E Subway from Nassau Station to the 23rd Street Station and were on the train for about 45 minutes. From where I was sitting I observed or spoke with these people:
A Serbian grandfather here for his grandson’s college graduation;
Three visitors arriving from Stavanger Airport, Sola, Norway;
Two others with the Russian airline “Aeroflot” on their baggage tickets;
Two women in intense conversation in their Eastern European language;
A Moroccan escorting the Serbian grandfather;
And the rest either giving attention to their screens or speaking Spanish.

Since I was sitting beside the Moroccan, I can tell you a little about him. He has been in the United States for eight years, studying film. He was from Casablanca, where I have visited, so we talked about the grand mosque right on the ocean and McDonald’s which serves travelers during Ramadan. He will return to his family and their village in three weeks for the month of Ramadan. He said that is a holy time for prayer, and the family time is most precious then. I forgot to ask my standard question of Muslims, “How many times have you been a suicide bomber?” I did tell him that I always join the Ramadan prayer discipline towards the end of the month when they pray for special revelations of God. He appreciated that but was unaware of the particular revelation of God that I pray for.

A couple of other spottings in the time away:

  • Backing out of the car park at Cashel Rock, near Cork, Ireland, I was astonished to see the model of the Nissan right beside us: Qashqai! Who would have expected the Japanese to draw attention to this non-Persian people of Iran?
  • If the Irish people are easy to spot with their peach complexion and red hair, most of the young walking the streets were definitely non-Irish.  What drew them to Dublin? Learning English. These students were there by the droves and were obviously from other parts of the world.
  • If “the world’s largest village,” Dublin, has a multitude of internationals students, I’m probably not too far off the mark to say that the number of international students here in Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University outnumbers the whole count of internationals in Dublin.
  • If New York City has 95% of the world’s countries, again I am not too far off the mark to say that Richmond probably has 75%.

Another worthwhile link, after listening to Tim Keller, is to absorb the insights at This ministry, Global Gates, actively pursues the opportunities I refer to here. It brings understanding, reports, ideas, and encouragement in the metropolitan environments of the world. The postings show ways of effective outreach in metropolitan environments.

What about world cities where US citizens are prohibited? The answer is another question: What about Chinese Christians who are not prohibited, or Philippine Christians, or Nigerian Christians, or Indonesians Christians? And the list goes on.

I know there are some who prefer not to travel like us, with 10 pounds in our backpacks for twelve days. Some actually prefer cruises! 🙂 A cursory search about life on cruise ships below decks reveals society of many different nationalities. Each has its specific tier in the service structure–to clean, serve, cook, run the casino, and do on. Many of them have Bible studies in their common places; many others sell pornography to supplement their salary. For Christians, the opportunity for witness is there almost at every turn. A little time, an introductory conversation, repeated interest, and “a word spoken in season” can take root.

What do these random observations have in common? Opportunities for incarnational mission among unharvested fields. On the subways, the buses, the streets, the classrooms, and around the pools of the ships, God is ready to expand these relationships and use them to show His love and mercy to the nations of the world.

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Codes of Honor

Ifraim and Scr

Distributing Bibles in a city north of Islamabad

My rule of thumb for handling cross-cultural differences is to get to the point where I can say that the difference makes perfect sense to me. This allows me to show respect and honor to their culture and that I understand what they are doing.

To show them this respect does not mean that I agree with what they do. I may find some behavior distasteful and immoral and would never replicate it. But the people know that I have made the effort to understand them.

The natural temptation, when faced with something we disagree with, is to hasten to let them know that we find it wrong. That ends the conversation. Most of the time they don’t need to be shown that. What they really want is understanding.

Last week I posted on the theme of “Danger!”  This difficult exercise—and I fully acknowledge that it is that—takes on deeper challenge when we come up against codes of honor with dangerous people. These codes may not ever be written or in a manual, but they teach each person how to live.

These codes are found in the proverbs, the sayings, the legends of the tribes. The men know these proverbs, and they pass them on to their children. Among them these customs rule with unchallenged power.

One missionary working with one of the dangerous tribes spent years collecting their aphorism and proverbs. By doing that, he became intimately aware of their culture. This achieved a deep acceptance in an otherwise closed society.

I would like to look at the proverbs and codes of the Pushtun of Pakistan, a people usually not friendly Christian messengers. They have lived in Northwest Pakistan and Afghanistan since 1000 years before Christ. That would be about the time of King David. Their code, well shaped over these millennia, is known as Pushtunwali. Within this are twelve primary virtues:

Hospitality—This first one carries great weight and expects respect to visitors, regardless of origins or clan.

