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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Bottom Dwellers – Who cares?


Mission work should be looked as an investment. For investments like money, time, opportunity, resources, we look for results. We expect influence, impact, and situations that will make a difference. The same should be true for missions. This is not being cold but realistic. We cannot be expected to cover the world with our mission hopes. We must evaluate and examine our investing strategies for missions. Some segments deserve our all, while others make unwise or unrealistic investments.

Where we should invest in missions should be clear. Some people, frankly speaking, are simply remote, savage, small, and drunks or dregs. Others, thousands or millions of people, are worthy of investing the energy, prayers, and hopes of the Christian forces for the glory of Christ’s Name.


The fourth chapter of the Gospel of John has yielded chapters, books, and blogs on the wisdom drawn from the Lord’s encounter with “the woman at the well.” On evangelism, cultural awareness, and discipleship, that chapter has fed us well.

Another angle brings us different kind of challenge: How do we get to know people like her? How do we meet her–befriend, understand, appreciate, take in, take home, and take to church people like her?

Remember, she was a prostitute. If she went to the well at this odd hour, it was because to her acquaintances she was NOKD, “Not Our Kind, Deary.” She was cast out, avoided, and seen as scum. They didn’t want anything to do with her, and she probably didn’t care to hear their murmuring about her.

How do we meet and take in people like her, Bottom Dwellers of today’s world? No, not all are prostitutes. Some are the guys holding the sign on the corner hoping for a dollar, others are refugees with unknown backgrounds, or inner-city dudes with dreadlocks, druggies looking for opioids, immigrants who don’t speak quite like they should, or neighbors who don’t think, parent, or vote the way we do.

We do live in bubbles, don’t we? We like what’s familiar inside, and we get a little shaky when we go outside. Another way to ask how we meet her is to ask how we can open cracks in our church bubbles. We need people like her in our pews. Otherwise, there are daunting observations about both—the makeup of those in the pews, and the opportunities for grace in her life.

One answer is to follow the Good Shepherd. This reference comes in only four verses: Luke 15:4-7. If we shadow the Good Shepherd, we can make out the features of the person who meets “the woman at the well.”

He has had his dinner and now has a book and some decaf coffee. One of the workers appears and mentions that one of the sheep is missing. What to do? There are viable options. Take it as a tax write-off, consider it a miscounting, or remember there are, after all, 99 left.

Nothing will do but to put down book and mug, dress right, and head out. As a sheep that is lost, this one is not strolling in the next field. No, the search takes the Shepherd through swamp, briars, creek beds, and mud. Furthermore, the lost sheep is not fluffy and delighted to be found. This roaming sheep is scruffy, muddy, smelly, and not at all delighted to be taken back to the paddock.

Carrying on this analogy with imagination, we learn more. The Shepherd did not take the sheep to bed with him, not even into the house. He did wash him down, give him food, and preen over him as one of the best of the best.

We can take it from there. How do we meet “The woman at the well”—whomever she may be, wherever we meet her? How do we treat her with the compassion of the Good Shepherd and His one lost sheep? The same way He treated us and welcomed us from our own lost territory.

For us this means abandoning our protected and uninterrupted time, our precious priorities, our sense of entitlement to what is called our “unwrinkled life.” More importantly we must accept challenges to the stereotypes that have justified keeping her at a distance.

She needs time. Understanding, time, basic needs, and the unassailable verity that she has worth. That’s the least of what it means to take her in. Maybe taking her to our home, certainly taking her to church, a place where she can meet the Good Shepherd. He does send us to search for her, doesn’t He?

The problem with the worldly-wise investor is his vision. He keeps his distance from her: he sees the messy and the smelly, the lazy and the schemer. He looks elsewhere for a better mission investment.

In another parable Jesus sees the women at the well in another guise. All of them—the hungry, the sick, the prisoner, and all others like her—He sees as Himself. When we meet her and take her in, we have taken in the Lord Himself. When we do not pursue her, we have forgotten how He searched through mud and found us. When we have avoided “women at the well,” we have not seen in her His image, His presence, and His love in her. As we have taken her in and loved her in all her manifestations as Bottom Dwellers, we have loved Him.

And, yes, He has another name for our worldly-wise investor. His name for him is decreed: “Goat.”

Photo: Two brothers in the town where I grew up. One was mentally challenged, and the other was gassed in WWI. The memory that keeps them before me is how my mother cared for these gentlemen throughout the year, impressing on me the model of love for the unreached.

Tad de Bordenave

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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

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