When I started preparing a short travelogue concerning my second trip to Bangladesh, I opted to entitle it “Bible for the Bangladeshis.” It is mainly due to the reason that I would love to look at my time in Bangladesh from the biblical point of view. Moreover I witnessed the need of propagating the biblical lessons to both the rural and urban areas of life in the country. The 2014 Church of God [its international headquarters in Anderson, Indiana, USA] Convention held at The Church of God Mission Compound, Lalmanirhat, Bangladesh, was a rich experience for the organizers and the participants alike. The convention was inaugurated by The Honorable District Deputy Commissioner Muhammad Habibur Rahman. A Muslim by birth and practice, the District Deputy Commissioner keeps a solemn relationship with the Church of God Missions in Bangladesh. The festival was convened from 24 to 26 April 2014. There were about 700 delegates (including children), mostly from sixty-eight rural Bangladeshi churches, gathered during this great event. The meetings were blessed by the presence of youths and office staff from Dhaka (Senpara), Lalmanirhat, Kaunia, and Kakina. The general theme of the conference was “Let Your Light Shine!” based on Matthew 5:16. I along with others such as Rev. Donald Armstrong (the Asia Pacific Regional Secretary of Church of God Ministries) and Rev. Judith Milita Das were invited and honored as speakers of the conference. Rev. Tapan Kumar Borman, Chairman of the Church of God Ministries Bangladesh, takes active steps in inculcating the biblical lessons among the rural and urban communities of the country.
At the very start of the convention itself the organizers and the speakers understood the need of expositing the biblical lessons to the contextual realities of Bangladesh. As the gathering was diverse and from the remote village set up, our speeches were not flavored by theological and rhetorical jargons. The organizers divided the gathering into three groups, youths, men, and women. Topics such as “Love Your God”, “Love Your Church”, “Love to Give”, and “Love Your Family” were expounded by the help of appropriate Old/New Testament passages. Our speeches were well connected to the theological, ecclesiological, give-ological, and family-ological lessons of the bible. But, the overarching theme of all the speeches was “vertical horizontal love.” In my speeches, I emphasized the aspect of God’s love with the help of John 3:16 and First John 3:1. How God exemplified himself as a God of Love in history and how the people of God responded to him? These questions were adequately addressed with the help of the contextual realities of Bangladesh. In another session, I expounded how church as an agent of God should function on the surface of the world. The role of Church as the body of Christ, community of believers, and the miniature form of the Kingdom of God was also interpreted with the help of appropriate biblical texts. The three levels of the church (i.e., individual, congregational, and universalistic) and its kerygmatic, didactic, koinonic, and diakonic duties were highlighted with precision. The aspect of the family is brought to the notice of the attendees in a very spectacular way. In the speeches it was pinpointed how individuals are connected to the families and how families form the society. Biblical references from the Book of Joshua, Book of Psalms (119:54), Book of Acts (16:15), and Gospel of John (4:53) were interpreted relevantly to the public. In one session, God’s giving of his Son to the world was expounded to instruct about the responsibility of “Christian Giving”. In another session, the aspect of “Believing and Unbelieving” was narrated from the Gospel of John. In all the speeches and lectures our attempt was to direct the attendees toward the biblical lessons as paradigms for the contextual realities.
The evening public meetings were organized at the convention ground. Rev. Donald Armstrong and I were the speakers. Rev. Armstrong spoke about the need of getting involved in Christian missions in the Bangladeshi context. In order to state his concern rhetorically, he brought his 15 years long Tanzanian mission experiences. The following two evenings, I spoke on themes such as “Believing is Living” (based on John 4:46-54) and “Five Models of Discipleship” (based on John chapter one). There were about 700 delegates attended the evening sessions. The issues such as poverty, religious fundamentalism, child abuse and child marriage, casteism and untouchability, communalism in its various forms, polygamy, and others were discussed during all the sessions. Through the sessions the youths were alarmed against drug addiction, smoking, alcoholism, pornography, and other evil practices. Biblical passages were exegeted and interpreted into the Bangladeshi context in order to teach the delegates concerning Christian morality and ethics. The delegates and the organizers together acclaimed our initiatives to throw light on the social issues on the basis of the biblical mandate of morality and ethics.
On 28th April 2014, The Church of God Ministries Bangladesh organized a Mission Consultation at The Assembly of God Church, Dhaka. We experienced the huge transition from the rural set up in Lalmanirhat to the thickly populated urban set of Dhaka. The consultation was scheduled from 10 AM till 3.30 PM. There were about 20 delegates attended the consultation. Most of them represented different theological institutions, mission and ecclesiastical bodies, NGOs, and other Christian organizations. While I presented my paper entitled “Globalization and Mission: Reading John’s Gospel” in the forenoon session, Rev. Donald Armstrong presented his paper entitled “A Pivot towards a Practical Christianity” in the afternoon session. In my paper, three important aspects were considered seriously: first, the ‘global’ aspects of the Gospel of John in relation to the ‘local’ concerns; second, the Trinitarian nature of John’s theology and its significance in a glocalized cultural context; and third, the mission theology of John in relation to a globalized cosmic order. The task of the paper was not analyzing the gospel as a whole. Rather to develop an interpretative frame for the gospel in a globalized social context. In Rev. Donald Armstrong’s paper, he cautioned the delegates about the bad effects of sex trafficking. He mentioned, “The Church of God, Anderson, Indiana is making a pivot to include an issue that is of prime concern by people in the United States and the Western world. This issue is one of Human Trafficking that is taking place around the world. With the increased ease of travel between countries, the ease of working across borders in places like the EU and North America due to the free trade pacts we find that Human Trafficking is on the increase instead of decreasing”. These two papers aroused among the delegates biblical and practical awareness in getting involved in the Missio Dei.
The rural and urban contexts of Bangladesh inspire outsiders for being engaged in missions in its entire means. Those who understand mission either as evangelization or as theological and ethical transformation or as social liberation have all can play their respective roles in the Bangladeshi context. While Indian theologians highly regard the western theologians and the reputed institutions and universities, the Bangladeshi theologians have a great regard for the Indian Christian theologians and their contributions toward the scholarly world. In a context in which theological resources are scarce and theologically equipped personnel are less, the Bangladeshi scholars attempt their maximum to inculcate awareness concerning the biblical lessons among the masses. Rev. Tapan Kumar Borman (Chairman and CEO of Church of God Ministries Bangladesh) and Mrs. Shikha Borman deserve appreciation for organizing these programs at the rural and urban contexts of Bangladesh. We the Union Biblical Seminary faculty and authorities are delighted to see our graduates like Tapan and Shikha take active endeavors in leading organizations and institutions in varied contexts.
By Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India.