Monday, May 16, 2022

Saved by Grace through Faith and other Blessings in Bangladesh...

There are always a lot of challenges and frustrations involved with traveling and working in foreign mission fields. There are long days of travel and short, very hot, and sweaty nights in less than desirable sleeping conditions. There are the frustrations of working with different cultures and personalities and misunderstandings of customs and language. But there are days like yesterday when tears of joy get all wrapped up in the awe and wonder of seeing God's love at work in the hearts of those He died to save. When one can only bow your head in gratitude for the privilege of being called to work in His kingdom on this particular day, at this specific moment in time, in this far-flung place, doing this work for Him. Let me explain...

Yesterday was Sunday here in Bangladesh. It was my last day of activities and duties after being here for a week. The past few days had been rough, and I was ready to just be home. My trip here was shorter than initially planned because my first attempt was canceled, and I had other previously scheduled commitments that could not be changed. So, we attempted to squeeze as much work into the time I was here as possible. After 37+ hours of travel, I arrived in Dhaka and almost immediately boarded a local flight to Saidpur way up in northern Bangladesh. I had never visited this district before, and it was important to the Bangladesh Lutheran Church Mission (BLCM) that I do. So, arriving at Saidpur late in the afternoon, we made one visit, and then I finally had the opportunity to sleep in a bed for a few hours after missing two nights of sleep on the way to Bangladesh. 

Flight from Dhaka to Saidpur

The next day we were up early for a 6:30 am departure to visit several BLCM congregations in this district. We then returned to the airport for an evening flight from Saidpur to Jessore (via Dhaka). This made for another really long day and a short night of rest because the next day needed to start early again to visit more congregations as we made our way by rented vehicle from Jessore to Gopalgonj, where the BLCM Pastoral Training Seminar was scheduled to begin early the following day. 

Worship and Baptisms in Saidpur BLCM District

Baptisms in Saidpur BLCM District

BLCM Church Building in Saidpur District

BLCM Church Building in Saidpur District

Evening flight with Pastor B. and Family from Saidpur to Jessore (via Dhaka)

The next few days involved getting each day started with early morning worship at 6:30 am, followed by breakfast and pastoral training lessons at 8:00 am. I mentioned hot and sweaty nights earlier...that's because every night, the electricity would go out for most of the night and the weak (not really working) air-conditioning and ceiling fan along with it. Bangladesh is a sweltering and humid tropical climate that doesn't cool off much at night. Sound sleep was hard to come by. But the appreciation for our Savior's commitment to those dedicated individuals who came to the training always gladdens the heart and lifts one's spirits. During the training seminars, we worked our way through the book of Philippians, studied proper Biblical interpretation, discussed the work of the CLC Bd of Missions worldwide, and made plans to begin formal training for BLCM pastors, evangelists, elders, and Bible teachers. As is always the case, according to God's promise, it was a profitable few days spent in our Savior's word. 

BLCM Gospel Ministry Training in Progress

BLCM Pastors, Elders, Evangelists, & Sunday School Teachers

By Sunday morning, I was ready to preach a couple of more times and then more than eager to be on my way home. The day started with a visit to the local BLCM pre-school/Sunday school to hear the children sing and recite Bible passages. Then we had the first of two church services. After the first service, we quickly got on the road because we were to visit another BLCM congregation and then drive the 7+ hours to Dhaka so I could get a Covid test sample taken so the mandatory test results could be available by the time I was ready to fly home today (Monday). I was glad to visit another congregation and was told that there were some baptisms to take place, but to be honest, I would not have complained, in fact, I would have been glad if I had been told that we didn't have time, so we were going to go directly to Dhaka. Am I ever glad and thankful that's not what happened! Here's why...

We traveled about 2 hours to a congregation I have visited before called Livingstone Lutheran Church. It is located in a very rural and secluded part of southern Bangladesh. The low-lying terrain can best be described as villages, and rice paddy land claimed from the river delta swamps that lead into the Bay of Bengal. Several very narrow raised roads are surrounded by channeled waterways and flooded rice-paddy land. Between the roads and rice paddies, there are small raised patches of ground where homes, small lean-to sheds, and barns have been built. Livingstone Lutheran Church is about an hour off the main road. Eventually, the roads became too narrow, uneven, and unstable, so we had to walk the last few kilometers. When we arrived at the church, we had to cross one of the waterways channeled through the swamp on a wobbly bamboo pole bridge to get to the church.

This is where the story of God's grace and mercy and His love for us gets really good...I was told that there would be a few baptisms, and there was one person who Pastor M.B. was really excited to baptize. The service began as usual, with a few people gathered to begin things with a lot of singing and drums and clapping as a call to worship. Gradually several individuals began to make their way into the church. They followed a liturgical form of worship with confession and absolution, prayers, confession of faith, etc., and then I was given the opportunity to preach. I had been told before when I was here that this was a primarily Hindu area of Bangladesh. The people here are impoverished and have been systematically marginalized by the Muslim majority national and regional governments that prioritize and benefit Muslims and deny rights and privileges to minority religions. (By the way, Bangladesh is about 95% Muslim, 3-4% Hindu, and Christianity represents less than 1%.) So, I was excited to preach on John 14:1-6, "Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled...Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life."

