Outreach has led to new congregations among tribal people
July 28, 2017
The Most Rev. Paul S. Sarker, moderator of the Church of Bangladesh and bishop of the Diocese of Dhaka, recently visited the Presbyterian Center to celebrate the first 25 years of formal partnership between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Church of Bangladesh (CoB). The visit also provided an opportunity to discern God’s direction for the future of the partnership.
When the PC(USA)-CoB partnership began in 1992, efforts primarily focused on supporting community health programs, hospitals and nursing schools. Through the years, the partnership blended in social development and spiritual work within the Muslim-majority context. The CoB has revised its Social Development Program and given it a new name — Shalom — dedicated to the promotion of love, justice and peace.
The main challenges facing the CoB are the country’s oppressive poverty, inequality in accessing resources, population growth, the church’s self-reliance and a growing need for interfaith dialogue to combat radicalism and persecution.
With religious minorities — Hindu, Christian, Buddhist and others — making up less than 10 percent of the population of Bangladesh, and with about 1 percent of Christians being further divided into as many as 80 denominations or sects, faith is at the heart of all mission and ministry in the CoB.
Likewise, faith was the focus in development of the CoB’s new logo. “Slowly, slowly, I developed this logo idea,” Sarker said, pointing out the design’s circular CoB acronym that is outlined in red on a green background, symbolic of the country’s national flag. A water lily, the national flower of Bangladesh, grows at the foot of a cross as a liberating sacrifice of Christ and the union of a cross-bearing life in liberating self and others. To the left of the cross are the words “Witnessing Christ,” which is the goal of the church.
“We show Christ to people of all religions through our programs,” Sarker said.
The CoB, a member of the World Council of Churches, works with congregations and community groups to promote holistic development for the disadvantaged and vulnerable people of Bangladesh, regardless of race, religion, gender, age or background. The church advocates for and works alongside people affected by poverty and injustice, empowering them to work together to claim their human rights.
Through programs to help people improve their health, education, well-being and livelihood and by living out the gospel, particularly among tribal groups, the CoB has been able to reach marginalized indigenous people and start 13 to 15 new tribal churches, Sarker said.
The Christian mission also reaches Muslims, though Muslims who have converted to Christianity still feel intense cultural pressure to externally continue Muslim traditions. Yet, they say, “I am a Christian in my heart.”
“The current situation of our world is challenging, to say the least,” said Mienda Uriarte, World Mission area coordinator of the Asia-Pacific region. “As I listen to Bishop Sarker talk about the trials and stresses confronting the Church of Bangladesh, I am impressed as he calmly re-emphasizes the need for all of us to establish and nurture the relationships with our neighbors in the communities where we live. By doing so, this will also bring growth to the relationships we seek to nurture in the communities of faith where we worship.”
The liberation war with Pakistan in 1971 resulted in a free and independent Bangladesh and the creation of the CoB, made up primarily of churches with historical roots in Anglican and English Presbyterian mission efforts. The CoB has three dioceses, which are located in the capital city of Dhaka, in central and northern Bangladesh; Kushtia, in the western part of the country; and Barisal, a new diocese in the southern part of the country, established this year.
Sarker was elected moderator of the CoB in 2007. After Bishop Michael Baroi’s retirement in 2009, he was transferred to the Diocese of Dhaka. Many years earlier, the late Norman Miller, a PC(USA) mission co-worker in Bangladesh, recognized God’s call on a young Sarker’s life and told him about assistance available through the PC(USA) for theological studies. Sarker earned a master of theology degree at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 1998.
Tammy Warren, Communications Associate, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Church of Bangladesh
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
O God of mercy, bless the Church of Bangladesh. Grant them the faith and courage they need to proclaim the gospel of your son, Jesus Christ. Anoint the new believers with your grace so they may experience the abundance of life found only in you, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.