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Multicultural witness in Bangladesh

DHAKA, Bangladesh (BP)–Through unending rice fields in northern Bangladesh, a group of Christians -– Bangladeshi, American and Kenyan — walked from village to village to share the Good News.

“I think it is good for mixed-culture groups to go out,” South Carolina volunteer Betty Schneider, 69, said. “The people we visit can see friendship between our different cultures. When they witness [divergent cultures] coming together, they can better see the love of Jesus because they can see the love between us.”

“It’s just been a blessing,” Betty’s husband Ed Schneider, 72, affirmed.

The multicultural group spent a week visiting people and asking their thoughts about a radio series that began last fall about a Muslim who has become a follower of Jesus and is sharing his faith with his Muslim friends.

“For me, [the experience] was powerful,” Mary Ondeyo*, a 28-year-old volunteer from Kenya, said of the opportunities she had to share the Gospel. “They listen a lot; they don’t read…. If they could hear more, that would be lovely.”

Ondeyo and another member of her church in Kenya, Claire Mwendo*, 31, were approached by their pastor last year about joining a volunteer team from South Carolina to minister in Bangladesh.

“This [trip] is fully God-ordained, as in I had nothing to do with it,” Mwendo said. “The pastor said he was looking for two ladies. I said, ‘Here I am, and I have my passport.'”

In 1992, the South Carolina Baptist Convention began a four-year partnership with the Kenyan Baptist Convention during which time South Carolina volunteers made numerous trips to serve alongside Baptists in the African country.

Fifteen years later, the state convention is in the third year of its current partnership with southern Asia. Already, they have sent around 400 volunteers in 40 trips to the region, South Carolinian Nina Sexton* said.

The idea to include the Kenyan Baptist Convention in the new partnership with southern Asia was born in February 2006 when Sexton met with a Kenyan Baptist representative who expressed a desire to help his convention catch a greater vision for sharing the Gospel beyond the borders of Kenya.

At the time, the South Carolina Baptist Convention already had a trip to Bangladesh in the works to assist in reaching the country’s Muslims with the Gospel. Since Kenya also has a significant Muslim population, the partnership seemed like the perfect opportunity both to involve Kenyans in international outreach and to provide valuable experience for sharing among Muslims in their home country.

“I just thank God that I came here,” Ondeyo said. “… I didn’t know how to reach out to [Muslims]. It was so hard for me. Then we started going through the Camel Training” — an evangelistic tool that uses the Koran as a bridge to lead Muslims to read the Injil (New Testament) –- “and I’ve come here [to Bangladesh]. This is like a Muslim zone. I’ve been amongst them. I’ve talked to them. I feel like now I can reach out to Muslims.”

Ondeyo has been on volunteer trips to Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda but this was her first venture beyond Africa. Next, she intends to move to Tanzania for two years to serve Christ there.

This also was Mwendo’s first trip outside of Africa. She admitted she had a hard time adjusting to the incredible number of people and the noise of Bangladesh. In spite of her culture shock, Mwendo fell in love with the people, especially the children.

“From the Scriptures, it is clear that the harvest is plenty. We just need laborers in the field,” she said. “There is much work here that needs to be done, and it calls for Christians to come…. The laborers are few, but the harvest is very plentiful and very ripe in this country.”

Lynn Peters, 52, pastor of a Baptist church in South Carolina, said the Kenyans’ participation during the trip was invaluable.

“This can open a door that [Kenyans] can go through that we can’t, because in many places we are viewed with suspicion immediately,” Peters said.

Sexton approached Peters early in the planning of the trip to ask him to lead the multicultural team of South Carolinians and Kenyans in Bangladesh. Peters previously had taken two volunteer trips to Kenya and one to Bangladesh.

During the trip, the volunteers focused on dialoguing with men and women who were interested in hearing more about what the Koran says about Isa (Jesus). From there, they used the Camel Method to explain to the people what the Injil (New Testament) says about who Isa is.

“You could see the changes in their faces,” said Betty Schneider of the Bangladeshi adults who pressed around her and her husband as they spoke.

James Rodgers, 46, another South Carolina pastor, was the self-proclaimed rookie on an international volunteer mission trip. In spite of suffering from some initial “culture electrocution,” as he called it, Rodgers gained a fervor for reaching the Muslims of Bangladesh with the Gospel.

“Every time I saw a child, it broke my heart,” Rodgers said. “For the children, you want to put some promise out there.

“There’s such a lack of resources,” he said. “[I]f you give to one who breaks your heart, there are going to be another 500.”

Still, “The goal that we had set for our team before we came was that we wanted to see at least one jamaat (house church) started,” Peters said. “I believe we have the beginning of that. We’ve seen God open doors and we’ve seen God close doors.”

“God loves people more than anything. It doesn’t matter where they come from or who they are,” Ondeyo said, “and He wants them to see the light, to know Him, to have an experience with Him.

“I’ll always remember Bangladesh,” she said, “… and I pray that I’ll get another opportunity to come back.”
*Name changed for security purposes.

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  • Kari Wynn*