Letter from Barisal
Our greetings in the name of our risen Lord. I am pleased to give you insight into the work of the Oxford Mission, Barisal for the past six months, which will take us up to Easter of 2008. I am very thankful for your continued interest.
Since the water of shallow tube-wells can contain arsenic, it was decided that a deep tube-well was essential in the Primary School. The work began on 06 September 2007 & continued to the morning of 14 September, as the school was closed for the autumn holidays. All the workmen were from the other side of the river. There were 21 of them, mostly young and they worked on a rota basis, so that the work could continue day and night. They ate and slept in the school hall. One man was the full-time cook. The workmen braved the height of the structure like steeplejacks, and sang as they worked. There were no quarrels, and only a few minor accidents. Unfortunately, some small trees had to be cut down to make room for the new tube-well, but the trees will be replaced. We shall miss these hardworking, good-humoured lads, and wish them well in all their future undertakings.
In Bangladesh, the 40th day after a death is a special day. A parishioner of many years standing who had been a faithful servant of the fathers, Philip Biswas, passed away, so his family had organised a memorial service in the Church of the Epiphany on 14 September 2007, followed by a cooked lunch in the school hall. The tube-well work had been completed just in time for the school premises to be tidy. At the service, several people spoke of Philips honesty, kindness and simplicity. He will be missed in St. Peters parish. We ask your prayers for his wife and his children and grandchildren in their bereavement.
On September 20th, the O.M. High School observed the death anniversary of Father Lionel Rigby, B.E., who was school principal in his day. The actual date of his tragic death was September 21st, but as it fell on a Friday this year, and Friday is the weekly school holiday, the anniversary was observed on the 20th. We remember him as having modernised the O.M. High School. The function began at 9:30 a.m. and lasted an hour. It began with the unveiling of a picture of Father Rigby, by the side of the stage facing the audience, and a wall-magazine (written by the children) by the other side of the stage facing the audience. The picture was then garlanded and candles were lit in front of the picture and the wall-magazine. Then there were speeches, interspersed by songs and dance. In the speeches, the life and work of Father Rigby were described, and the pupils were advised to pray for his soul and follow his example. (Note: -We have said tragic death because it was not a normal death; Father Rigby was murdered by miscreants)
This was celebrated in all the local branches and as the Barisal branch is on the O.M. premises, the jubilee was celebrated here too, on 28th September. Bishop M.S. Baroi, our moderator, unveiled a tablet to commemorate this day. There were a lot of visitors attending the colourful function. The function began with readings from the Christian, Muslim and Hindu scriptures. The function consisted of short plays performed by different groups who are the beneficiaries of the programme. These plays depicted the good changes which have taken place in the lives of the beneficiaries. The plays were interspersed with speeches, songs and dances, and followed by lunch packets. At the time of my writing this, the annual auditing of our social branch accounts is going on.
The boys hostel of Oxford Mission is named after St. Michael, and this day was very busy and exciting for the boys. The day began with a celebration of the Holy Communion. Then, right up to the evening, the boys were decorating their dormitories with pictures drawn by themselves, lights, paper chains, big leaves and palm branches. Their visitors inspected the three dormitories and gave points to place them first, second and third. They all got prizes, applause and words of appreciation. At four oclock the boys had aquatic sports. The days festivities ended with a special supper for the boys and their guests. During the supper the medals for aquatic sports and prizes for decorating were given. There were also songs, dances and short speeches and quizzes for the entertainment of the guests.
This was celebrated in Barisal, because it was here that Miss Labonyo Prova Halder started the first SCM branch in Bangladesh. The meeting began on 18 October 2007 with registration from 5p.m. and a sung Eucharist at 6:30p.m.in the church of the Epiphany, which was beautifully decorated with flowers and plants. Photos were taken. The programme on the 19th began at 9:30a.m.with a function in the Golding Hall. It consisted of speeches, songs and dances. Photos were taken of all the activities and speeches. One of the speeches was by the Revd B. Halder, who described the beginning of the SCM in Barisal. Another speech was given by Mr T. K. Byapari, as he was also in the SCM as a college student. At 3:30p.m.we heard from many old students, and also Miss Prova Halder herself, about the Bangladeshi SCM 50years ago. All of the speakers expressed their hope that the SCM will reach its centenary.
Bishop Bill Down, having attended the Church of Bangladesh Partners Consultation in Dhaka, went on to Jobarpar, and after a few days he came to Barisal with Mother Susila, and we had a fellowship tea on 30th October afternoon, to which Mother Susila and the heads of departments came. We greeted the Bishop and sent our greetings and our thanks to the O.M. committee and donors. Bishop Bill Down brought the committees greetings to us. On the following morning he talked with me in my office, and was then taken round to see the estate, especially to see the parts of it where repair and renewal are most needed. He visited all the departments, including the self-help department. He gave a nice clock to the self-help department. In the afternoon, he visited the old English burial-ground, and then went to St. Peters Church for a fellowship tea with the parish committee members. He conducted our service on All Saints Day, and left on the following morning. It gave us great pleasure to have him with us for a few days.
