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Free «Reaching the Unreached Groups: The Kenyan Gujaratis» Essay Sample

The Gujaratis

The Gujaratis are natives of a West Indian state, Gujarat and the majority of them speak Gujarat. Despite having a common ancestry, the community has different dialects that are attributed to cultural and social class differences, also known as castes. The Gujaratis are said to be very complicated,  in terms of their cultural beliefs, social and religious perceptions. This complexity in their mannerisms is well defined by their movement and migration in many parts of the world, where they are not easily assimilated, but rather take their beliefs with them. There are over 27 countries that Gujaratis have entered today, in most of them as businessmen. Most of those countries are in Africa, while a number are in Asian countries: Malaysia, Myanmar and Iran and others have settled in the United States.[1] In 2006 the number in the Gujarati state was around 300,000. Reports have shown that the number of the Gujaratis in Canada is rising, with 2010 reports showing slightly above 100,000 people being able to speak Gujarati. [2]

Their ancestry shows a close relationship between the Indians within the Northern parts of India, and the communities living in Western Asia.[3] A study carried out in 2004 by Stanford showed that there was an estimated 33% contribution of the people of West Eurasian origin to the gene markers of the Gujaratis, while Punjabis had 32% and the Kashmiris - 30%. In Iran there are more Gujaratis, who are assumed to be there as a result of trading activities between the nations.

Another complex issue among Gujaratis is their migration formula. The countries they immigrate to are very different and varying in terms of living conditions, some of them being fairly good, while others are very poor both socially and economically.[4] However, they have succeeded in living in all these countries. One thing that is observable is that the Gujarati community members, who have migrated, are from the higher and wealthier castes. Their business orientation has been attributed to the nature of their origin, the India’s most industrialized  western state.[5] The state has many functioning harbors due to its long coastline, which has made it an important business and travelling centre. From the harbor and possibly rich background, the community members of the higher caste have been able to raise capital and expand their businesses to other parts of the world, mainly African countries. Like the rest of them, the Gujaratis in Kenya run small to medium to large businesses, and have a highly significant control over the industries.

Several prominent people were associated with the Gujarati community. Some of them include Mohandas Gandhi, who was considered the father of India, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, also known as the India’s Iron Man, Dhirubhai Ambani. The father of Pakistnan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah was also considered to be a Gujarati.[6]

Gujaratis are among the communities who have retained the caste system.[7] These systems are distributed into villages and have become a base for culture and practices. People from different castes are expected to have different mannerisms, different general habits, and more importantly different job classes. This has been the trend in their migration patterns as the people from wealthier families or castes migrate to other regions. At the same time, it is considered impossible for people to move from one caste to another, unless they died and reincarnated. Good people are believed to reincarnate in higher castes, while evil people reincarnate in bad forms. They believe in the law of Karma.[8]

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Most Gujaratis are Hindus and form the larger part of the community.[9] They are divided into different jatis or castes, the highest being the Brahman which is the caste of the priests. The lowest caste is that of servants. Since they believe in purity and pollution law, people from different castes cannot marry. This explains why they have kept most of their cultural beliefs, since they have very little acculturation.[10] Regarding their marriage procedures, most of them are made through a continuous process that heavily involves the parents, who make all arrangements. The parents handle the procedure as they believe that it is not just a union between the bride and the groom, but a whole union between the two families. Their women are supposed to remain isolated and should cover their hair using a veil, a practice known as purdah.

The Gujaratis still retain the belief of a deity mainly associated by Hindus, Krishna.[11] Their folklore gives respect to Krishna and up to date, there are folk dances that are performed in his honor. The whole ceremony of dances is known as garaba.

Despite the earlier statement that Gujarat is the most industrialized state in India, it is amazing that the higher population does not work in these industries, but in farms. They grow grain and wheat as their staple crops, and the production of rice is done in other areas that are favorable. They have increasingly taken up farm mechanization, though there is still more room for improvement.