Forgiveness or asylum—This extends to protection from enemies, at all costs and is granted until the full dispute is known.

Justice and revenge—And there is no time limit to this. The revenge often extends through generations.

Bravery—This defense comes out for land, family, and the honor of the name.

Loyalty—First of all loyalty, and at great sacrifice, to family, to friends, to neighbors. Not to show this brings great shame to the family.

Righteousness—As in striving for what is good in thought, word, and deed, this applies to the environment, to the cattle, and to people.

Faith—The object is the one God of Islam: Allah in Arabic, and Khudai in Pushtun.

Respect or pride and courage—If one does not have these qualities, he is not considered a Pushtun. This is of paramount importance, for it would be shown in bravery, loyalty, and revenge.

Protection of their women—This includes physical and vocal abuse.

Honor—This particular quality is seen towards the poor and weak.

Country—The land of the Pushtuns is sacred to them. It is to be defended for honor and for name.

To be sure, there are facets of these that we find startling. But that is not the point. Reading these shows how much of their culture is taught through these primary virtues. We should respect what they represent and appreciate those things that are honorable in the structures of their cultural life.

On a visit to Pakistan when I was a guest of a Christian evangelist, I joined him and his team on a trip into cities north of Islamabad. We carried with us Bibles in Urdu and gave them to whomever expressed interest. The picture above shows our leader with courage from the Holy Spirit offering the Word of God to the Muslims.

On our way home and at several other times he and the team offered free copies of the Book of Proverbs. Proverbs? Not the Gospel of John, or something similar?

Proverbs.  He explained that is what shows the culture of God, the code of Christians, what they can see of the God and Father of Jesus Christ through our code of life. Brilliant move.

A sampling of proverbs from the Yoruba Tribe of Nigeria (Not a dangerous people):
A great affair covers up a small matter.
A man with a cough cannot conceal himself.
A proverb is the horse that can carry one swiftly to the discovery of ideas.
After we fry the fat, we see what is left.
Anyone who sees beauty and does not look at it will soon be poor.
As long as there are lice in the seams of the garment there must be bloodstains on the fingernails.
Ashes always fly back in the face of him who throws them.
Because friendship is pleasant, we partake of our friend’s entertainment; not because we have not enough to eat in our own house.
Covetousness is the father of unfulfilled desires.
Fear a silent man. He has lips like a drum.
Gossips always suspect that others are talking about them.
He who eats well speaks well or it is a question of insanity.
He who throws a stone in the market will hit his relative.

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Danger! Stay away!

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The Martyrdom of St. Mark, by Fra Angelico

Why on earth would anyone voluntarily go to a tribe or people who have the show violence? Especially lethal violence towards Christians! These are people who have no interest in the Gospel, haven’t searched the Internet for missionaries, and feel quite good about their religion.

Better to show humility in other ways—going where we are invited, where people may be responsive, and those who serve will not be in danger.

Besides, if the church really wants to have a go at hostile crowds, are there not other ways to make an impact? And from a safe distance? Or maybe this just isn’t the time for them. They have made their bed, and we can let them lie in it—until a glimmer of interest emerges.


Well-reasoned and not without merit. That is one way of looking at dangerous unharvested fields. There is another way, one that looks the danger in the eye and keeps going.

First, a sobering word about martyrs. We lern of them in the Middle East and North Africa. We hear stories and read the grim and sad reports. Sadly, the reality is worse than what the news tells us. The best records for martyrs over long periods comes from the research of The Center for the Study of Global Christianity. You can visit their website at But let me warn you—the information there is so amazing and startling, you will want to linger.

Their research for the years 2005 until 2015 shows a stunning total of 900,000 martyrs. That means an average of 90,000 martyrs per year over those ten years. Yes, the reality of the suffering church is far worse that what gets reported.

Danger, yes, increasingly so.

In the face of this expectation, there must be a different way of assessing Christ’s call to dangerous lands. Let me mention three: suffering, the power of God’s love, and the resurrection,

1. Of all the suffering recorded in the Bible, certainly the most opprobrious was Christ’s. His was physical, emotional, and spiritual and in measurements only the Son of God could experience. But before He met His betrayal and death, He faced His followers and told them what to expect. “If they have done this to the Son of Man, they will do this to you.” The point is that suffering is part of what Christians should expect.

