On 16 May, 2015, Robin and Arline Connelly spoke to our congregation about the work being done in Bangladesh. They gave a background summary, and went on to give an update on the current gospel work and support being provided to the Bengali people.
Supplementary to the audio message, the information below has been obtained from the 25th anniversary publication of the Bengali Evangelical Association.
BENGALI EVANGELICAL ASSOCIATION
The man and wife team that help navigate a strong humanitarian presence in this nation of 160,000,000 is Dr. John and Naomi Biswas of Loma Linda, California.
Forged in Adversity The birth-pains of the nation of Bangladesh were traumatic indeed. As guest speaker Mark Magill outlined to the assembled guests at the anniversary, when British India was partitioned in 1947 the Muslim inhabitants of the subcontinent largely settled in two national enclaves northwest and northeast of India. The eastern portion, then known as East Pakistan, suffered a monumental tragedy in 1970 when the Bhola Cyclone swept away 500,000 Bengalis and left thousands homeless. The slow response of the nation of Pakistan (West Pakistan) and tensions with the Bengali-speaking population of East Pakistan led to a war of independence in 1971.
Concert for Bangladesh, 1971.“In the meantime,” said Mark Magill, “Ravi Shankar, a native Bengali and famed musician living in America, came up with the idea of a massive global awareness concert of freedom for Bangladesh.” Ravi persuaded his good friend Beatle George Harrison to help launch the first rock awareness concert for Bangladesh. Harrison tapped Ringo Starr and then Bob Dylan showed up as well at Madison Square Gardens that memorable June of 1971. ”When the crowds saw two Beatles and Bob Dylan on the same stage their heads exploded.”
In the meantime a young Bengali freedom-fi ghter and would-be lawyer named John Biswas was forced to flee into India from the turbulence in East Pakistan, now renamed Bangladesh. John Biswas was touched by the kindness of a missionary from San Francisco was ministering in Kolkata, India who gave him food and water. “You are willing to die for your country, but Jesus Christ came to die for all of humanity,” said the missionary. Those words aff ected John Biswas even more aft er studying theology in the Philippines and the United States. He desired to do more to help his native land where poverty and starvation were intense. While studying he met his wife, a young nurse, named Naomi, and even with a busy life shaping up for them in Southern California, bringing two sons into the world as well, John could never escape his call to mission.
In 1986, encouraged by the legendary Donald McGavran of Fuller Seminary’s School of Church Growth, John Biswas began taking Christian literature into Bangladesh each time he returned home. In that year he began the Bengali Evangelical Association and the encouraging response soon forced John to shelve his career as a lawyer. With support from many Southland churches and elsewhere around the globe, the BEA went on to establish a health clinic, a nurses training school, primary schools, and to plant Christian churches in this overwhelmingly Muslim land. A small campus complex deep in the Bengali countryside houses a tsunami shelter which doubles as a clinic and a school throughout the year.
Self-Help Humanitarianism “Although the mission was Christian-founded, it helps those in need no matter what their religious belief.” Says BEA Chairman Roger Lippross of Banning, CA. “We have had occasion to use the shelter twice already since it was fi nished several years ago.”
Irene Donley Kimble, a medical doctor and BEA volunbteer from the Inland Empire, been in Bangladesh to help train what Roger Lippross calls “our little Florence Nightingales.” She told the assembly about her experiences among the rural poor and her and hopes to return again soon for more follow-up work.
“BEA places a strong emphasis on self-help projects,” Lippross advises. “In one case a Westerner pays for a goat which is then purchased locally by Dr. Biswas in Bangladesh. The goat is then given to a poor but diligent family and everyone benefits. Bengali goats are extremely hardy and often produce twins. They can give as much as four quarts of milk a day and provide an excellent source of protein for malnourished children.”
To transport the goats, BEA developed a local rickshaw program which has become an added source of work for rural Bengalis. Just recently Dr Biswas opened up a bakery program in partnership with other struggling Christians in Haiti. To BEA supporters it is encouraging to see these small but successful programs impacting the two poorest nations on earth.
To read more about the Bengali Evangelical Association, and to contribute, see their website: Bengalimission.org