The barefoot girl in a red tunic cautiously approached the smoky fire. Next to the fire sat an old woman diligently concentrating on the task before her. “Grandmother,” the girl asked, “what are you doing with those bugs?”
“Come here, child, and I will teach you,” the old woman said without looking up, waving away the smoke drifting in her direction. The little girl shooed away some chickens nearby, squatted next to her grandmother and watched as the old woman added another handful of beetles to the wooden bowl. None escaped the old woman’s eye and quick hand. The pestle quickly ground them, producing a sickening, crunching sound. Soon the contents of the bowl turned a bright red.
“Your red tunic was made with the dye from these beetles,” she said. “I learned this from my grandmother and she learned it from her grandmother before her. This knowledge has been passed down from our ancestors. In fact, our tribe is named after this beetle.”
“Tell me a story about the old times, grandmother,” the little girl pleaded, eyes now fixated on the red pulpy mess being squeezed through a piece of old t-shirt.
“Well,” said the old woman wistfully, “the old times were hard. Our ancestors were once a proud people who lived far away in another country, but our enemies came and made us slaves. How sad our ancestors were! The evil king carried us here to this place and here we were forced to farm to feed him and his army for more that five generations. During all these years of suffering as slaves, we prayed earnestly to Buddha and sacrificed to our ancestors and the spirits of the forest for protection and we survived! Finally, the Buddha answered our prayers and sent a good king who had mercy on us and granted us freedom. Still, we remain far from our homeland. Despite the suffering, our people have always served the ancestors, the spirits and had strong faith in the Buddha. Your grandfather once served him as a monk. It was the same with all the men in our village. I had to wait a long time before his service was over before we could get married….”
The Buddhist World Unveiled
The story of more than 700 million people of the Buddhist world needs telling. So too does the Christian mission to the Buddhist people, which is often not told due to the obscurity of the very context in which Christian workers among Buddhists find themselves. They are ministering to people who typically value harmony, gentleness, respect and quietness.
The story of the more than 700 million people of the Buddhist world needs telling.
To help bring light and attention to the needs and condition of Buddhist people, Global Mapping International (GMI), in partnership with author Paul Hattaway and co-publisher Piquant Editions, has produced the Peoples of the Buddhist World CD-ROM. The CD-ROM is based on the book of the same name1, created when Hattaway accepted the invitation of SEANET (South, East, South-East and North Asia Buddhist ministry network) to produce a guide profiling all the major Buddhist people groups of the world. Many individuals and agencies in the region also agreed to contribute material. Despite years of ministering in many Buddhist countries Hattaway was hesitant to take on the challenge. However, he was later gripped by the fact that so little heart-warming Christian material had ever been produced about the Buddhist world. There were numerous academic papers and doctoral dissertations about various aspects of Buddhism; however, there was very little prayer material that touched people’s souls. It is indeed ironic that the Buddhist world is so full of vibrancy, smiling people and splashes of color, yet the overwhelming majority of information that the Christian world has produced on them is grey, technical and not particularly motivational.
Peoples of the Buddhist World CD-ROM
In contrast, the Peoples of the Buddhist World CD-ROM has 238 intriguing profiles of Buddhist peoples with hundreds of beautiful photos. Users of this resource will have a better grasp of the unique cultures of Buddhist people and will be enriched in their knowledge of how to minister to and pray for Buddhists, whether they are next-door neighbors or living on the other side of the world. The publishers envision God using this as an instrument to help enlighten, instruct and mobilize Christians everywhere to pray for and ignite mission movements to Buddhist peoples.
GMI began development of the electronic version of the book early in 2006 at the suggestion of GMI associate Valerie Lim in Singapore. Having produced more than two hundred inset maps for Hattaway’s original book, Lim suggested it would be a great help for both the mission community and concerned Christians to have this resource in an easy-to-transport electronic format. Her desire to see this resource more widely used comes largely from her participation in SEANET gatherings and her research work in South East Asia.
GMI envisions the CD-ROM being used by Buddhist ministry networks and mission agencies working among Buddhist peoples. The CD-ROM will be a valuable tool to aid in planning new ministry initiatives, training workers and mobilizing prayer and financial support for new outreaches. Many Buddhist groups still have very few or no known believers among them.