2. The love of God the Father through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit is the most powerful force in the world. This is unmatched power for inner healing, for hope, for taking hold of new life, for leaving the regrettable past behind, for rising from abuse or handicap. As we fold in the grace of the Father’s love, we find all that is summoned in the phrase of being born again. And, of course, from that love comes the forgiveness and acceptance of our Creator and His Son.

Christians know that. Christians can quote Romans 5:7: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

But if we only apply that to ourselves, we have turned that great truth into a selfie. Is there a person, a sinner, a tribe, a people group that could not be included in Romans 5:7? We have the high calling and precious opportunity to go to violent and hostile people and tell them where they can find love, joy, and peace.

3. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is called the “first fruits.” That means that His resurrection presages ours. As He rose bodily, ate food, carried on conversations with friends, and then ascended to heaven, all that awaits Christians.

Yes, there is a powerful and unbroken link joining this future hope with this-world decisions of Christians to go into danger. After all, they take with them the Gospel truth for those sinners who haven’t dreamed there could be love like that found in the heart of God.

The stories of martyrs are stirring tales, but don’t miss what lies beneath the grim endings. Within the heart of these martyrs there stirs a love for Jesus Christ that surpasses love for their own lives. Their hearts carry love for His people, those whose violence makes the news. They were not made to live that way, and God’s power can reverse their destiny and give them a new birth.

Last week I read a report from Christians in Syria. I do not know the people who sent this message, but I know the organization that reported it. I believe it is trustworthy. The report was three prayer requests from Syrian Christians who will soon be baptized soon. They know the dangers and send these three requests:
That they will die quickly if captured
That they will not deny Jesus under torture
That they will have boldness to speak the truth and to forgive.

One other martyrdom has stayed with me. The scene was Japan in the 1600s when numerous Christians were crucified. One day the executioners passed over a young woman, in deference to her gender and age.

When she realized this, she told them that she would not shun from death for her Savior. He had stayed by her with a love that was unfailing, giving her hope in all circumstances and courage in death. Turning to the executioners, she asked, “Which cross is mine?”

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The Qashqa’i of Iran

A Qashqa'i family

A Qashqa’i Clan

The point of the Thoroughbred analogy of last week is that God is a mighty God and always at work in mighty ways: “…more than we can desire or ask for,” as Cranmer wrote in one of his collects. We call the unharvested fields “unreached,” and maybe they are by us, but they are jealously loved by God.

The profile this week is of the Qashqa’i of Iran, a non-Persian group near the Zagros mountains of Iran.  They were one of the world’s least evangelized peoples in the 1990s with no pastor, no verse of Scripture, and no known Christians. Here are five times that the Thoroughbred of heaven showed his power to the Qashqa’i of Iran.

1. Unity. I worked with the early team concentrating on them. We consisted of five different agencies: one from each of the two Southern Baptist agencies, Wycliffe, the Friends, Korean Presbyterian, and Anglican/Episcopalian. We were: clergy, dentist, linguist, doctor, and one had the distinction of having won a blue ribbon in his state fair for his beer recipe. (No, not me, though I did brew at one time and definitely would not have received a blue ribbon for my batch.)

Not only were we across the board in background, but we got along very well. At one of our meetings, the Quaker said, “Tad, you all baptize by sprinkling. You Baptists dunk. We Quakers don’t baptize at all. It will be great to see how the Holy Spirit handles this.”

2. Extraordinary miracle. These stories must be verified, for they invite exaggeration. This story was told to me about the Qashqa’i. A later source said it occurred with a different non-Persian group. I will present it as I first heard it.

A group of missionaries were distributing copies of the Scriptures in a city near the Zagros Mountains. No one seemed interested. They decided to go towards the Persian Gulf and find other villages. On the way their jeep broke down on a bridge. They looked up and saw a man wearing a Qashqa’i hat coming down the mountain to their jeep.

This man was part of a Qashqa’i village. The men there had been meeting and discussing parts of the Qur’an. They all said that Isa (Jesus) gets lots of attention, but no one knew much about who He was. That night one of the men had a dream. In the dream a man appeared to him and told him that if he would go down the mountain to where the road goes over a bridge, he would get information about Isa.

The next day, as he approached the men in the jeep, he said, “I have come to find out who Jesus is.”

3. Conversion. The Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6, 1996, as the date when the first Qashqa’i came to faith. He was living outside of Iran when he met the Lord. Later one of our workers went to visit him, taking with him recording equipment. When he left about a week later, he had with him a tape of the man’s conversion, key words used for translation, a reading of Luke for an early version of the Jesus Film—all in the Qashqa’i language–and an experience he said was the best seven days of his life.