Gujaratis have retained their cultural values in all the regions that they have migrated to.[12] Most of them still practice Hinduism, while the few but quite a significant number, who have retained their Islam. People born in the priestly caste can become priests if they wish so, but not all of them opt to follow this path. However, whether they become priests or not, they still remain in the most powerful caste, Brahmans.

Gujaratis, like most Hindus, regard many animals as spiritual, but the cow is sacred.[13] They believe in gods whose images are placed in shrines. The priests are obliged to wash these images, feed and dress them every day. However, they do not take this as an example of idol worshipping because they believe that the images are just representatives of the gods, and not themselves being the gods. Their religion revolves around teachings of yoga and reincarnation that is believed to continue until the soul purifies. After purification, it enters the final stage, Moksha, which means that it can no longer reincarnate or come back to earth.[14] In order to reincarnate at an elevated level, Gujaratis usually engage in charity as well as a devotion to their gods. They also practice merry to cows and humans, explaining why most of them are vegetarians. They are possibly the most vegetarian group in the entire Hindu community.

One main contention in the Gujarati community is that there exists a certain animosity between the Hindu and Muslim Gujaratis. Muslim Gujaratis usually come from the sunni, and they look down at the Hindus for the sole reason of worshipping many gods.

Their main staple meal is the traditional Gujarat cuisine that comprises if rice, vegetables, daal and roti. Their roti comes in many different forms. Another popular meal is Khichdi which includes a mixture of toor dar and rice combined with a few more spices. It is easy to cook and is therefore preferred by many. Further, due to its simplicity, the people can add extensions to the meals and create bigger and more elaborate meals. Some of their spices include masala, which traditionally was ground between stones to produce a fine powder, but this has evolved and there are many more new recipes and combinations. Some Gujaratis do not eat potatoes and bulb onions or any other root vegetable. They alternatively eat the traditional mukhwas after a meal. Some meals are taken outside, under a moonlight.[15]

Gujarat clothing is interesting, and involves a lot of jewelry, from bangles, to necklaces,  rings, bracelets and many more. During the wedding day, the bride wears a lot of these which are usually traditionally significant at 22 karat. It was also traditional that only the married women wore the red powder on their forehead, but this has changed with time and people often wear it as a source of fashion. The tradition has however remained among the married women to wear sindoor, which is a line on the fore head, market using red powder. The bride usually applied this line on the groom on the wedding day for the first time. In the traditional setting, women wore sarees and salwar kamiz. Their way of wearing their sarees is usually different from that of the rest of the Hindus and most people who try to imitate the Hindu community during fashion shows. On the other hand, men traditionally wore dhotis and kurta. Due to the process of modernization and acculturation, these dressing codes are rapidly changing and casual and official western wear is taking shape. Young women wear fitting clothing, while men wear suits and jeans depending on the occasion.

How much has Christianity Reached Kenyan Gujaratis?

Christianity among the Gujaratis is very low and qualifies them to be called unreached people.[16] Most of their members are Hindus, which accounts for slightly above 50% of their population.[17] A significant number is Islamic, which accounts for about 13 percent, while over 4 percent do not align themselves with any religion. Other 33 percent are aligned to small religions, and a small number of them are of an unknown religion. Only a mere 0.1 percent of the Gujaratis are Christians, with 0.02 of these being evangelical.[18] An analysis of the Christian Gujaratis showed that they are mainly either Roman Catholics, accounting for about 30 percent, while the remaining 70 percent are Protestants.[19]

The trends in trying to reach the Gujaratis date back to the 1960s, when missionaries translated parts of the Bible into their language. It was later followed by a translation of the whole of the New Testament after twenty years and a complete Bible translation into their language was accomplished in 2005. According to the Joshua project website, the progress of reaching Gujaratis has only reached 1.2, which is considered to be very low[20].