Following the sermon, Pastor M.B. invited an older lady in the back of the church to come to the front for baptism. As she made her way through the crowd of people sitting cross-legged on the floor, you could see that she was very emotional. By the time she made it to the front, she was sobbing and laid her head in the arms of Pastor M.B. I later found out from M.B. that this woman had heard and resisted the Gospel/Jesus for several years. But just in the past few months, she began to listen and ask questions and was finally brought to faith by the Holy Spirit. I can only imagine what this woman must have been feeling at that moment as she was about to have her sins washed away in the water and word of Baptism! Her whole life had been spent worshiping the idols of Hinduism. She had been treated as a second-class citizen and denied fundamental human rights by neighbors and government alike. She had carried the burden of her sins as she tried hopelessly to follow the tenants of Hinduism, hoping to die and be reincarnated into a better station in life, based on her attempts to be a better person to affect her "karma." But now, finally, she had come to know the love of Jesus and His sacrifice that paid for her sins, gave her a new life, and provided her with forgiveness, salvation, and an eternal home in Heaven. And all of this was His free gift to her, not based on what she had done for God, but instead on His love for sinners and what His only Son had done for her and for all on the cross! It's no wonder she was filled with emotion and overcome with tears of joy on this particular day, at this specific time! I was overcome as well and couldn't hold back the tears at this moment. They were tears of joy for this woman and tears of praise for my Savior, and tears of gratitude for the privilege of being there to witness God's grace and mercy in action. Praise God from whom ALL blessings flow!

I don't ask to have many pictures taken of myself...but I never want to forget the face of this beautiful child of God and this wonderful day of witnessing our Savior's grace and mercy!!!

Now, the back-story that led to this day...about ten years ago, Pastor M.B. was doing evangelism by riding his motorcycle out to distant rural villages in Hindu areas, going house to house, and talking to anyone who would listen to him tell them about their Savior Jesus. In a village several kilometers from where Livingstone Lutheran Church is now located, he met a carpenter taking a break from his work. They began to talk about Jesus. This carpenter wanted to know more, so M.B. returned the next day and shared more of God's word with the carpenter. This went on for some time as they would meet whenever M.B. was in the area. Eventually, this man was led by the Holy Spirit to repent of his sins and trust in Jesus. He became a believer!!! This man had been brought up as a practicing Hindu by his parents and extended family. His father had died, but of course, he wanted his mother and other family to hear the truth of Jesus' love for them as well. So, he invited M.B. to his family's home. Neither M.B. nor the Gospel was well received. But the carpenter wanted his village and family to know Jesus, so he continued to invite M.B. back again and again. Others began to listen and wanted to know more about Jesus, so a small preaching station was started. M.B. visited often, and the carpenter would study with M.B. and then, in turn, teach what he had learned to anyone who would listen.

Several Hindus in the area converted to Christianity, but not the carpenter's mother. But remember how loving and patient and how long-suffering our Savior is with us. Well, He was patient and long-suffering with the carpenter's mother also. After more than ten years of hearing and resisting the Gospel, she was brought to faith and confessed Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior just a couple of months ago. When others in the village and her family heard this, they became emboldened in their God-given faith and openly began to confess what they had been brought to believe about Jesus.  More than twenty people received the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit in the water and Word of baptism yesterday. And again, I can't even think of enough words to describe the gratitude to my Savior for the privilege of being there to witness it. How do I even begin to give thanks for such a privilege as this? I can only say Thank You, Jesus, for Your love in making this day possible through Your perfect life, sacrificial death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead! AND...I keep mentioning this woman's joy, but imagine the joy that her son, the carpenter, who God first used to bring the Gospel to this village! He is now serving as an elder and evangelist for the congregation. He will soon begin formal pastoral training with Pastor M.B. He had the privilege of holding the water for his mother's baptism...imagine the joy!!! God is so good to us!

It's now Monday afternoon. Pastor M.B. and his wife and son began their 7+ hour journey back to Gopalganj earlier this morning. My flight leaves tonight at 11pm, so I have a couple more hours to get a good start on my post-visit report to the Board of Missions, rest, and head to the airport. If all goes as planned, I will be home by Tuesday evening.

Thanks for reading and for your prayers and encouragement! What a privilege to serve our Savior together!!!

(Names of individuals with-held for security reasons)


Anonymous said...

wonderful story of GODS love and workers like you Donna Johnson in LEWiston Idaho THANK YOU

Unknown said...

Awesome work of the LORD, Brother Todd! Thank you so much for sharing the joyful good news of His Kingdom with our fellow saints in Bangledesh and Livingstone Lutheran Church. God is so good!
Pastor Dave Naumann, St. John's Lutheran Church in Clarkston, WA USA and Peace Lutheran Church in Orofino, ID USA

Anonymous said...

Titus 3:4-7!! Thank you for the encouraging news and sharing the work of the Holy Spirit with us all.
Neal R

Unknown said...

Reading your blogs always makes me cry with joy over the news of more people hearing God's word preached and cominf to faith. Thank you for all the work and traveling you do for His kingdom.
God's blessings,
Len Benter