On our first night in Chittagong, we had the opportunity to meet the bulk of our students for the week. As the students filed in, the shirt of one of the students immediately caught my eye. He was wearing a black Awana shirt!
As the students introduced themselves, told us a bit about their families, and briefly talked about their particular area of ministry, this student (“J”) confirmed what I had initially expected–he worked for Awana in Bangladesh! Over the course of our training, J. and I talked about our respective roles in Awana and what Awana was like in Bangladesh.
On our last day of ministry in Chittagong, J. asked me if I would be willing to come with him to his office at the Awana headquarters of Bangladesh. We checked with our host in regard to safety and he gave the okay, so during lunch that final day, we hired a rickshaw and rode the 10 minutes to the Awana Bangladesh.
When we arrived, I was greeted warmly by the director of Awana Bangladesh and several other staff members. He invited me into his office and we talked for about 15 minutes about our respective lives and ministries. He shared about his conversion to Christ and how formative Awana was in his early Christian development. He talked about strategic changes he has had to make since he took over as the director. He talked about how he has pursued dozens upon dozens of pastors in Bangladesh about coming alongside them to reach the children and families in their community and how successful that has been. He talked about how they stopped sending books and material home with children because often, as soon as parents would find them, they would either throw them away or stop their kids from coming back to Awana the next week. He talked about how in the past few years the government has really cracked down on Awana (among other ministries) in Bangladesh. He talked about how he is, personally, on the watch list of the Bengali government.
At the end of our time together, I had the chance to pray for both him and Awana Bangladesh. We hugged, took a few pictures, and then I headed back. As I reflected on our brief time together, I realized how incredibly refreshing it was to see Awana at its–stripped away of all the unnecessary trappings–accomplishing what it was meant to accomplish: coming alongside local churches to reach unchurched boys and girls with the Gospel of Jesus Christ!