4. Translation. The linguists on our team were not from the US, so they could enter Iran. The husband went alone to visit a Qashqa’i camp. On his way, his driver stopped the car and proceeded to beat him up and take his possessions.

A Qashqa’i leader saw this and intervened, saving the linguist. So embarrassed was the Qashqa’i man that the Muslim code of hospitality was blemished (cf. Lev. 19:33,34) he brought the linguist into the camp, and they all treated him as honored guest. He kept his notebook handy as he innocently asked about their words and grammar. That information was fed into a Wycliffe program for a similar language and saved over eight years of translation of the Qashqa’i Bible.

5. Sacrifice. The convert returned to his village after his conversion. He risked his life for telling of his faith in Jesus Christ. Nonetheless he did tell his family, and soon he was leading a small group of people studying the Bible.

6. Who knows? Those events occurred at least a decade ago. Of course there have been more developments. God is at work, and we may be certain that the might and the love and the truth of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ continue to lift His name for those Qashqa’i who will worship Him in everlasting joy.

This brings me to a welcome update about the Bagri, the people I profiled two weeks ago. From the research I had available, I wrote that there was no translation for them and no known agency working among them.

I was happily corrected by two readers. One wrote that he and his agency had been working with the Bagri for over ten years. He said there are 80 small house churches among them, an ordained pastor, and ten deacons.

The other writer works with the Jesus Film. He wrote that the Jesus Film has been made in the Bagri language along with one other Bible film.

Our calling is to go where God is at work. The unharvested fields are also places where God is mightily at work, jealous for His glory. If we ask how we can join Him there, we will receive.

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The Church as Thoroughbred

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I give you the thoroughbred horse as an image for the local church. I mean a muscle-rippling, hot and eager horse, eyes flashing, hooves pawing, nostrils sucking air, and ears alert. This horse is poised with explosive power, anticipating the spurs, all the time expressing an aura of confidence and intention.
With that image, how could there be unfulfilled destinies of God’s people? Well, I offer six rationales:

1. Our plates are full, and our calendars have few openings. We are busy. This church already has a bridle on a horse, maybe not one of those, but a workhorse, nonetheless.

2. Great image, and very inspiring. But tell me how you are so sure that this horse serves the will of God? Too many tales of others stepping out with “divine courage” and ending up with chaos.

3. If we hitch our agenda to this horse, we will have to push aside all we have set up for the next phase of our church life. This would undo the groundwork I have laid for our stewardship, youth, and education plans. Do you really think that is what God wants?

4. The power of a thoroughbred unleashed here? Why now, when we have never seen power like that before? Hasn’t happened and don’t expect it to happen.

5. I’ve got people who need me. And plenty who are upset—everything from the bass on the praise band to the children’s bathrooms. And you want me to step out in leadership and get on this thoroughbred?

Take your slick image elsewhere.


This does not call for my opinion of God’s church. I will let the Bible direct us. Listen for the thunderous strength of the Thoroughbred.

The Apostle Paul knew the church well. For us he gives these images:
The bulwark and pillar of truth
A holy Temple in the Lord
God’s workmanship
Dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Here we read some of the purposes of God for the church:
To be stewards of the mysteries of Christ
To preach the unsearchable riches of Christ
To stand against the devil and the powers and authorities of this world
To be lights in this darkened world
To take up the ministry of reconciliation.

Sample statements of who we are should make our ears alert and muscles straining:
Baptized with the Holy Spirit
Given the mind of Christ
Called the Body of Christ
One with Christ as He is one with the Father
Loved by Christ as He is loved by His Father
Received the gifts, ministries, and activities of the Spirit.

We have here the presence of God in our life, the purposes of God entrusted to us, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Can there be any doubt that God wills to work through us, His people? He has called us, sanctified us, empowered us, and given us marching orders. When faithfulness (ours) meets faithfulness (God’s), then we see the grace, power, and love of the Triune God in the paths of the Thoroughbred.

I will give one of my mantras: Good Lord, deliver us from visions of mediocrity.

Isaiah does better than that:
Arise! Shine! For your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. The Lord will arise upon you and His glory will be seen upon you, and nations (unharvested fields!) shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your rising.

These words we will hear next Sunday:
If you are raised with Christ, then seek those things that are above, where Christ is—seated on the right hand of God.