To make the resource even more helpful, thirty-eight new maps were produced highlighting the location of each of the people groups in the book. GMI created the maps using a computer mapping software called the Global Ministry Mapping System, which contains the world’s most complete and up-to-date dataset locating the world’s more than seven thousand ethno-linguistic groups. GMI has offered this mapping system to Christian agencies around the world who wish to do their own mapping for research, planning and communication.
The CD-ROM contains maps for each of the seventeen countries where Buddhist peoples are prominent. By clicking on “Maps” in the opening screen, users can choose whether to view a political map or a people-group map for the country and then zoom in to any desired area. Clicking on the people group name takes the user to the corresponding people profile to learn more about that particular group.
Each of the 238 people profiles has information about the history and culture of the group. The story at the beginning of this article was based on the Lao Krang people of Central Thailand—a group of more than fifty thousand people originally located in Laos. To this day the Lao Krang have no gospel recordings, no JESUS film and no scripture in their own language. Only 0.2% of the tribe adheres to some form of Christianity. Sadly, the reader finds similar stories on nearly every page. May God use these stories to break hearts, motivate prayer and mobilize his people to reach groups like these who have suffered for centuries without a credible presentation of the good news of Christ!
The people profiles also contain information about population, location and the evangelization status of all the different groups through sidebar tables. Readers can see what Christian resources, such as the JESUS film or Bible translations, are available. A photo representative of the group is also included. Each of the profiles is also date-ordered for handy use as a daily prayer guide.
Ministering to Buddhist Peoples
Missiologists tell us that a failure to approach Buddhist peoples equipped with good understanding, sensitivity, gentleness and a willingness to learn has traditionally hampered ministry in some Asian countries. There are eleven articles on the CD-ROM which give Christians valuable insights to help reach Buddhists in a culturally-appropriate way.
According to Hattaway, “Buddhist societies tend to be very close-knit and not too open to outside influences. For these reasons, any missionary efforts to reach Buddhists would be greatly enhanced by good training. In Peoples of the Buddhist World, several Asian Christian leaders have written articles that point out the importance of culturally-appropriate Christian witness, and encourage us to avoid many of the pitfalls that have occurred throughout history, and continue to occur today. Perhaps the CD’s most valuable contribution to mission among Buddhists will be its use as this kind of vital training aid.”
Using the Peoples of the World CD-ROM
Permission to reproduce and use the text, maps and tables in personalized, non-profit presentations is a feature with great potential for Christian workers wishing to mobilize or highlight their ministry. With a few restrictions, permission is also given to copy and paste from hundreds of photos in the profiles and seven special photo sections ranging from “Children of the Buddhist World” to “Festivals on the Roof of the World,” a photomontage highlighting the pageantry of Tibetan Buddhists.
As an aid to researchers, GMI cross-referenced and linked all databases and tables of information pertaining to each group. Students and mission planners will find fully cross-linked tables showing the distribution of Buddhist peoples by country, name variants and language distribution. The CD-ROM is also fully searchable by word or phrase and compatible with both Windows and Mac OSX. Users navigate through the PDF document by means of the visual main menu or by outline-style bookmarks found to the left of the document. The content is fully installable to hard disk so the resource can be used without the need for the disk itself, a feature important for many travelers, particularly those working in sensitive areas.
In spite of the impediments to and intricacies of ministering in the Buddhist context, Jesus invites his disciples to do just this: “Open your eyes and look at the fields” (John 4:35). GMI intends this resource will do for Buddhist ministry what their other CD-ROM resources like The World of Islam and Operation World have done for the Christian community at large. Those interested in obtaining their own copy of the Peoples of the Buddhist World CD-ROM can learn more and order it at www.gmi.org/buddhist.
While the world’s attention may be elsewhere, Jesus still has his eyes and heart on these millions lost in Asia. May God give us clear vision and enable us to see the world as he does; the field is indeed ripe for harvest in the Buddhist world.
1. Hattaway, Paul. 2004. Peoples of the Buddhist World. Carlisle, UK: Piquant Editions Ltd., p. xi.