Greetings to you all from Dhaka!
I am very pleased to be asked to take over writing the Letter from Bangladesh, and it is a joy and privilege to be able to share with you something of our life in the Church of Bangladesh. It has been a busy and challenging eight months since I became Bishop of Dhaka and took over the full responsibilities of Moderator, and I give thanks to God for His grace given to me to be able to adjust!
Despite adversity and the effects that the global situation has on Bangladesh and the Christian people in Bangladesh, the Church is going on quite well and there is much for which to give God thanks and praise. The year 2003 started with the consecration of the Revd. Paul Shishir Sarker as Bishop of Kushtia, followed by my own induction as Bishop of Dhaka. In Kushtia Diocese it was important to me to be in close contact with the people in the Parishes, and so during these first few months in Dhaka I have managed to visit most of the parishes in the Dhaka Diocese, and it is very good to be reacquainted with people whom I knew well before my twelve years as Bishop of Kushtia. During those twelve years I felt that I belonged to Kushtia.
On 2 May it was a joy to be able to ordain four new Deacons to ministry. Three of these young men had been trained for three years as internal students at our own St Andrew's Theological College and gained their Senate of Serampore BTh. This period of study was followed by a fourth year of practical training working in parishes The fourth young man to be ordained was Martin Hira Mondal, and on 17 August there was another joyous occasion when he took his First Vows in the Brotherhood of St Paul, and Sister Sipra and Sister Sikha took their Vows for three years in the Christa Sevika Sangha. The very lovely service was held in Barisal because Mother Susila was there recovering from an operation and was not well enough at that time to travel. She is now quite well.
This last year has been a time of change and adjustment for the Church, al1d SO it was with great anticipation that we approached our Clergy Retreat on 26 to 29 August. It was held at our peaceful Ashroy Kendra Retreat Centre, Savar, and all but one of our Clergy were able to attend and share with us. Our theme was 'The power and ministry of Pastors is defined by their relationship with Jesus Christ', but we were also able to address challenges that Pastors now face. We were blessed by ministry not only from our own people, including Bishop Mondal who was with us, but also from three speakers from the Catholic Church, and one from the Baptist Church.
The second day we spent in quiet reflection with a Taizé Brother leading the meditations, and it was a wonderful time of sharing and praying together for the grace of God to enrich each one of us in our love and relationship with our God and Saviour. There was a very good spirit amongst us during the three days, and I think we were all challenged, inspired and encouraged for our ministry amongst God 's people.
The vast majority of people in our country continue to live from hand to mouth and suffer much adversity, but we thank God that there has so far this year been no major natural calamity, although the heavy rains have brought hardship to the poorest people living in the low-lying areas. Although the areas that we live and work in have not been badly affected, in our newspapers daily we see pictures of families whose homes have been flooded or washed away, and who are struggling through deep water to find safe water to drink, and food.
Whilst we have our own concerns, we are also deeply saddened by the ongoing problems and hardship facing the ordinary people of Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of war. Terrorism and unrest now seem to be escalating in other countries, and we here in Bangladesh arc not exempt from that. The economic crisis is getting worse with many industries and factories shutting down, resulting in more people without work and the means to support themselves and their families. In this economic situation newspapers report that many Terrorist Training cells are being discovered here, and daily we hear news of between 15 and 20 murders for various reasons. You may have heard that there have been four ferry disasters this year so far with the loss of many lives, and the problem continues.
And yet - we know our God is with us: it is His world, He sent His Son to be with us, and gives us His Holy Spirit to be our comforter, inspirer and guide.
Praise be to His Name!
BISHOP MICHAEL BAROI
1 September, 2003