Audio Bibles for India’s Banjara Gypsies

A middle-aged Banjara man stood in front of about one hundred men, women, and children holding a small black audio player. Everyone was transfixed on the words being broadcast across the room. “I’m so illiterate I can’t even write my own name,” he said. “For all these years I’ve heard others talk about the way to God and how to follow him, but it wasn’t until I heard the words of the Bible on this Proclaimer that I knew how to turn my life over to Jesus Christ.”

This man is participating in a listening group established under a pilot project between Faith Comes By Hearing (FCBH) and e3 Partners. Twice a week he gathers the people of his tanda, or village, to listen to God’s word. “Nearly half of his tanda is illiterate,” said Doug Harstine, a regional manager with Faith Comes By Hearing. “This is very common. About seventy percent of the people in India are illiterate.”

Across the subcontinent there are widespread gaps in literacy between urban and rural communities and men and women. Only twelve percent of Banjara men and four percent of Banjara women can read. FCBH focuses on reaching the world’s poor and illiterate people with God’s word in audio in their heart language.

The Banjara people are considered one of the least-reached people groups in the world. According to Harstine,

We are conducting a pilot project to disciple the Banjara people. They have teams working with pastors in villages to use Banjara (Lambadi) Audio New Testaments in their church planting efforts. These pastors are using Audio Bibles to help people understand God’s word. The goal is one hundred percent saturation, and the feedback has been very positive. The Banjara are particularly receptive to the gospel—we want to continue growing this project and see what God will do!

The Banjara are a community of six million spread throughout India. Experts estimate about one percent of the Banjara are believers. Most live in deep poverty either in rural villages or city slums. With nearly 1.2 billion souls, India is the world’s second most populous country. “There are about one hundred major languages spoken in India,” said Harstine. “And we have the Audio New Testament in twenty-four languages now, so we are only about a quarter of the way there.