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Yet again, Bengalis start over after nation’s worst-ever flooding

GOPALGANJ, Bangladesh (BP)–As she gave birth to a child on the floor of an empty storage room, Fulmala Hazra understood how Mary might have felt the night Jesus was born.
Week after week of rising water — caused by the worst flooding in Bangladesh history — had driven the pregnant woman, her husband and their 5-year-old daughter from their one-room, tin-and-bamboo home. Then it submerged the lean-to where they huddled in the yard of the Baptist church they attend in Gopalganj, Bangladesh.
As her time approached, they sought shelter at a vacant Southern Baptist mission house in town. But there was no room at the “inn.” Nearly 70 flood refugees already occupied every inch of space in the house. Church friends finally found the family a dry place in an unused storage room on the mission property. There, Hazra bore another daughter. She named the child Bonna — “flood” in Bengali.
When floodwaters at last began receding in October, the family returned to find what was left of their home: a few sheets of tin. Food aid from Southern Baptists, the local government and other agencies helped keep them from starving until Hazra’s husband, Pouresh, went back to work after months of no income. In normal times, he makes about $1.50 a day.
They have begun repairing their home and their lives as the people of Bangladesh — perhaps the world’s ultimate disaster survivors — always do. But it won’t be easy.
“We depend on the Lord. It will take time,” Hazra says as her baby sleeps at her breast. “It will mean eating less.”
The Hazra family lives in a large town accessible by roads not destroyed by the flooding. Millions of rural Bengalis aren’t as fortunate. The Bangladesh government has asked Southern Baptist missionaries in the country to focus their relief efforts on isolated villages not being reached by other agencies.
Some other Bengalis touched by Southern Baptist aid sent during and after the recent flooding:
— Dolina Shidar, a Muslim widow, made a raft from banana trees to escape her flooded house with her three young sons, a little clay stove and some food. They floated along until they found a dry office porch, where they sheltered for three weeks.
When the food ran out she wondered, “What will we do now?”
The same day some Christians brought her a week’s supply of rice, lentils, potatoes and salt. When that ran out, Southern Baptist missionaries and Bengali Baptists brought her more food. With these provisions the little family made it through the flood, then returned to their heavily damaged one-room house. But now chilly weather is coming, and Shidar, a farm day laborer, will have no regular work until the ground dries.
— Bijoli Biswas, a 28-year-old Hindu widow whose weathered face looks much older, makes a dollar a day breaking brick or planting rice to feed her three children, ages 11, 8 and 6. Life has been hard since her husband, a rickshaw driver, died six years ago. The latest flood made it much harder, virtually ruining her tiny dwelling and disrupting work for months.
Baptists and others gave her 42 kilos of basic food — the only food she and her children had for the duration of the months of flooding that began in July. Now she just wants to earn a living, but work is still irregular. “I don’t want relief; I want a job,” she says.
Still, she’s thankful for the relief that came.
“If the Christians hadn’t helped me, how would we have lived?” she asks. “My family and I would have starved to death.”
— Another young widow fled her flooded home to seek help in the capital city, Dhaka. But the long, hard journey killed her weakened first-born son. After another harsh trek in search of aid, she buried her second son. Now her only remaining child, a daughter, is sick.
Will the assistance Christians recently gave her save the life of the last child? A Southern Baptist missionary can only reply, “We hope so.”

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  • Erich Bridges & Guinevere Young