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Most Kenyan Gujaratis live in the capital; city Nairobi. Some, however, have migrated to other regions and have settled there, especially in the country’s coastal city Mombasa. Most of those in Mombasa practice Hinduism and Islam, while those living upcountry practice Hinduism. The 0.1 Christians are found in the upcountry towns away from Nairobi and Mombasa.[21] In all the towns they are known to possess businesses, factories and industries, especially in Nairobi. They have prospered in their businesses and command a substantial position. A peculiar issue about the Gujaratis is that very few of them are employed, either by the government or by other firms that are owned by Kenyan natives. They seem to work in their own firms and have very little connection with the natives, unless they are their customers.

The Missionary Work

Missionary work among the Gujaratis was started by John and Joseph Taylor in India in the 1820s. They were later joined by Joseph’s son JVS Taylor who started the work of translating the Bible into Gujarati in the old version. Ties were later improved by Joseph’s grandson, Pritchard, who eventually wrote Gujarati books including the Gujarati grammar. By mid twentieth century, the missionaries had started to establish schools among the Gujaratis. They were already winning a few converts, but their influence on the overseas Gujaratis was small. The Gujarati converts carried the surname Parmar, which is usually associated with the Rajput, the clan that was the first to take up Christianity.[22] This clan went ahead to donate land to missionaries, where they built schools, hospitals and other amenities that were associated with the church, and were geared towards improving the livelihood of the Gujarati people. A good example of such donations was made in Nadiad, Gujarati state. The converted Gujaratis started to leave the caste system of resources allocation and social stratification, and tried to embrace the Christian teachings that all men were equal before the eyes of God. They also relinquished their beliefs in numerous gods and believed in Christian doctrines.

As Gujaratis migrated to different regions, they carried with them some aspects of the conversions, while they left others.[23] They kept their culture and those who believed in Hinduism kept Hinduism, while those that believed in Islam continued with their beliefs. Similarly, Christian Gujaratis kept their status despite the movement from their motherland. In some countries that they went to, they met other missionaries that helped them improve their faith and ensure that they converted to Christianity.[24] For instance, the Gujaratis in the United States started Gujarati Christian Fellowship of Philadelphia (GCFP) in the late eighties as the first and only Christian Gujarati church in the whole state.[25] As the number of immigrants increased as well did the number of the church followers, which led to the group registration in 1994. During its inception, the church only had about seventeen families, but this number has almost multiplied by four. Their services are mainly in Gujarati while they also hold English ones.

Challenges Facing the Spread of Christianity among the Gujaratis

In Kenya, missionaries have not adequately reached the Gujaratis. There have been many challenges that led to this phenomenon, since there was not enough interaction between the community members and missionary groups. It was also notable that despite Kenya having many missionary groups, there are no notable groups that target the Gujaratis. Over the last four years, the Joshua project indicated that there has not been any significant spread of the church among the Kenyan Gujaratis. This has been attributed to the low efforts made by missionaries. In a mission to determine why there was not many efforts to reach the people in this community as to reach other native communities, a simple survey was undertaken.

Among the Christian missionaries in Kenya are Consolata fathers, who are oriented towards reaching people in most African countries. The global group has been in the country for over five centuries and has not considered reaching out to the Gujaratis. After an interview with one of their priests, several challenges were observed that could be a hindrance to reaching out the community members. Another survey that involved most of these business people cemented the findings from the priest.

Social status

The Gujaratis are mainly business people, and they live in posh estates and within their business premises.[26] This is an unusual trend in Kenya, because Kenyan natives live away from their workplaces. Since they live in the workplaces, they rarely visit social places such as eateries and restaurants, as well as others. This makes them hard to find outside their places of work. They also dislike interruptions and leaving missionaries without places to address them from. They have their Hindu schools thus little contact with local people. Their economic class is usually high in comparison with most Kenyan populace, which falls under the developing countries. As a result, it is always hard for missionaries to enter their midst and preach to them about Christianity to a convincing point that is enough to change their religious stand.[27]

Further, it was determined that most Gujaratis have been brought up in restrictive cultural conditions that regulate their activities and their interactions. Traditionally, the Gujaratis have always believed in caste system. Those who move away from their home country are usually well off economically, and belong to a high caste. Kenya, being a developing country has many people who would not qualify to be within the same caste with the Gujaratis, which leads to their avoidance of socializing. That explained one observation that was  made that there were very few people in the businesses that worked in good positions, but rather, most of them were casual laborers. To keep their caste intact, all Gujaratis would keep their positions as supervisors and managers. Only the much learned natives would be allowed these prestigious jobs.