The last word belongs to Paul:
Now to Him who is able to do for more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

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Bottom Dwellers, Black Holes, and the Bagri

The Tadpole Galaxy
The Tadpole Galaxy

I have been enthralled—yes, that is the mot juste—by watching a series of lectures on the Hubble Space Telescope. The pictures, like my namesake above, are out of this world. (You can quote me on that.) Hubble has made breath-taking discoveries about the universe. Many of these are not actually discoveries; they are confirmations to hunches about what is out there. They can now actually predict, for example, what will happen when the nearby Andromeda Galaxy collides with the Milky Way. (Not to worry. That won’t happen for at least 24 million years. Plenty of time to stock up on milk.)

And Black Holes. Astronomers knew these phenomena existed, but now they can almost look inside and see what goes on. (The gravity is so strong there that even light rays do not escape!)

Ever since working with Anglican Frontier Missions I have also been fascinated by the study of ethnic groups or nations, the dynamics and internal forces that shape their identity and contours. Sometimes I put myself deep into these tribes and imagine what life is like there. Research has progressed to far reaches in uncovering these people and their life.

There is a major difference between the expanding universe covered by Hubble and the life of remote tribes on earth. People are agog over Hubble and its pictures. Imaginations and fantasies dazzle.  But for the discovered peoples, they are left in the dark.  No cruise ship lands, and no cable stations cover their news. The research for these least evangelized peoples, the unharvested fields, has been every bit as advanced and exacting as the research for Hubble. But as one friend commented, they are lost twice—lost to God and lost to the church.

Such are the Bottom Dwellers of today’s world.

Both, however, reflect the glory of God. We know that about the universe because David said so: “The heavens are telling the glory of God.” We know that about the tribes also because Jesus said so: “I have other sheep, not of this fold. I must bring them in also.”

Let me present the Bagri people for our case study.  They live in Rajasthan and Punjab of western India as well as the Sind province of Pakistan. Here is a profile of the Bagri:

1. Discovery. I knew they existed. Back in 1994 the Board of AFM decided that we would focus on the 25 largest and least evangelized people. We went to “the man upstairs” for the list. That would be David Barrett, editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia, and his team. Their office was one floor above ours.  These guys had the list. If a people existed, they were on the list, and the Bagri were there. Like astronomers who knew Black Holes were there, we knew the Bagri exist.

2. Way of life. They are nomads. They are content not to settle in one particular area. With few material possessions, they are quite at home staying on the move.

When Constance and I were in Rajasthan, friends pointed them out to us several times. As we passed through villages, we noted large blue tarps in the town centers. These, we were told, were the shelters for the Bagri. That was all they needed. Nomads.

3. Social status. In a land of vegetarian Hindus, the Bagri are meat eaters. They would be called on to bury dead cattle and other animals. Although they gave appearance as Hindus, they were in the low caste and were outcast.

Twice I had conversations with leading Christian clerics about them, once in Delhi before departing for Rajasthan and then in Jodphur, Rajasthan. At my inquiry about the Bagri the answer both times was, “Why bother with them?”

4. Research. I searched many sites for this presentation. Most of the time my search brought the following response: “Your search produced no results.”

Bottom Dwellers.

The good people at Global Prayer Digest (.org.) covered the Bagri with two pages, both highlighting the need for Scriptures, the need for workers, and the need for an agency. Just one. That was in 2004 and again in 2008. At present for the million Bagri people there is no Jesus Film, no portion of the Bible, no New or Old Testament. No Word of God in the language they speak.

Today’s section for the Global Prayer Digest highlights the advanced technology the Wycliffe uses, a program called ParaTExt. This advancement reduces by years the translation process and increases the accuracy.

Wycliffe Bible Translators took me to a paper presented on the Bagri language. It addressed the question of whether Wycliffe ought to begin a translation of the Bible for them. The author’s recommendation was positive. May we read of progress soon!

Such are the findings of a people like the Bagri. Not quite as enthralling as Black Holes.


I’m thrilled with Hubble. Next year the James Webb telescope will go up, rendering optics 100 times more powerful than Hubble. Can’t wait!

As you might expect, the comparison with Hubble discoveries and Bottom Dwellers suggests —may I say—a predictable closing: if Hubble and stars grab our attention, how much more… I’ll leave the ending to you.

I will make the case that both Black Holes and the Bagri reflect the glory of God. Joseph Hayden gave us the cantata “Creation” with the closing refrain, “The hand that made us is divine.” Prior Roger Shutz of Taizé Community of Taizé wrote, “Les chiffes sont les signs de Dieu.” (Statistics are the fingerprints of God.)

More and more the intellectual climate of today is blind to the opening affirmation of our creed, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” Likewise, many in the church are not yet able to see the Father’s view of the Bagri.

We lose big if we do not recover the right perspective on both.

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