On All Saints Day the O.M. High School was closed. The hostel boys first attended the Holy Communion service and later had a session of indoor games, such as chess, carom and ludo in their dormitories. Bishop Bill and I went to see this in progress. We enjoyed watching the boys play, and the boys were excited to see the Bishop beside them. The Bishop cheered the boys up. The hostel boys had their annual art competition on November 3rd and enjoyed doing this in their three dormitories.
As well as the Holy Communion in the early morning, there was an afternoon service which began in the church and continued in the burial ground. Many people lit candles on the graves of their relatives, thus the whole burial ground was full of light.
On the evening of 15 November 2007, a light shower and a moderate wind continued to increase as night approached, until from 12:30 (midnight) to 1:30 a.m. there was a seriously strong cyclone. Early next morning we found that many big trees had been uprooted on the estate, and roofs of some of the buildings had been damaged. Although we could not sleep on the night of the cyclone, and were very much afraid, we are now very thankful to God that no one in the O.M. compound died. We had received warnings from the government in the weather forecasts. Our electricity totally failed. Although no one died in our compound, there has been a great loss of life and property throughout the country. Please pray for those who have been affected by this cyclone.
As in other years, we have observed Advent with the people of St. Peters parish. The lady worker goes to each house in the parish, including the houses and institutions in Oxford Mission. This takes place in the evening. The lady worker opens the ceremony by lighting a candle, which is supplied by the owner of the house, and then prays with as many family members as can be present. Up to the end of Advent, the householders,after a short prayer, will light each candle every evening.
On December 7th, St. Marys Home had a pre-Christmas function. They invited a number of guests to lunch, and during the meal the girls, big and small, entertained their guests with songs, dances and two short plays. There were also greetings and thanks by the guests. Then presents and cards were given out to the children as well as the guests.
On December 10th, St. Agness hostel had a pre-Christmas function. There were two parts, one at noon and one in the evening. The first part was a lunch-party to which a number of guests were invited. During the meal, several of the guests gave short speeches expressing their thanks. The second part was a cultural function. At this, the girls performed beautiful songs, dances and music, and a beautiful and relevant nativity play. In the course of the function, Fr. Francis, Sister Jharna, the manager, and the Revd Sudatta Baidya made speeches. At the end of 2007, two elderly cooks, who had worked for many years in St. Agness, retired. This pre-Christmas function was also their farewell, and they were given presents. In her speech, the Revd Sudatta Baidya spoke of their faithfulness, kindness, patience and sincerity. We wish them a happy retirement.
The same evening, the boys had their pre-Christmas function. This took place in the dining room. They started with a Christmas song then a cultural function including exchange of presents, and then had a special supper with their guests. Then prizes were given in connection with the indoor games and art competitions, which had taken place in November.
The seminar was on the theme of.... Your work in the Lord is not in vain.(1 Cor.15: 58). About 85 people attended, and the seminar began at 10a.m.with a hymn and a prayer. Then the Revd Sudatta Baidya gave an address, beginning with, What is a mission? The St. Agness girls study-room was decorated. During the discussions, it was highlighted that each person has a responsibility (and examples were given) so that people dont think badly of our mission. Our responsibility is great, whatever our work may be, and our character shows through our work. Mission means proclaiming, and we proclaim through our work. After every address there was an appropriate hymn. There was then a talk by Sister Jharna. This is the first such seminar we have had.
Our O.M.s purpose is to give to people in many forms. Sister Jharna outlined the history of O.M. People took refuge here during the 1971 war. Since 1993, the responsibility is in our hands. We must save our organization.
After a tea break and a hymn, there was a talk by the manager. He thanked those who had arranged flowers, and pointed out that there had never been a seminar like this for all departments. It had been his longing and was now real. We are all doing Gods work in this mission, and the work of each one is important. We all need one another. He thanked everyone for the work done throughout the year. We must all work faithfully and honestly, fearing God, not the manager.
Usha di, the head nurse of St. Annes clinic, then talked about health and hygiene, and how to have a balanced diet with less expense. The aim of this was that the women workers who work in O.M. can prepare that sort of balanced diet for their own families.
The accountant talked on money dealings and said that honesty and accuracy in account keeping (money dealing) is necessary, because it is Gods money.