Language Barrier

The people from Gujarati community are known to have kept their root cultural values despite their migration to other parts of the world away from their original homes. Among the key aspects is their language. They rarely learn the language of the rest of the people and are mostly faced with a communication language. Therefore, they would feel awkward in the midst of the Kenyan natives or missionaries who would be more comfortable with English or Swahili. They therefore feel that they would be embarrassed and consider keeping their distance between themselves and the other people, only understanding and being able to use the language when they need to. This way, they use little Swahili, the national language in Kenya, only when talking to their customers or service providers, but always use their native language whenever they speak to other Gujaratis.

Cultural Behavior

The Gujaratis have always had their own dressing habits that are different from those of Kenyans. They also have eating habits and even cultural ceremonies such as marriages and other rituals that are different from those in their host country. This leaves them with little ability to live harmoniously with Kenyan natives, eventually blocking the spreading of Christianity.[28] There are few issues that are common between them and other people. For instance, Africans are hospitable and polite to strangers. The Gujaratis are not as hospitable, especially when the guest does not qualify to belong to their caste. An issue such as friendships between men and unmarried women is discouraged because they usually get their partners booked for them at a very young age.

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An interview with one of the Gujarati businessman indicated that they feared the African natives and could have little trust to them, until they prove that they are worth the respect. They quote many theft cases in the past, which makes them handle the Africans with care. As a result, they ensure that they keep their distance, only interacting on business. They only trust people from certain communities who would not attack them with competitive businesses.

Reaching Kenyan Gujaratis

In order to impose their presence among the Gujaratis, Christians hold come up with a strategy that should be workable and efficient. The community seems segregated and broken away from the rest of the people, a pattern that should be broken in order to preach Christianity to them.[29] The following strategies could be considered to reach the community:

  1. Missionaries could be sent to the community

  2. A missions organization could start working within the community

  3. Laborers could be employed among the Gujaratis and try to change their perception of Christianity

In determining the best strategy to reach the Gujaratis, it is important that their needs, social-cultural and religious backgrounds be analyzed. First, they need to have an understanding of Christianity that Jesus Christ is the only answer to their internal freedom, peace and tranquility [30] This means that they need to have an understanding over Jesus Christ and the tribulations He went through in order to save human fraternity, which included the Gujaratis. They need to see people living out Christianity and see them enjoy the inner peace. Further, the Gujaratis need to realize that worshipping many gods is a negative bondage to them and the only liberation can be made through the intercession of Jesus Christ. They need to understand that there is only one God, who is supreme and sent His son Jesus to liberate the world from such worshipping practices. Further, they need to understand that prayer and intercession is the only way that they could emancipate themselves from Islam. The most effective strategies in reaching them would also consider their cultural and social backgrounds that led to the restraint on missionaries from reaching the community in the past. Since there have not been previous efforts to reach the community, favorable tactics to the Gujaratis should be employed. In this case, sending a missions organization should be the best strategy to use.

Forming the Mission Organization

The socio economic and cultural background of Gujarati community members is an important factor that should be considered in determining the organization that is sent to administer Christianity to them. The community leaves in seclusion and have little trust to other communities. They also believe in a caste system where the people they interact with should be of their social and economic class.[31] When determining the missionary group to work with them, it would be important to ensure that they all meet this threshold. They should befit the economic class in order for the Gujaratis to listen and respect them as appropriate. Furthermore, the group should bridge the cultural bondages that keep the Gujaratis away from the rest of the Kenyan people. This will ensure that there is a common understanding and free interaction between the community and the missionaries.[32] It would therefore be advisable to send missionaries that are well conversant with the Gujaratis, who understand their languages, rituals and all their cultural restrictions. This would be best done by Gujarati converts. Missionaries from Gujarati Christian organizations should be sent to live with them and try to show them the importance of having Christ in their lives. For instance, the Gujarati Christian Fellowship of Philadelphia could be used, and some of its members and preachers sent and sponsored to live among Kenyan Gujaratis and try to convert them. By doing so, the cultural and social barriers would be bridged successfully. There would be no suspicion on the new entrants because they have a common understanding of their backgrounds. The missionaries sent should be convincing and knowledgeable in order to increase the chances of conversion of the Gujaratis. They should have sound knowledge on Christianity as well as in Gujarati. They should not only have the facts on these issues, but also sound background knowledge.

