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.”
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.