A gift of love

These past four days were the most beautiful and challenging I think I have ever had. Four people from our team had the privilege of visiting the BSFB Chittagong Regional conference. This is a conference where all the students from the Bible Students Fellowship of Bangladesh meet to worship together and build community. We were welcomed warmly by both staff and students. Our first direct interaction with them was on Friday morning. The students sat with their respective groups (from whatever part of the region they came from) and they sang a song: “Bangladesh will be reached for Christ; how sweet is the name of Jesus”. Bengali dance is normally part of the musical worship, so as the MC/host sang the song, he would call a group up to the front and they said their names. My teammate and I walked to the stage, nervous, excited and a little embarrased to dance. We were welcomed so warmly.

The hospitality with which we were received is unexplainable. We were invited for special tea times. People gave up their beds and their privacy so we could have a place to stay. People hosted us in their homes when we needed rest. Friends served our food. Friends were attentive and asked if we were having a good time. Friends translated from Bangla to English for us. Brothers and sisters gave us their time, their attention, gave us priority. Brothers and sisters extended themselves in many ways. They extended their friendships, they extended their love. It was so beautiful. We didn’t deserve it, but they loved us.

I had the honour of facilitating a manuscript inductive study part of Acts 4. 
We have been told by some of our hosts that the education system in Bangladesh does not allow students to think critically or question, but they are encouraged to memorize information. For this reason they really valued that we taught Scripture as we study it in Inter-varsity, using the inductive manuscript method. This is a three-step method where we observe the text, interpret it and apply it to our lives; we interpret what the author meant to say looking at what he wrote, instead of taking what we already know and using it to interpret what the text says. Studying the Bible inductively has changed the way I see Scripture and allowed me to understand very deeply what God wants to teach me. Through it I have been encouraged and challenged, and I also really love Scripture! so teaching Scripture was one of the most exciting parts of the conference for me.
I was told that women usually don’t take part in serving at church except for prayer meeting. I was so honoured to be greeted by them and thanked and congratulated for teaching Scripture by the women and even some of the men. It was an empowering experience for them, and for all the students to be told “I used to think questioning the Bible was wrong… but only when we ask questions we are able to seek understanding! Ask and you will receive!”. Although it was their first time studying Scripture in this way, they had great questions. They wrestled with the text and thought about what it meant in their own lives. One of the male students spoke to me after, and told me that he was really blessed by Scripture that morning, that he did not think of doing what Scripture taught him before he studied it.

I am very excited to be a part of God’s kingdom. I am so excited to bring Shalom in a small way by facilitating a Scripture study. I am so blessed by every conversation I had in the past few days, every gift of love. I am so blessed to be in Bangladesh. My heart cries rejoicing about the things God is doing in this place! He is good!

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Many feelings

We looked for our luggage in the midst of suitcases and other things wrapped around blankets and tied with ropes. Excitment arose as soon as I saw the people coming and going. Tiredness started to kick in from the two flights and the 10-hour time change. We walked to the parking lot, where families came close and just stared at us while we loaded our luggage. Traffic was wild. There were many cars, no traffic lights, and all cars honked constantly at the same time. Pedestrians crossed everywhere at all times and all throughout I felt like we were going to hit someone. We got to the building where we are being hosted and received  snacks and refreshments from very kind people. Then we went out for a walk in small groups. It was very hot. The 3-part shalwar-camise-orna (long pants-long shirt-scarf) outfit kept me pretty hot. There streets were mildly congested at that time of the day, and everyone stared at us while we walked. There was a person laying down on the floor, covered with dirty rags.

I have found it hard to journal and process all of the experiences I have had in the past seven days we have been in the city of Dhaka. Some apathy has found its way in. New coping mechanisms are starting to rise up in me. We had a team conversation about how we are feeling and the topic of being comfortable or comfortable came up. I said I felt comfortable; I did not mind showering without a curtain, the 37.C+ temperature, that the sidewalks were not the same height every two steps, that people stared at my teammates when I walked down the street, that I felt like we could run over people and other cars on our way to placement (where we volunteer), that some of the food was spicier than I could handle, that there are people begging on the street, the bugs, that smells are really strong. I said it was difficult not to compare to my childhood in Colombia and that it matched with the stories my friends had told me about Bangladesh. I said it felt comfortable and like home. Yesterday, I realized I had hoped that the sidewalks would be well done. I hoped they were only half-done in this neighbourhood, and that I would visit other neighbourhoods where they were nicely done. I remembered Canada, and it seemed almost like a paradise. Yesterday I realized I hoped I would be able to go back home to Canada, be around that which was familiar, and come back to Bangladesh the next morning to visit our placements. I realized I had been living in things that seemed surreal for six days, hoping they would change. Today I am choosing to engage in that which is unfamilar and that which is uncomfortable. I am choosing not to compare or to make quick judgments. To let go of my “right” to be comfortable. I am choosing to engage in conflicts that I have within myself, with this new place, and with teammates, knowing that God wishes to meet me in these places and teach me about himself and about others. He wishes to show me his desire for these things to come to Shalom. To how he meant them to be since the beginning.

People speak Bangla in Bangladesh. We had language instruction for a couple of days when we first arrived. “Ami ____ bhalobashi” is ” I love ____” in English. “Ami _______ bhalolage” is Bangla for “I like _____ “. One of my teammates asked what the Bangla words were for ” I have many feelings”. Our language instructor said there was not a Bangla word for that. I have many feelings. I am unsure about what they are and only recently chose to engage with those feelings and go into places where there is tension and conflict and ask God to meet me in those places. I have many feelings.