Modes of Preaching

The methods that are used to pass the word of God should be welcoming and easy to articulate. The Gujaratis are busy business people and spend most of their lives working and being with their families. The missionaries should have a way to ensure that they reach people in a way that does not make them leave or slow down their work or spend less time with their families. They should not be too persistent, but should introduce the Bible slowly (The Bible should be the translated Gujarati Bible to ensure that the Gujarati owns it), but efficiently. They should also relate the lives of the Gujaratis to the Bible, especially on issues such as monogamy, and hospitability. Teachings that the community could relate with should be emphasized and used to invite the rest of the teachings and those that seem to contradict should be taken to an advanced stage.

Targeting Learning Institutions and Working Gujaratis

In the recent past, Gujaratis are being admitted in public and private institutions where they are able to closely interact with people. Though they still hold their caste system even in these institutions, they get exposed to the rest of the world and other cultures. This is the young crop of people who would be used to evangelize Christianity and help in spreading it.[33] When these people move out of their parents’ care, they get vulnerable to other cultures and missionaries could lunge into the opportunity and try to reach them. At this point, they will have had an experience that gets them away from their families and cultures, and as they nowadays get carried away and leave their cultural behavior such as clothing, they would eventually become prone to leave their religious beliefs and follow the new ones if the correct approaches are used. Similarly, the few Gujaratis (though they are very few) who work outside the family businesses could be lured in the same way. Converts should be made very strong and turn them into missionaries themselves.

Use their Business Enterprises

The Gujaratis are very good business people and are good at keeping their customers. Traditionally, missionaries went out to communities to solve problems with clothing, education and health.[34] The Gujaratis do not follow under this and are on the contrary wealthy and in most cases control large business empires. Reaching them could be made through getting them customers. The missionaries should develop a network that would ensure that the group gets a credible customer or customers, in order to gain confidence, and not to appear to waste time in unproductive activities.[35] The missionary group should for instance make all their purchases from the people or friends of the people they wish to convert. They should also try to influence other people in order to show  that they add value to the businesses of the Gujaratis.

Follow the Influential Scale

In order to increase the rate at which the mission is accomplished, it is important to follow a path that would sustain itself. This means that the missionaries should try to start reaching the most influential people, going down to the less influential.[36] This is because the more influential people would possibly help in reaching others who work for them. The upper caste members are likely to influence those, leading to a creation of another virtual path of missionaries. When they start preaching and spreading the message amongst them, it would become very easy for the missionary organization to accomplish the task.


Apart from the above mentioned strategies, the mission organization should employ prayers, intercession and fasting in order to ask God to help the Gujaratis to know and accept Jesus Christ. This should be done by the missionaries within the organization as a team and not simply by the individual members. The first prayer would be to ask God to give the willing missionaries the energy and commitment to reach the unreached community, despite any difficulty they would encounter during the process.[37] The prayer would also ask God to give the missionaries wisdom and favor that would help them reach the Gujaratis. Further, they would pray that the few members of the community who are already converted into Christianity to remain strong against all odds and help the missionaries in their work. They would also ask for the intervention of the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the community so that they may easily understand and embrace Jesus in their lives.[38] The prayers would also ask God to help the Gujaratis, who travel around the world, to accept the word and take it to all parts of the world to the other members of their community. They would spread Christianity and stop viewing others being from a different caste, but start seeing each person as a creation of God and as important as they are.


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