LETTER from BANGLADESH
Warmest greetings from St. Thomas' Cathedral Church, Dhaka to you, my brothers and sisters!
It is almost a year since my last letter but it is always a great encouragement to us knowing that you are remembering us and praying for us. I know that your first concern will be to know about the floods. They have been truly devastating for so many millions of the poorest people. Their suffering was desperate to see, and somehow in the slums of Dhaka with so many people crowded together, it seemed even worse.
We are grateful to Christian Aid and A.C.T. who have enabled us to distribute food supplies and medicine to some of those who are stakeholders in our Development Projects, and some church members, who have been worst affected. People have lost their homes and their few personal possessions, livestock have died, roads and ponds for fish culture have been washed away, crops are ruined. As I write this letter, the flood water has subsided considerably and people are trying to get back to some form of normality.
We still do not know the full extent of the damage, but our concern now is to help them with the difficult rehabilitation process. There is still tremendous need for aid as people are suffering from diarrhoea, skin infections, pneumonia and other respiratory infections, and dengue fever. They have also become very weak, due to inadequate diet and living in even more difficult conditions than normal.
Thankfully the Oxford Mission, Barisal was not flooded, and we at St. Thomas' also did not have to suffer the devastating effects of being flooded. The areas of the Church of Bangladesh most affected were Barisal, Gopalgonj and Haluaghat. Where possible, people were travelling by small boat taxis: otherwise they had to wade through chest-deep foul water. Friends, Partners and Churches, including the Oxford Mission, have been very generous in giving donations to help us in this vitally important work, and we always pray and hope that we are helping those who need it most.
Please pray for those who are continuing to suffer so much, that they will have the strength and courage to rebuild their lives, and for us as we seek to help them.
The political situation is not good, with law and order and human rights continuing to deteriorate. You will have heard that on 21st August, at an Opposition Party rally, many grenades were thrown into the crowds of people, resulting in 19 deaths so far and about 200 people injured. There were also gunshots fired at the Leader of the Opposition. This happened about one mile from St. Thomas' and many of the injured people were carried to the National Hospital next to us. Their injuries are mainly grenade fragments imbedded in the skin. We are all shocked and horrified. We do not know what will happen but there are many angry people.
Please pray for our leaders that they may act for the good of the country.
Despite all this, as well as the usual difficulties that people face here, we know that our God is with us, loving us, caring for us and suffering with us - and life goes on. There are two events in the life of the church that we are looking forward to:
During this year I have spent much time travelling and visiting our parishes and Development Projects, and I have greatly enjoyed and been encouraged by this. I have been encouraging the women and young people at Deanery level to have their own meetings so that they can share together with their peers. I was visiting the Haluaghat area, and I was due to join with the Deanery young people's meeting. It had not stopped raining since I had arrived in Haluaghat, and the meeting was to be held in Katolmari. We could only go so far by motorbike, and then we had to walk for 2 kilometres through ankle-deep mud in the pouring rain. When we eventually arrived, there was much joy and enthusiasm and they were so pleased that I had come to share with them. I think it is good for Bishops to occasionally share something of what the ordinary village people experience!
As many of you know, the name of the Epiphany Brotherhood is now changed to St. Paul's Brotherhood and we therefore decided to have a Thanksgiving Celebration. On 29th June many clergy and lay people arrived in Barisal, and on 30th June we celebrated over the Eucharist, and a Catholic Father led us in devotions. He specially stressed the needs of the Brotherhood and our life as a servant of the Lord. Following the Eucharist there was an enjoyable cultural programme, at which more than 50 people joined from the Oxford Mission Fellowship of the Epiphany. There was then a feast for the many friends of the Oxford Mission, Barisal. It was a wonderful occasion!
Please continue to pray for us.
MICHAEL BAROI Bishop of Dhaka and Moderator of the Church of Bangladesh