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Making Connections in South Asia

Stories from the Field, 4 Oct 2022

Men on rickshaw - Marc Ewell, Wycliffe Global Alliance

Bangladesh: a nation with a population of 170 million, 90% Muslim, and only 0.66% Christian. Culturally and linguistically, the population is highly varied, with over 300 ethnic groups. Many groups already have a Bible translation project in progress, but only 17 languages have the full Bible.

Catholic missions reached this area 400 years ago, and Protestant missions 200 years ago. Many mission organisations currently have work in the country, with ministries ranging from Bible translation, scripture use, church planting, media, community development, etc.

History of Connections, Bangladesh
Connections logo

Richard Halder is the first and current Executive Director of Connections. Before 2013, under the name Vision Momentum (VM), it was part of a bigger team: two other organisations focused on language development and Bible translation, while VM, staffed mainly by locals, focused on engaging with churches in Bangladesh to increase their understanding of missions and the need for Bible translation, and also to encourage the use of the completed translations.

In 2013, VM was renamed Connections, and it became an independent national organisation. The initial years were difficult – they operated out of a single room in a local church, and financial support was low. Richard recalls receiving small sums of money and also support in kind – one lady faithfully gave him a bag of food and spices every month! Later, Connections joined the Wycliffe Global Alliance and began accepting funds from foreign supporters.

Scripture engagement
Bangladesh church - Marc Ewell, Wycliffe Global Alliance

Connections sees its mission as primarily unchanged – to encourage the churches and Christians to use the translated Bibles. This has included encouraging them to pray for Bibleless people and translation work, holding seminars and training, organising mission trips for churches, leadership development in ethnic groups, etc. It has run the Kairos course multiple times, with over 700 graduates to date, raising awareness of the importance of contextualisation among churches and Christians. True to its name, it also connects Christian organisations working in Bangladesh, and helps them locate and access the many resources available.

In Richard’s view, Connections' work in church engagement has been successful as many churches are now aware of the need for Bible translation. Some local churches are now sending out missionaries to other people groups within the country, so the greater need now is scripture engagement, i.e. helping people use the Bible in their daily lives. Going forward, Connections would like to undertake a scripture engagement survey to better understand the needs of individual groups, but carrying this out would require more resources than it has currently available. Other plans include translating language-specific apps and digital scripture engagement materials such as children’s stories and social media apps.

Richard emphasised the need for sensitivity to cultural concerns. Sometimes, just giving a people group a translated Bible is not the best way to have them engage with God’s word. He gave an example of the W people group: they identify as a part of a larger group across the border in India which speaks the K language. Since there is already a Bible in the K language, suggestions that the Bible should be translated into the W language have been strongly resisted as they want to be seen as part of the K group. They also feel that God should not speak in the (lower status) W language. However, when they saw a Jesus film in a language of a near group which they could understand about 80% of, they gradually came around to the idea that perhaps stories could be translated into the W language. So a few Bible stories for children on video have been dubbed in the W language, with the hope that the group will eventually welcome a Bible translation in the W language. All this takes time and patience, and it is important to build strong relationships first and not force the issue.

Pray for the work of Connections, Bangladesh that they will continue to raise awareness of the need to have God’s word translated into heart languages, and presented to the people in various ways – in audio, video, as well as in print. Pray that the scriptures will be heard, watched and read daily by the people and lead to transformed lives.

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