Doctors had given up hope of Lazarus Lalsingh’s recovery from a serious illness, and pronounced him just three days from death. But when missionaries prayed for four-year-old Lazarus, he was raised from the near dead, much like his namesake from the Bible. As a result, his whole family put their faith in Christ. Their conversion enraged the local community, and they were shunned from their village. Despite many difficulties, after completing his education, Lazarus served as a pastor under the Church of South India for ten years. He launched BBPT in 1996. Lazarus is married to Poolabai who serves in the women’s ministry. The couple has four children.
Badavo Banjara Phozear Trust (BBPT) was established in 1996 to plant churches and reach out holistically to the Banjara people of India. Preserving the Banjaras’ unique cultural identity, BBPT aims to develop the social, economic, and spiritual lives of the people through evangelism, church planting, education, and women’s empowerment, resulting in a strong and mobilized Banjara Church. To date, BBPT has planted more than 400 churches and 6,350 house fellowships in 18 districts of Andhra Pradesh. Their hope is to introduce the Gospel to 250 thandas (Banjara settlements) in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.
Yakamma Minnu accepted Christ while attending one of the schools for Banjara children started by Lazarus Lalsingh. An evangelist in the making, Yakamma shared her faith with her parents who also accepted Christ. As the first family in their village to embrace Christianity, the Minnus were ostracized and threatened, yet still expected to contribute money during the Hindu ceremonies. As Christians, the Minnu family refused, leading to accusations that they were dividing the community. Yet, the family persevered. Eventually, over a decade’s time, enough villagers had become Christians that a church was built in their area. Today, Yakamma’s parents continue to serve the Lord as evangelists. More than 40 families have come to Christ through their witness.
Spread throughout 16 states of India, the 20 million Banjaras are the largest gypsy group in India. The majority are Hindu, though some have combined Hindu practices with animistic beliefs. Banjaras practice peculiar types of worship, mostly of idols and spirits. Many are superstitious and some still practice blood sacrifices. In addition, many are addicted to alcohol and drugs and live in poverty.
Though the Banjara Church has been growing in recent years, less than 5% are Christian. This is mainly because they view conversion as a break with their tribe or caste, and fear their gods will bring down calamity on their families and community. Many also feel that to become a Christian will lower their caste status.
Though the word “gypsy” can have a negative connotation, sometimes meaning “nomadic” or “wandering,” the Banjaras have a rich culture and are known for their vibrant clothing and dance.
Church Planter Training (MORE)/BBPT, India
BBPT is currently working in 18 of 23 districts of Andhra Pradesh with 73 workers serving in ministry. They would like to expand further and reach out to 15 new mandals (a group of villages) in three districts within the next year. These mandals represent 1,265 villages.
To reach this many villages with the Gospel, many more workers will need to be equipped for ministry. To this end, BBPT is launching a new volunteer evangelist training program called MORE (Mandal Outreach Evangelism).
“It is important that we have trained leaders in each village to help the seekers to know the Lord,” Lazarus said. “Thus, this project will train 1,630 leaders covering each and every village in the 15 mandals. In a year’s time we will have young men and women ready to take on church leadership, strengthening their respective churches.”
The trainees will study the Bible, how to share the Gospel, and how to live according to God’s Word. With this influx of new ambassadors for Christ, BBPT believes many Banjaras will find salvation in Jesus Christ.
Sewing Centers, BBPT
Generally, Banjara women earn their livelihood by doing agricultural labor or Beedi (cigarette) making. But they cannot fully sustain themselves in these occupations. Thus, as part of their self-help program, BBPT would like to train women in sewing. Though most men no longer wear the Banjara traditional clothing, many women do. Their colorful, ornate dress is made of coarse cloth, sewn with patchwork and bright colors, and decorated with small mirrors and shells.
Acquiring skills to design and sew traditional clothing and accessories will provide self-employment opportunities and generate income for women who are struggling to maintain their families. Along with learning how to sew in the six-month program at BBPT’s five sewing centers, the trainees will have the opportunity to hear the Word of God every day and grow stronger in their Christian faith. Partners would like to provide part of the training costs and sewing machines for a total of 24 women at two centers.
Student Scholarships, BBPT
To encourage the development of Banjara children, BBPT has started two Christian schools. When these schools began, many parents were not open to the Gospel. Today, the schools have more than 500 children and the communities they serve have begun to realize the value of education. This is a tremendous step forward as Banjaras have been known to sell their children, require them to work at young ages, or even abort them.
These students are the first generation of Banjara children to attend school in this area. The schools are recognized by the government of Andhra Pradesh, but do not receive government help. Thus, the major need is for scholarships for educational expenses. Through this project, families are reached with the Gospel, young people escape the cycle of poverty, and a new generation is equipped with Christian values. Our goal is to recruit sponsors for at least 50 children this year.
Storying Training/BBPT, India
Since 1943, Partners International has invested in the lives and ministries of indigenous Christian leaders all over the world. We’ve found that as important as financial resources are, they are only as effective as a ministry’s capacity to use them. Our vision is to help our partners develop their ministry and organizational capacities. As our partners are equipped, their ministry impact increases exponentially.
Sponsored by Partners International, staff of BBPT will take part in a series of capacity-building training events in 2012-2013. These will include training on the topics of Scripture storytelling (evangelism and discipleship of non-literates), community health evangelism (basic health training coupled with the Gospel), children’s ministry, and community development. In all, five training events will be held engaging approximately 50 people each. These training events are requested by BBPT leadership to develop their staff in areas of critical need.