What's Happening in Bangladesh   (trip report)

Americans rarely think about Bangladesh, though many of our clothes come from there. It is one of the world’s 10 most populous countries. It has more people than either Russia or Japan. They live in a relatively small geography, giving Bangladesh the dubious distinction of the highest density population of any country on the planet. It is crowded, poor and underappreciated.

Bangladesh deserves to be a focus for more ministry attention and support. Christians are a tiny minority despite massive human need and pervasive spiritual darkness. That’s why I am pleased that David C Cook Global Mission is teaming up with more than 20 denominations and other church networks in the country to build high-impact programs for children and youth. We’ve been organizing this for months. Two of my colleagues and I made the trip to train trainers who, in turn, will show hundreds of volunteers how to serve thousands of children.  


Vijay Kumar - our Asia Regional Program Director - leading one of the training sessions.

When we arrived in Dhaka, local organizers told us that twice as many would be coming as originally expected because there is such enthusiasm for what we are bringing. Churches and other Christian organizations want to reach out to children in desperate situations, but were unsure how. We are equipping them with both programs and training.


Early during this trip, I met several young girls from an orphanage. One of them will linger in my thoughts and prayers for a long time. She came to the home only within the past month. She is deeply troubled, but hasn’t opened yet to tell much about what happened to her. The limited information they know is that both of her parents are dead and she is all alone. When we offered her candy, she took a piece and ate it, but never cracked even the slightest smile. She remained expressionless with sad eyes and tight lips no matter what was happening around her. Regrettably, she is not unique. Bangladesh is home to many thousands of heartbroken and abused children. The program we’re providing enables caring adults to gently and skillfully bring emotional healing and spiritual nurture to such children. Within the next few weeks our program will be running in her orphanage. It goes far beyond Sunday school. True, it includes all of the best features of an excellent Sunday school, but reaches much deeper with therapy from a Christian worldview that heals children victimized by murder of family members, rape, AIDS and other horrors.

Personal pain is widespread in Bangladesh. One half of the population struggles to find adequate food and other necessities on less than $1 a day. Starting more than 20 years ago,  I headed microfinance organizations and co-authored a leading book on the subject. Small loans, given mostly to women, enable poor families to generate self-employment income. This movement works well in many of the world’s less developed nations, but no place uses microloans more than Bangladesh where 80% of households participate in microcredit.

Making a living is extremely difficult for all but the elite few. Hard work in a giant clothing factory is regarded as a better than average job, though it may pay as little as $70 to $100 a month. Bangladesh now ranks as the world’s number two exporter of ready-to-wear clothes, second only to China.

Activists call out Bangladesh for a terrible record on human trafficking. Exact figures are not available, but good estimates point to hundreds of thousands of children in slave labor and millions of women trapped in forced prostitution.

Even Bangladesh’s geography is disadvantaged. About two-thirds of the country is a vast low-lying floodplain leaving it vulnerable to natural disasters. Situated on deltas of large rivers that flow from the Himalayan Mountains, this terrain is laced with rivers, canals and creeks that offer no protection from frequent floods and cyclones. Besides natural features that spell trouble, still more factors contribute to hardships for ordinary people. Gross overpopulation and political instability make matters worse. Political turmoil includes assassinations, 18 military coups and a dictatorship that lasted nearly a decade. Corrupt politicians allow few options for political expression. This prompts the opposition and others to call strikes. Two of these stoppages, known locally as hartals, took place while we were visiting. When transportation and shops shutdown, it can be dangerous to ignore a hartal. So my hotel required me to sign a statement that they warned me to respect a strike coming the next day. That was enough to persuade me to keep a low profile.

Ride bus top

What is impressive, despite the rugged circumstances, is how resourceful people are. When a local bus is packed beyond capacity, the solution is simply to climb atop and ride on the roof.

Besides battered busses and small three-wheeled taxies, the streets are further crowded with pedal vehicles. Most are rickshaws for carrying passengers, but that’s not the only way modified bicycles are pressed into service. This load of live chickens is going to market on a man-powered delivery truck. 

Pedal truck

Dhaka is a pulsing, gritty mega-city of nearly 14 million. Getting around can be quite an adventure. Roads are fairly good, though extremely packed. Traffic jams can make a 10 KM journey drag out to three hours. Though officially cars are supposed to drive on the left; in reality, drivers often choose to use both sides of roads to go either direction.

Muslim Men

Islam became the official state religion of Bangladesh in 1988 and today nearly 90% of the population is Muslim. This month drew millions of men to Dhaka at the end of our visit. It was reputed to be the second largest Muslim festival in the world.

From a mission perspective, Bangladesh ought to be one of the very highest priorities. More Bengali people are unreached with the Gospel than any other people group. William Carey, widely regarded as the father of modern missions, went to Bengali people when he became a missionary. Unfortunately, 200 years later we still have not seen a breakthrough with these people. 

Despite the harsh realities of their lives, most Bangladeshis are very friendly. My heart goes out to these lovable people. I urge that we look for ways to assist, support and encourage ministry among them.

Prayer circle

Prayer circle at the conclusion of the training event

 Click below for Eric Thurman's devotional introduction (in English) for the ministry training in Bangladesh

© Eric Thurman 2015