Assemblies of God churches in Bangladesh have a profound commitment to peacemaking. Five Bangladeshi church districts welcomed Eastern Mennonite Missions global consultant David W. Shenk recently to visit, teach and encourage their congregations to become even more deeply rooted in Jesus’ way of peace.
Church members were encouraged to continue breaking down barriers between people by building bridges of dialogue and friendship.
Shenk’s Aug. 29-Sept. 10 seminars were organized by Bangladeshi Assemblies of God pastor Proshanta Roy. Roy was involved in creating a similar schedule of seminars for Shenk five years ago after hearing him speak on Christian-Muslim relations at an Assemblies of God mission conference in Kenya.
“The peace of the gospel is needed so badly in our country,” he said. “Pray for Bangladesh and our churches.”
Roy’s son Timothy Roy, an intern with EMM’s Christian/Muslim Relations Team, acted as Shenk’s translator along with his father. Timothy Roy is a student at Lithuania Christian College and arranged to arrive there two weeks late to accompany Shenk.
Shenk’s peacemaking seminars focused on Christian-Muslim relations, his main area of specialty. The government welcomed his talks as a contribution to the Bangladeshi spirit of religious tolerance.
Some members of Shenk’s audiences were new believers from various backgrounds. Many more were pastors and church leaders. Some traveled long distances despite transportation problems caused by flooding rivers and Eid al-Adha festival traffic. Five seminars were held at Assemblies of God churches in Faridpur, Gopalgonj, Khulna and Rangpur.
Most seminars lasted for two days. On the first day, Shenk covered answers to questions Muslims ask about Christianity.
“Many misunderstandings happen because of inadequate answers to the questions,” he said.
Shenk said the most common questions Muslims ask Christians include: What is the meaning of the Trinity? What are your beliefs about the identity and character of Jesus? How could Christ, as the Messiah, be crucified? Has the Bible been corrupted?
On the seminars’ second day, Shenk facilitated group discussions of four pillars of Christian peacemaking: witness, dialogue, suffering and hospitality.
Thirty to 45 people attended each seminar. Shenk heard from multiple seminar attendees who felt his visits had encouraged them as peacemakers.
“It makes me so thankful to have a small part in making that happen,” he said.
Peacemaking seminars were a timely encouragement after the July 2 terror attack that killed 20 internationals, including one U.S. citizen, in the capital city, Dhaka. ISIS claimed responsibility.
Due to safety concerns, the government provided police protection at Shenk’s seminars. He reported that some police took notes throughout the seminars, and one policeman approached him at the end to ask questions.
A memorable moment was traveling to Roy’s village of origin by rowing a leaky canoe through marshland for an hour and a half.
Another surprise was a nighttime visit from nine armed policemen. A startled Shenk was relieved to discover they were there to check on his safety.
“When you follow Jesus, you get into the strangest situations,” he said.