The seminar ended at 1p.m. and was followed by a fellowship meal. The manager arranged the meal and everyone was satisfied.
On 28 November, we received an enquiry by e-mail from Mrs. Mary Marsh (O.M. General Secretary) via the Bishop, regarding the damage done to O.M. in Barisal & Jobarpar by the cyclone. We sent her a rough estimate & a report with photos concerning the damage done to our buildings, trees, electric lines and telephone lines. To assist with speedy communication through e-mail, we also sent an estimate of the price of a computer, with the required systems, for the managers office.
On 24-25 December we had a midnight mass. The church was beautifully decorated with flowers. We were few in number, so we sat in the sanctuary. It was like being round the manger. On the morning of the 25th at 7a.m. we had another Mass, this time at the front of the nave.
We had a Mass at 7 a.m., at which Sister Kalyani gave us a very beautiful and helpful sermon on the theme I am. (Exodus 3:14). Sudatta di (the Revd Sudatta Baidya) had some guests to lunch in St. Clares Hostel.
During January, we had two very welcome guests from abroad: the Revd Alwyn Jones, who arrived on the 11th, and Miss Hanne Tommelstad, who arrived on the morning of the 14th. Revd Alwyn Jones is an old friend of the O.M. and Hanne is a young Norwegian lady, and a more recent friend of the Sisters of C.S.S. They both stayed with the Sisters of C.S.S. While they were with us, another guest from abroad, Mrs Angela Stewart from England, also joined us to spend half a day. The O.M. manager invited our guests from abroad & certain responsible people in the compound, including Father Francis, to have a very enjoyable Fellowship Tea on the evening of January 14. The tea was followed by songs & photographs. Angela is one of Lucy Holts friends and is an expert in music. She came from India to Bangladesh to visit Lucy at Barisal and then went on to Dhaka before returning to England.
On Sunday, January 20th, St. Michaels Hostel welcomed the new boys, as they do every year. This is to help the new boys adjust to their new discipline, new environment and new friends; it also helps the older boys look on them as their younger brothers. The new boys were welcomed with white paper garlands, followed by a concert with a mixed programme of songs, dances, recitations, speeches and acting with some of the items being performed by new boys. After the concert we all went to the church for evening worship. This was followed by a festive supper in the boys dining room.
As January 21st is St. Agness Day, it is therefore the special day of St. Agness Hostel, when they have a play of St. Agness life, and think about her example. There were speeches about St. Agnes by some of the people, so that the new girls as well as the older girls could follow some of the virtues of St. Agnes in their life. In the same function the new girls were welcomed. To mark the occasion, there was a festive lunch, with many guests. At 5:30p.m.there was a concert including the play, and the welcoming, with garlands, of the new girls.
On Ash Wednesday there was a Sung Eucharist attended by the children and staff of our three hostels. It began with the imposition of ashes. There were two more sessions in the Epiphany church for the St. Michaels boys and the St. Agness girls, which started at 10.00 a.m. and finished at approximately 1.15p.m.with a gap of about half an hour in the middle. These sessions consisted of hymns, Bible-readings, and short talks on the Bible passages by some of the children. These passages were mainly based on inner fasting and their meaning for the children today.
A group from the other side of the river, 24 in number, came to install a deep tube-well in St. Agness on 09 February (not the group who came to the primary school in September.) This group also climbed high up the scaffolding, sang as they worked, and, most wonderful of all, formed a vertical line on the scaffolding, took hold of the same vertical rope, and then jumped off to be carried down by the rope, their combined weight pulling down the pulley rope to lift up the tube. You dont have to know the technical details to admire the courage of these young men. They worked on a rota basis: 4 shifts day and night. The work was completed on the 14th. A deep tube-well is essential, because the water of shallow tube-wells can contain arsenic.
On 7th February, the St. Michaels Hostel boys had their annual picnic; this year at Baniachor, in the district of Gopalganj. It is a village more than 60 miles away from the hostel. 109 people, including teachers and guests, were there. The boys and teachers travelled to Baniachor in a hired bus, leaving Barisal at 7.30 a.m., arriving back at 9.35 p.m. At Baniachor the boys cooked a meal and enjoyed it with local guests. Then at 5p.m. the St. Michaels volleyball team played against a local volleyball team. The boys also walked around and explored Baniachor. Some went over the river to see the neighbouring village of Kaligram. This river was originally the Beel Route Canal. The waters of the river Modhumoti flowed into it, and it became a branch of the Modhumoti. It has no name of its own other than the Beel Route Canal. This canal-river plays an important role in this region, because it is deep enough for launches, which are used for carrying goods from Gopalganj city area to other places. The boys enjoyed their day out very much.