Orientation: blowing up the vision x1000

Orientation for the Bangladesh global partnership (GUP) has taken place at Ontario Pioneer Camp starting May 1st, and will conclude on May 7th. Our team of 17, including students and staff has been engaging in the study of Scripture, Bangla (spoken in Bangladesh) language training, and conversations around topics that will influence our team dynamics and experiences in Bangladesh.

One of the most significant moments has been studying Scripture. Our team is studying the book of Acts during this GUP, and we started in Acts 1:1-11 on Thursday night. After extensive conversations and wrestling through tensions of the text, I came out full of hope from the following text:
“So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

This is the text through which I first received the invitation from God to go in the Bangladesh GUP back in February of this year. A few days into Orientation, I realized I was excited and expectant to see God at work, but I did not “feel” a particular sense of readiness for going into this journey. I started to doubt whether God had really called me to go on this GUP or not. I thought maybe, instead of investing my time and resources into learning about his justice and love for the Bangladeshi people, I should have stayed home for the first part of the summer and gotten a job to pay for school in the fall. Fortunately for me, our thoughts are known by Jesus, and he was once again inviting me to continue following him in this GUP by choosing to live in obedience to his Word and his calling rather than my feelings.

The disciples asked Jesus “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”. As Jewish men, they had waited their whole lives for a Messiah, a political figure that would free their nation from Roman oppression. They spent three years learning from Jesus that his goal was to bring the kingdom of God, not with sword and might, but through the power of restoration in the relationship between man and God. So it seems like the disciples are still waiting for this thing from Jesus. Their vision is small, they still don’t get it. Jesus answers their question by blowing up their questions by a thousand: “not to Israel only, but from here until the end of the earth, and through you, not only me.” Jesus redirects him into a greater vision that he has for his kingdom to expand to everybody. 

So as I engage in conversations about team expectations and recognize places where I need healing and to reconcile with my peers, friends and my own family as I spend time this week learning about topics such as culture, personality, dealing with conflict, and community, I continue responding to Jesus’ invitation to bring his kingdom further. I learn that my small vision in the past to choose ignorance about these topics is one that he wishes to blow up ten thousand times to bring restoration and His kingdom to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. He wishes to bring restoration in my life and wants me to extend myself to my close ones as well as those in Bangladesh.

This is one of the applications from Scripture I encountered this week. There are many other stories from my own experience and from my teammates. Please pray for us!

Prayer requests:

  • Please pray that our team would continue choosing to follow Jesus in areas that are difficult this week and this summer
  • Pray for the unity of our team as we engage in conversations and spend time together this week
  • Pray for open hearts and for us to be teachable by God and our staff
  • Pray for rest for our staff and our students in the midst of this busy schedule!
  • Pray that Jesus will continue blowing up our vision for this x1000!

    Thank you!

Why Shalom

Coming into this trip, one of my desires was to know more about God’s “Shalom”. “Shalom” is the Hebrew word for “peace” and I understand this term to be the reconciliation of everything that exists to God as he created them to be, as He meant them to be at the beginning. In Bangladesh, I will be able to see and experience many things that are not shalom. Poverty, oppression, political corruption, inequality in gender, and people not following Jesus. Things that are not how God intends them to be. Not shalom. As I grow in my desire for justice, my tendency would be to get angry at injustice and overwhelmed by not being able to give quick fixes to solve the brokenness around me. I acknowledge this is not the healthier choice and it is not possible for us to fix a whole nation in five weeks, and ignoring brokenness or not pursuing justice also is not the best choice as it becomes immoral and God’s desire is for us to care for the poor and the oppressed. For this reason, I decided to become informed and accept the reality that I will encounter in Bangladesh when we fly there on May 7th. This reality is that injustice will be present, but so will God. My choice is to tell Jesus “you care for these: the poor, the marginalized, abused women, orphaned children, and also for the rich, for the oppressor, for those who are not following you and for those who are”. My prayer going into the trip is that God would show me how He is re-conciliating all things to Him in Bangladesh.

 During the first day of Orientation, I reflected on my position on this trip, and I realized the pressure to bring great achievements back to Canada. Great concrete goals to impress my family, friends, donors, to show them that this trip was worth it. In the middle of this, I hear Jesus calling me back to be his servant and learn from him: as God incarnate in man, his position was not one of self-acclamation and constant self-praise but of honesty about himself, humbleness and servanthood towards others to the point of his death. During my refection time I hear Jesus telling me to let go of being in the position of a “hero” and of wanting to satisfy our performance-based society standards, but instead to choose into observing from the Bangladeshi people he created, learning from them and growing into relationships with them. Jesus calls me into this ‘shalom’ of “togetherness”, which is how he meant things to be. Where I lay down any power I may have and acknowledge both Canadian and Bangladeshi have inherent value because we were created by God, not because our socio-economic statuses, native languages or the colours of our skin. Together, in relationship with one another. How God meant them to be. Shalom.

 

Welcome

Welcome to my blog!

This is a space where I will record some of my experiences in the Inter-varsity Bangladesh Global Partnership that will happen from May 1st to June 13, 2014. Check back for thoughts and prayer requests updates from me and from team!