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Prayer power prevails over sacrifices, spreading gospel to Bengali villages

FENI, Bangladesh (BP)–Though the haze of alcohol fogged his mind, old Kumar saw clearly enough to know something was happening in the next village. Something powerful.
Whatever it was, he knew his own people needed it. Kumar, a Tripura (TREE-per-uh) tribal patriarch, saw the sufferings of his own village and felt despair. Food was increasingly scarce. Children and old people were dying from dysentery and diarrhea, and no one knew how to cure them.
Worst of all, the Tripura collection of Hindu and animist deities did nothing to relieve his community’s hardships. Kumar and his people sacrificed dogs, pigs and chickens — all to no avail.
The Tripura village down the road had suffered, too. But Kumar and others noticed things seemed to be changing there.
Baptists had come there to talk about the Bible and what it had to say about one God who reigns over all. Southern Baptist International Mission Board missionary R T Buckley, who helped start ministry in the area with a Bengali Baptist co-worker, picks up the story:
“We were having a Bible meeting at that first little church one afternoon. It was pouring cats and dogs. The pastor of that little congregation said one of his cousin’s daughters was real sick. He insisted, even though it was raining and we didn’t have raincoats, that we get on the motorcycle and drive five or six miles to see that man and pray for his daughter.
“When we got into this little village, the father told us his daughter was dying. They were getting ready to sacrifice a rooster for her life. I suggested he let us pray for her — and for them just to eat the rooster. He agreed, and we both prayed God would heal the girl. A day or two later, the father came and said, ‘My daughter is well,’ and they had not offered the rooster sacrifice. Then he said, ‘Please come back. I want to learn about this Jesus.’ He and his three brothers were the first to come to Christ.”
A little church was born, and word spread about a God who really listened to prayer and answered with power. Village leaders like Kumar observed the new Christians for several months.
“Then one day we went over and met with Kumar,” Buckley recalls. “We told him we would like to come and share the story of Jesus with him. He said, ‘We want you to come. We have watched these people who have become Christians. Something is happening. We don’t know what it is, but they are different.’”
That was a decade ago. Today, the centerpiece of Kumar’s community is a church. Visitors hear children singing in the building. They’re learning Bible songs and stories — and how to read — in a Baptist-sponsored tutorial program that gives them an educational beginning while they learn about Jesus.
The church building faces a fish pond originally stocked by Baptists. The church folk now manage the pond, sell the fish and use profits for church programs. Nearby they grow crops planted in SALT (Sloping Agricultural Land Technology) style, a method pioneered by Southern Baptist missionaries in the Philippines to help struggling Asian hill people like the Tripura.
Down the hill is a tube well, sunk by Baptists to provide fresh water from a deep spring. It not only protects the villagers from the disease-carrying river water they used to drink, but irrigates adjacent rice land, benefiting Tripura and Bengali alike.
Old Kumar proudly leads a tour of the village.
“We are learning that without God and his help, we can do nothing,” Kumar explains. “We used to offer sacrifices that did no good. When we heard it was only through Jesus that we could get forgiveness, we embraced Christ. When I made the decision, everyone else made the decision with me.”
What of the chickens they used to sacrifice to various gods? Kumar chuckles. “We just eat those chickens now.”
Kumar symbolizes a movement in the hill tracts of Bangladesh.
“He was responsible for leading that group of people to Christ, kind of like Cornelius,” Buckley observes. “We’re getting so many requests to come in and share the gospel. It’s difficult to keep up with all the opportunities.”
Buckley and other missionaries have long labored with Bangladeshi Baptists to meet the physical and spiritual needs of the majority Bengali people. In recent years, however, they’ve spent more and more time working with tribal minority peoples like the Tripura.
Tribal peoples total 3 million or more people in Bangladesh. But their extended ethnic families flow across political borders — into India and Myanmar. As the gospel spreads among them, it crosses borders too. It also moves farther into the hills of Bangladesh — into areas strictly off-limits to missionaries because of political unrest and rebel activity.
“We haven’t been anywhere the Lord hasn’t gone ahead of us,” Buckley says. “We can rush into these areas for Jesus, and when you get there you find he is already there. Somebody in there was already receptive to the Holy Spirit. We’re just doing follow-up work.”
That first congregation has multiplied to more than 150 churches in the hill region. Last summer leaders of another tribe, the Bongshi (BONG-shy), approached Baptists to declare, “We want to follow Jesus.”
“We’re sitting on a keg of dynamite,” says Buckley, who’s savoring a spiritual harvest after more than 30 years of hard labor in Bangladesh. “When you walk up a path you’ve never walked before and you hear voices already singing, ‘We praise you [God], we praise you,’ you know something is going on.”
He cocks his cap, leans forward and adds, “If you aren’t careful, you could get excited.”

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges