This update is from Rod Matthews, GCI mission developer in Asia and the South Pacific.
Bangladesh: A Work of Wonder
The work that God is doing in southern Bangladesh amongst the poorest people living in one of the world’s great floodplains continues to inspire. With Bengali Evangelical Association founder and leader, John Biswas, I visited the mission base at Sathsimulia, a village about 40 km from the city of Barisal, on March 18. Generous donations from congregations and people in many countries over the past years have enabled the construction of a fine facility (pictured at right) that provides meeting and lecture rooms, accommodation, and a secure shelter during cyclones and local flooding, which are prevalent in this area of Bangladesh.
It’s an administrative base for a number of outstanding programs which reach into the surrounding communities – schools for children, goats for disadvantaged families, nurse’s aides to conduct village clinics, gospel workers to conduct home Bible studies and establish congregations, and the discipling of those with whom God is working. We conducted a mid-week meeting of nearly 400 people packed into the hall on the ground floor (pictured below), where John and I spoke on biblical topics with the upcoming celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection in mind. Of course, I needed a translator so my English could be understood by all of these Bengali-speakers. Jacob Biswas, John’s brother, provided that service. Bibles were distributed to those who still didn’t have one.
Afterwards, everyone ate well with a meal provided by the staff. We walked around the compound, appreciating the blessings of such a fine secure facility in this rural area, and seeing the latest project – a fish-breeding pond (pictured at right). It’s amazing that the work that God is doing in this area comes from a mission centre than cannot be reached by a 4-wheel motor vehicle – you have to walk nearly a mile along tree-lined paths on raised banks between rice fields and ponds and past homes and yards with tethered animals to reach the centre.
Back in Barisal, where we stay, a meeting of nearly 60 workers (pictured at right) was held on Friday, March 20, where I addressed the group before a series of reports were given on the progress of the range of activities under way. It’s inspiring to see the enthusiasm, dedication and involvement of these core servants of God in a country of significant social challenges, lack of resources, widespread poverty and not uncommon opposition.
In March 2016, the church is planning a major conference in Dhaka inviting international speakers and guests so the rural and urban Bengali people who have responded to God through BEA’s work may fellowship together, hear a range of speakers to enhance their spiritual education, and help the Bengali people feel more a part of our international fellowship. Everyone is welcome to attend in support of our work in Bangladesh. The trip will include seeing the real Bangladesh during the day’s drive south to Barisal and a visit to the mission base at Sathsimulia.
Sri Lanka: Teaching the Teachers
The Colombo Theological Seminary (CTS) again requested Perth (Australia) pastor, and Sri Lankan National Director, Mohan Jayasekera (pictured at right), to be a guest lecturer, this time on the subject of the Life of Paul, focusing on his understanding of election and eschatology. Mohan taught over four days in March. The students included 31 pastors from all over Sri Lanka. His presentations made a great impact, so much so that the senior founding pastor of the Calvary Church in Colombo, Rev. Dr. Tissa Weerasingha, remarked that he had not previously heard such an enlightening approach taken and requested a copy of Mohan’s notes.
Colombo Theological Seminary has been directly involved in the translation and printing of a number of GCI publications, starting with our Discipleship 101 course, which was translated into Sinhala and Tamil and is used as a text in the first-year Bible class at CTS. Later they were involved with the translation and publication of our booklet, “The God Revealed in Jesus Christ” in both languages. Subsequently the series of articles by Dr. Gary Deddo entitled “Scripture, God’s Gift” were compiled into an English-language booklet and published by CTS and now this, too, has been translated and printed in both these Sri Lankan languages.
Karen Refugee Church Update
Southeast Asian Senior Pastor, Wong Mein Kong, and I went to Maesot, Thailand, to visit our Karen brothers and sisters in Christ who are in one of the refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border. Since their pastor, Lah Shi, died about two years ago, we were wanting to encourage them and reassure them that they had not been forgotten. However, on arrival we found that a governmental agency had put a temporary seal on the camps for the purpose of conducting a census. We were not permitted entry, and that was a big disappointment. However, whenever our agenda takes a hit, it seems God has something else in mind.
But first, let me explain that upon the death of Lah Shi at the age of 73, we wondered how we could serve these people, few of whom speak English, and who were now without a bilingual pastor. The group has a good relationship with several other denominational groups within the camp, and there have been exchange visits of musicians and children’s singing groups, so I thought that perhaps God might provide leadership from sources we were not so familiar with – perhaps a succession plan beyond anything we could arrange. But surprises are the name of the game in Asia! Several individuals and families have been able to find a way to live outside the camp. One gentleman (pictured at left) is named Goro. He is a quiet man and I had thought his English was poor, only to find later that he was shy and simply didn’t want to risk showing up his lack of practice in English. Goro has stepped up and now fills the pastoral role of looking after the welfare of the congregation through visiting and taking Bible studies as he is able. I should mention he is 83!! I guess succession planning from God’s perspective isn’t quite as limited as ours.
Goro informed us that while we couldn’t go to the camp, we had a baptism to conduct— the son of a member family living outside and some miles beyond the camp. The family had requested a communion service as well. So we drove for about 90 minutes north up a good road, past the town of Tha Song Yang. Their home is a very basic wood and bamboo construction. We sat on mats on the floor, and talked about the meaning of the bread and wine, with Goro translating into the Karen language.
The river was a short walk away, and we found a depression in the river bed deep enough for the baptism (see picture above). The family (pictured at left) watched, as did two water buffaloes with whom we shared the stream. They were up-stream from us, so I could only hope they had been in the water long enough to use the stream for all their needs well before we joined them in the water!
Wong Mein Kong and I felt privileged to have celebrated the commitment of this young man to a life of walking with Christ as one of his disciples. He has grown up in a refugee camp and it is still uncertain as to what opportunities will be open to him – but only in this world.