DHAKA, Bangladesh (BP)–Bright green rice fields surrounded the village. A barefoot man spread harvested rice on a plastic sheet to dry it in the sun. A woman tended to two infant goats born the previous day, while other women hand-embroidered shirts for their children.
The Bangladeshi village was not on the volunteers’ itinerary. They had only stopped to take photos of some colorfully dyed fabric drying on lines strung along the railroad tracks.
When South Carolina volunteer Nina Sexton went across the street to take pictures, the sound of the weaving looms drew her down a dirt path, across the tracks and into a small factory to take a few more photos.
Making the most of the time, South Carolina pastors Lynn Peters and James Rodgers, together with two Bangladeshi Christians, gave out copies of the Gospel of Luke in the Bengali language to curious Muslims who gathered alongside the road. Peters then began asking a sharecropper about the yield of his rice harvests.
Before long, Peters, Rodgers, Sexton and their two Bangladeshi friends were honored guests in the village. A table of fruit and caramelized rice was set before them. A boy shimmied up a tree to retrieve fresh coconuts for something to drink.
That morning, the South Carolina volunteers had risen before dawn to visit a village where they would answer questions about a Christian radio program that presents a Muslim-background believer sharing his newfound faith with two friends. Matthan*, a Bangladeshi Christian translating for the team, had called ahead to let the villagers know to expect the Americans that day. The visit had provided encouragement to the villagers, who committed to listen more faithfully to the program and begin reading the Injil (New Testament).
This second village, however, had no advance notice that this would be the day they would hear the Good News of Isa (Jesus).
“That was a complete God thing,” Rodgers said. “It changed the dynamic of the day.”
The village elder, Ubaidah*, stood before Rodgers and urged him to speak.
Men and women alike halted their work tasks. Most of the villagers are farmers, though some are factory workers. No matter their age or occupation, they listened intently as Rodgers told them stories about Isa healing the blind, the lame and the leper and raising the dead.
“It excited them and it excited me,” Rogers said.
One 12-year-old girl stood out. Ansam* clutched a pink sweater to her chest to add modesty to her school dress. Her complexion was radiant, her smile crystal. In her hand was a copy of Luke that one of the volunteers had given her.
Rodgers explained to the village that the stories he was sharing were in the book that Ansam held. Their excitement grew. Ansam’s face lit up even more when Rodgers asked her to read the book aloud each night to all who wished to listen.
“There was no opposition,” Peters said. “I don’t think it will be anytime at all before there will be a jamaat [house church] there. You could almost see it developing.”
A couple of days later, Matthan called Nasiha* in the village to see whether they wanted him to come answer questions about their readings.
“She said that they watched the ‘JESUS’ film and the other video that evening,” Matthan said. “They watched the videos, all those villagers together. After that, Ansam, she read the Scriptures until 11:30 at night and everybody listened to it. They were very excited.”
During the call, Matthan also talked with Nasiha’s husband and brother-in-law, who had not been home during the volunteers’ visit. Her husband eagerly invited Matthan to return. His brother, Hibatullah*, wanted to inform Matthan that he knew some Christians and that he also wanted to learn more about Isa.
“Those people are very much interested and welcoming,” said Ishaq*, another Bangladeshi Christian serving with the volunteer team. “Most of the time when you talk about Isa, the people leave. In that case, they listened to everything and they liked it.
“Pray for that village, that they will accept Isa,” Ishaq said. “Also pray for [those in] the first village who are not listening [to the radio program], that they will listen.”
Sexton noted that the second Muslim village had gone unnoticed by the team when they passed by early that morning.
“When I was there, the image that kept coming to mind was harvest,” Sexton said. “Matthan’s report was another step toward abundant harvest.”
Peters added, “That [village] for me was the high point…. What’s scary is the thought that if we hadn’t stopped, it’s very possible they may have never heard [about Jesus].”
“God is in control and orchestrates divine encounters,” Sexton said. “It was definitely something that God arranged bigger than anything we could arrange.”
*Name changed for security purposes.