The last few days here in Bangladesh have been spent at a rural conference centre with about 40 pastors and officials from our partners, the Bangladesh Baptist Sangha (pronounced Shongo, and means Union). The consultation was also shared with our German partner missionLiebenzell Mission International with whom we have worked closely here since the 1970s. The meetings were excellent, characterised by an honest assessment of past failures and disappointments and a genuine openness to new things. In no small measure this was acheived through the skilful leadership of the current Sangha President, Joyanto Adhikari, a wise and gracious man, someone whose gentleness and humility is evident to all.
These consultations are never easy, not least because for all that we share much in common, not least our chrstian faith, we come from such contrasting worlds. Different hopes and expectations arise from both sides, and its all too easy to assume you are completely correct while others are just not yet seeing the light! What makes the difference so often is the slow building of relationships over a few days spent together. The meal times can be as important as the meetings, because its there that you get to know the person, you begin to see that you have more in common than you thought, and slowly a meeting of hearts and minds become more possible.
In this respect, the final night was magical. A meal was arranged outside in the cool November air and a renowned local Bangladeshi folk-singer was invited to provide the entertainment. He was good, but then it was suggested that the Pastors would sing, then a small group of the younger Bengalis sang beautifully. In fact they were good enough for us to think they might have practiced and that, as we all know, is just not cricket! Then the dreaded words - next the Liebenzell delegation will sing, and then BMS! Oh, if ever a mini-earthquake was needed.
Well, no more than a minute later we had agreed on a song, if only we knew the words! And with a blinding flash of inspiration, for which on this one occasion I am content to take all the credit, we googled the words of Danny Boy and downloaded them onto a Blackberry. Gathered round the tiny screen just in the nick of time, we serenaded the group to what I (alone) was sure was a standing ovation. Margaret Gibbs, Les & Fiona Allan and I momentarily considered an X Factor entry next year, but almost immediately, we were all dancing round the bonfire singing Bangladeshi Christmas carols. Everyone was elated, clapping and stomping, and for all our many differences we were deeply united in laughter and friendship.
The final day's draft report came together easily, interspersed with raucous recollections of the previous nights dancing.
The hard work is now to turn the many aspirations into concrete expressions of Christian mission, but I am sure we have a better chance of doing that having connected at a much deeper level than might otherwise have been the case.