The chief guests were the ward commissioner, the parish priest & the headmaster of O.M.H.S. The function began with a march-past and the hoisting of the flag. Then there was a dance by a little girl, followed by a drill display, Kochuri. These were followed by a mixed programme of races & competitions, such as lozenge races, flat races, plate on head, rabbit jumping, tomato race, sack race, dressing race, cock-fight, skipping, and a fancy-dress competition. It was a joyful day for the children, the teachers and the guests. There was also a plate-on-head race for the teachers.
The 21st of February is a special day throughout Bangladesh. On this day in 1952, some young men (university students) were shot while taking part in a procession to protect against the imposing of Urdu on the Bengalis as the national language of Pakistan. Bangladesh was then East Pakistan. These martyrs not only died to save their language, they also inspired those coming after them to desire freedom from West Pakistani rule. This went on until things came to a head in 1971, and Bangladesh won her freedom. On 17 November 1999 the United Nations Organisation (U.N.O.), in response to an appeal, declared 21st February as an international mother-language day. There is a memorial to these martyrs in Dhaka, on the site of their death, and this has been copied all over the country. Many schools & universities have their own memorials, and that includes O.M. High School. The St. Agness girls went over to join the St. Michaels boys at 7.30 a.m. Teachers, boys and girls laid wreathes or individual posies in front of the memorial. Though it was a school holiday, some day pupils also came to take part. Then followed a cultural function in the Golding Hall, with songs, dances, poems and speeches of a patriotic nature.
This took place in the hostel garden on Sunday 24 February at 1.30 p.m. with 140 people present. Tables and benches were provided for the guests and the older girls, while the younger girls sat on a big ground sheet. During the meal, some of the girls gave an entertainment: songs, dances, a sketch, etc. It was a very exciting day for the girls, staff and guests. On the day before, the girls had gathered firewood and prepared the food for the cooking on the morning of the picnic.
The sports began with a march-past in 5 groups. They were followed by a band. After a short speech by the chief guest, the groups followed the Olympic torch and made their promise. The march-past groups then left the field, and a welcome song and dance was performed. Then followed a mixed programme of races & competitions, such as flat races, potato races, lozenge races, skipping, frog jumping, marble race, cock fight, musical chairs, passing the ball, dressing races (for the guides)and fancy dress competition (the mothers also participated by passing the ball). Taking the two days together, there were 53 events.
The latrine work started on 05 March. There were 5 members from the Rotary club including Mr. Rafiqul Alam. One of the Rotarians prayed and then the Revd S. Baidya began with a prayer, after which there was ceremonial earth cutting. The workmen then began their work. All the guests and workmen were given sweets. The work is still continuing.
Bishop Baroi came to confirm 27 boys & girls. The confirmation took place in the Epiphany Church in the course of the Eucharist. The Bishop gave the boys and girls a splendid sermon, showing the importance of prayer and humility. After the confirmation, we all welcomed the newly confirmed, and each one was given a candle and a bunch of flowers. The St. Agness girls had a festive lunch, to which the Bishop and the guardians of the newly confirmed girls were invited. The Bishop met the heads of departments and the management committee for tea at 6 p.m. and finally had supper with the boys in St. Michaels.
The headmaster and the school authorities arranged a farewell function for those who were going to take the school final exams and then leave school for higher education. The function took place in the Golding Hall on the 17 March. The function consisted of inspiring talks to the school-leavers, how to tackle the situation in the exams, and how to uphold the honour of their school by their honesty, as they have been taught. In the evening, the hostel boys had a festive supper, during which the candidates who live in the hostel were given flowers and blessed by Father Francis. During supper, there were songs and some speeches addressed to the boys. The total number of pupils in O.M. High School taking school finals this year is 79. Among them are 30 Christians (9 boys & 21 girls).
This was spent as last year, except that, on Good Friday, we had the Seven Words from the Cross expounded within two hours, 10 a.m. to 12 noon. This was so that the concentration of the younger children would not be taxed. Then there was another service from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., like a prayer meeting. On the Saturday evening, Father Francis carried the Paschal Candle and walked very slowly to the altar, then put the candle in its place. A short service followed.
This began with an inspiring Holy Communion service. Then at mid-day, St. Marys & St. Agnes had festive meals. At 5 p.m. St. Agnes had its farewell function for the school-leaving girls. There were songs, dances and short speeches, and presents were given to the school-leavers. The St. Michaels boys had a festive supper, to which the St. Clares girls were invited.
My thanks to all who have read this report, and to our committee in U.K. who sanctioned the purchase of a computer as a gift to the administrative office. Thank you also to our Bishops and to all of those who pray for us.
Please continue to pray.
TUSHAR KANTI BYAPARI
Manager, OM Barisal