Saving the Marwari

Report: The Marwari of Rajasthan, India

The second time my wife, Constance, and I visited Summerville Church in Jodphur, the pastor was quite surprised. He remembered us from before but wondered why we would return with our interest in the Marwari.

I understood why he would ask. The Marwari of Rajasthan are a low caste group, all of whom are Hindu. They are not the merchants or business class of people who were drawn to his church nor to his spiffy new church on the edge of town. The Marwari were the street cleaners, porters, and other roles that their caste historically gave them. Most Marwari lived in the many villages in the Thar Desert. The Thar had not seen rain for three years, so the standard of living was profoundly distressed.

The best estimate numbers the Marwari as between seven and ten million people. Their cities would be Ajmer, Jodphur, Pushkar, and further to the west and near the border of Pakistan, the ancient walled city of Jaisalmer.  The Marwari language is the main dialect used throughout the 68 million people of Rajasthan.

One of their cities, Bikaner, lies to the north but way out in the desert. There in Bikaner is found what is probably the only temple dedicated to the rat. Yes, the rat. We visited the temple and observed treatment of rats thought to be nearly gods, or at least reincarnations of past members of the Marwari people.

As you might expect, these were the fattest rats imaginable. They receive the highest quality of milk in the area, tenderly ladled on lovely china dishes. There were several of these feeding spots at different places in the temple, each with a complement of rat tails pointing out from the center. A charming scene, one which my artist wife could not resist sketching.

The Rat Temple and the worship of rats brings out a twist on our subject of universal salvation. Yes, all will be saved, but not in the resurrection life Paul describes in I Corinthians 15. Salvation takes the form of reincarnation, to a superior or inferior state depending on the quality of karma accumulated in a person’s life. Good things bring good prospects in life; bad things result in misfortune. The rats of Bikaner represent incarnations of previous lives. For some, the rats would be an improvement, if the previous life had been, say, a jelly fish. But for others–bad hombres, shall we say–the effete rodents would mean a downwardly mobile state.

In one of the Marwari villages lived a pastor named Joshi. He was a kind man who believed that salvation was offered through Jesus Christ.  This man felt called to evangelize the Marwari of his village. This was no easy task since the RSS, one of the most virulent political parties in India with evident hatred for Christians, had a strong presence where he lives. Courageously, Pastor Joshi persevered. He gave himself the goal of presenting the Gospel to one family every week. For this he had a homemade tract to distribute and a correspondence course that he would supervise.

I met Joshi at one of our Marwari consultations. These consultations became the focal points for strategizing efforts to evangelize the Marwari. I was part of at least three Marwari consultations, and each one brought greater effectiveness in outreach to the Marwari. The most significant developments were the Marwari Jesus Film, translations of portions of the Bible, Christian tracts, and fellowship meetings for Marwari Christians.

At the third one Joshi reported on how his ministry had expanded because of these consultations. Now, when Joshi made his evangelistic visits, he could leave more than just his simple tract and Bible study. He now went with a copy of the Jesus Film, a tract of one of the Gospels, pamphlets with Christian instruction, and offers of camps for Marwari Christian youth.

All of that is a simple testimony to many parts of Christ’s body brought together under His leadership.

I experienced that unity in another way, one that could not have happened in Virginia. One of the translation teams had an American working with them. I sought him out and befriended him, spending some time with him and his wife, who was expecting her first child.

There was surprise enough to find a young American man there in Ajmer, but the surprise was greater when we realized how different were our backgrounds. When we were having a meal together, he asked me if I had heard of Dayton, Tennessee. I had and sort of knew where he was going. He was a member of the Dayton Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee). Yes, Dayton where Scopes taught evolution; Dayton, the scene of the trial of his classroom teaching. There over our vegetarian meal was an Anglican priest from Richmond, Virginia and an elder of the Dayton branch of the Church of God of Cleveland. We relished the association.

Requests for prayer for this unharvested field:

From this report come two requests: support for resources and unity of unexpected dimensions.

The discovery and use of wider resources enlarged the ministry of Joshi. We don’t need to be alongside these national evangelists to support their tools for evangelizing. A brief analysis of ministries will bring up the breadth of tools used, and a similar search will point us to ways to support their distribution.

As for unity, working alongside other Christians is often best done with a carry-on set of filters: what denomination, attitude towards evolution, level of sexual tolerance, opinion on the faith of the Founding Fathers, and such essential New Testament criteria… The view of heaven is clear–towards Dayton elders and clergy of any stripe: “May they be one as you and I are one, so that the world may know that you sent me.”

Tad de Bordenave


About Tad

After 25 years in parish ministry and 15 years with Anglican Frontier Missions, I have had enough reflection time to sort out responses from churches to the Lord's call to the least evangelized. This series addresses the nine most frequent rationales for leaving fields that are white for harvest without harvesters.
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