A letter from Cynthia Morgan in Bangladesh
August 31, 2011
The Ministry of Affirmation
Dear Beloved Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
One of my favorite things about serving as a woman in Bangladesh is the opportunity to befriend and edify women. In a country where parents are often disappointed when their newborn is a daughter instead of a son, where the gifts of women are slighted and physical abuse of wives is common, girls learn early on that their society regards them as inferior. I remember the day soon after our arrival in Bangladesh 21 years ago when I smiled at a woman sitting in a crowded bus stopped in traffic beside me. She turned around to see who I was smiling at, and then a shy smile spread across her face as she realized my smile was for her. I learned that day the power of affirmation, the ministry of seeing and edifying others. Smiles and conversations shared with women along the roadside, in shops and on buses add breadth and depth to my work as a medical missionary.
Over the past six weeks I helped lead conferences and seminars that put me in touch with over 200 women in the Church of Bangladesh. Now that I have completed my training in spiritual direction and formation, whenever I lead sessions on health, I delight in broadening the message to incorporate aspects of life in the Spirit. Earlier this month, while speaking on women’s health at the Synod Women’s Conference, I integrated the Bible story of the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. By helping the session participants recreate the scene in their minds, I gave each woman the opportunity to put herself into the story as the bleeding woman faced with the choice of whether or not to reach out and touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak and be healed.
At a seminar in Dhaka last Friday I spoke to 70 women, all seated on the floor of a cozily crowded room. As I drew a flower on the whiteboard, I explained in Bengali how spiritual nutrients are as essential for us as soil, light, water and air are for flowers. I then invited each woman to listen deeply within herself to discern the type of flower God had created her to be or was calling her to become. Then, during 15 minutes of silence and meditation, each woman drew herself as that flower.
At the end of the exercise, I asked if there were two or three women who would like to tell about their drawing. The first woman to come forward had drawn a very simple flower that grows wild along the roadside; she was excited to tell us of her being the kind of flower that is found in all places and hence is always available to help others. The second woman spoke of her desire to be a flower that attracts others to its beauty and fragrance. The third woman confessed that the roots of her flower aren’t very deep but that she has hope they will grow deeper. After these three spoke, I was ready to move on to the next part of the session, but more women had already come to the front! Every small group that had shared a set of colored pencils insisted on sending a representative forward to tell their stories and show their drawings. Together we saw and admired every flower in the room.
At the end of the session all of the women, each wrapped in a colorful flowing sari, danced to a song based on the words of Isaiah 58:11, “You shall be like a garden, like a deep spring, whose waters never fail.” As we waved overhead three-foot-long streamers the colors of flowers, leaves, soil, water, and the sun, I sprinkled a gentle mist of rosewater over us all. We were the radiant, joyful, and fragrant garden of God!
One of the most fundamental yearnings within the soul of a woman is to know that what she does matters, that she is an integral part of a whole, and that she is loved. To get to know women in Bangladesh, to listen to their stories and to affirm them as they awaken to their belovedness in God has been one of my life’s deepest joys.
Cynthia L. Morgan
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 131