This update is from Rod Matthews, GCI’s Mission Director for the Southern Asia & South Pacific region.
In affiliation with the Bengali Evangelical Association (BEA), GCI is taking part in a fairly extensive operation to advance the gospel in Bangladesh, a country with over 175 million people. BEA operates there from a mission base located in the remote Bengali village of Sathsimulia. In March, I was part of a team (pictured below) led by Dr. John Biswas (BEA director), that visited the area to encourage gospel workers and strengthen and expand BEA’s ministry programs. Below is a trip diary and summary of BEA ministry programs in the region.
We arrived in Dhaka on Saturday where we met with BEA supporters (over 80 attended). On Sunday we undertook an eight-hour van trip to Barisal in the south. Two hours out of Dhaka we took a 40-minute ride on a vehicle ferry (pictured at right) across the wide Padma River. Lunch had been arranged through John’s friends at a Baptist facility near Faridpur. Then it was another four hours to Barisal where we arrived around dark. John and his local assistants had to negotiate with the hotel which had double booked a room or two due to pressure from a local politician.
On Monday we drove over an hour from Barisal to the mission base where about 250 people met with us, packed into a meeting room in the newest building there (see pictures below). The people joyously praised God in song in a service that included my biblical message in English with Bangla translation.
On Tuesday we met with leaders working in Barisal and the mission base area to introduce Learning-for-Life, a mutual sharing and learning program that includes the development of effective speaking principles. On Wednesday the gospel workers and supervisors of the various outreach programs met to give reports on the year’s progress and to outline the needs and challenges for the months ahead.
BEA conducts a wide range of social development, humanitarian, and evangelistic ministry programs through its small staff in the region. These programs provide tangible physical assistance in the day-to-day lives of the poor as a means to reach out into the community with practical demonstrations of God’s unconditional love for all people. Nothing is asked in return, which engenders questions and interest in what prompts these initiatives. In that way the programs are discretely evangelistic in a very sensitive environment where such initiatives can easily be misunderstood. BEA workers must conduct the ministry with utmost wisdom and discretion.
- BEA trains nurse’s assistants through intensive three-month courses conducted twice each year. The young women who participate are chosen from surrounding communities, regardless of their religious affiliation. They are given a basic medical and health education so they can gain employment in area clinics, hospitals and nursing homes. Over 450 women have completed the course since the program began in 2003.
- BEA runs 13 small elementary schools (see picture below). Children in Bangladesh are often deprived of a good education due to lack of schools or because parents are unable to pay for schooling. BEA’s schools address this need, providing books, school supplies and emergency health care support. Though most students come from Muslim or Hindu families, they recognize the value of the quality education offered, which is based on biblical principles, and promotes community responsibilities and good citizenship.
- BEA provides goats to disadvantaged families (see picture above). Scant income from laboring in the rice or corn fields isn’t enough to support healthy, educated children. Providing a family with a goat, which they can breed with a neighbor’s goat, not only provides the family with goats to sell but enriches their diet. Goats can produce four quarts of milk a day, often produce twin kids, and can thrive in a wide range of environments. A well-managed goat can lift a family from deep poverty and greatly improve their health.
- BEA trains gospel workers (see picture below) in order to equip people to appropriately answer the questions that come their way by virtue of the activities noted above. Over 200 workers have been trained in the last eight years. Meeting in homes and congregations, these workers share the gospel, answering biblical questions in a country where few people know anything about Christianity. As part of this gospel work, BEA distributes Bengali Bibles and prints and distributes small Bengali booklets explaining the gospel message.