We left Dhaka at 8.30 on a cool morning. There was blue sky somewhere above the smog, and we had only 40 km to go.
The journey took over five hours. Five hours of bumps, near misses, going nowhere, sudden bursts of speed, strategic changes of direction and still more waiting. It felt like we’d never get there. Until at last we did, welcomed by smiling volunteers, into a huge gathering of Bangladeshi Baptist believers.
A bit like the journey we’d come to celebrate, really. Over 100 years of bumpy travelling. Spurts of growth and times of stagnation. Dangers avoided, struggles endured, and finally, in partnership, a pause, a time to look back and marvel at how far we’ve come.
I was so lucky to be there. My great-grandparents, Charles and Emily North, were among the early missionaries to East Bengal. Paul and I arrived 70 years later, invited into a solidly established Bengali church in Chandpur and participating with the wider group of churches that had grown from the work of New Zealand, Australian and Southern Baptists.
Worship. Teaching. Eating. Talking. The essential components of any church celebration. It felt both familiar and different to us. Some old Bengali songs, some modern translated ones. Long, loud sermons, I’ve never really loved those. Dance and drama. Rice and fish to eat with fingers. Stories and memories shared. Hugs and conversations. ‘Do you remember me Aunty?’ (No, you were six!) It was such a delight to see the children and young people we once knew now leaders in their congregations!
I think the words that remain for me now are maturity and confidence. Christians are still a tiny minority in a strongly Muslim country. Many congregations are small. But they have proved God’s faithfulness over 100 years. They’re leaning into it for the next century.