Bangladesh/India – A New Testament church

After our training in Dhaka concluded, we had the privilege of attending a church service with our brother B.

We walked about 5 minutes from our location to his home. It was the first time we’d been out of the training center for any amount of time. I must confess, it was quite amusing and slightly disconcerting to watch every single eye of every single person fix on our brother Ron like a magnet. As we walked past shops, street vendors, bicyclists, and pedestrians every head was on a swivel, a swivel turning Ron’s direction.

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We arrived at B.’s home on the seventh story of a nearby high rise and we were greeted warmly by everyone present. We were given the most prominent seats in the home, couches in the center of the small living room. I attempted to give up my seat three times to elderly saints, but was swiftly rebuffed each time.

After a few minutes, we began our time together. B. welcomed his church and introduced us. He explained to us that this was their weekly praise and thanksgiving time. Their church service meets on Fridays in a different room, but this service rotates homes among church members. I was reminded of Acts 2:46, “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.”

Then one of the brothers who was at our training, B.’s associate pastor, started the singing. He played the harmonium. A few tattered hymnal were shared, but many of the people didn’t need them. Their singing filled the room and, no doubt, carried into the busy streets of Dhaka through the open windows . The singing was loud, strong, and from the depths of the heart. It was beautiful.

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Before the next song, B.’s wife was shuffling through the hymnal and handed B. the hymnal opened to a specific page. Before we sang it, B. said to us, “This is a hymn about how God knows every situation we will go through and how He brings us through them.” This was particularly significant because B.’s young daughter just recently had an almost deadly battle with dengue fever. She was oblivious to this matter, happily wandering around the house from person to person. But everyone else knew how God had spared her life.

After we sang that hymn and prayed, there was a time of sharing both of praises and thanksgivings as well as requests. A little boy shared a few words. B. shared about his daughter’s battle with Dengue Fever and God’s healing. An elderly woman stood up and shared with tears running down her face. Several others nodded as she shared and shed tears of their own. I couldn’t understand anything but I was reminded of Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,” and  Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

The brother playing the harmonium closed the sharing time with a forceful exhortation punctuated by several “amens!” from the church. We sang another hymn and then we all stood up for time of prayer. The music leader began and almost everyone else joined in–men, women, children. Hands were lifted high all around me as both forceful and whispered prayers were given. I was reminded of 1 Timothy 2:8, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.” As the time of prayer reached a climax there were several shouts of “hallelujah” and “hosanna”! I didn’t need a translator to understand those glorious shouts.

After our prayer time, B. turned things over to Dad. Dad spoke from Luke 17:11-19 on the healing of the ten lepers. In the middle of his message the voice of a local imam filled the room. It was adhan the Muslim call to prayer. No matter. Dad and his translator spoke louder. And as the imam chanted Dad proclaimed, “Jesus is our salvation!” The contrast was jarringly beautiful.

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We closed our service with a final hymn, greeted one another, and then came the table fellowship. B.’s home quickly turned into a buffet. People sat on the floor and plates began to be filled with rice, curried vegetables, and curried fish. The first plates were handed out to the elderly, families, and us guests. Then bowls of potato and chicken were brought out and plates of cool cucumber were passed around. As I looked around at the crowd of 30+ I asked B.’s wife how much rice she had to make for everyone. She laughed and said that at times they have fed 100 people from their home and they’ve never run out of rice.

After the meal, we gathered up our things to head back to our rooms. We thanked everyone for their hospitality and then made the short walk back.

As we walked, I kept thinking about how B. mentioned “church members” three or four times in our short meeting. As my Southern Baptist trained mind raced, I realized that their church understands church membership far better than so many of us in the United States. For them, church membership isn’t having your name on a list so you can vote at member’s meetings once in awhile. Church membership is who you are. When you convert to Christianity, you do so welcoming opposition and suffering. You do so, in a way, inviting your family and friends and community to reject you. But you do so, in a more significant way, entering into a new family, with new friends, and a new Gospel-community. In Bangladesh, there’s no such thing as “me-and-Jesus” Christianity. In Bangladesh, Christianity necessitates belonging to a church. It invites input, accountability, support, encouragement, correction, and responsibility. In Bangladesh, Christianity looks a whole lot like the New Testament.

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