From IM’s Fall/Winter 2022 On Location newsletter. You can receive stories of God’s work around the world direct to your inbox when you subscribe with your name and email address through the form below.
By Global Consultant Jeanine White
When Walt and I first arrived in Bangladesh forty-five years ago, we thought our mission was reaching out to lead men to faith in Jesus. We thought the men would then lead their wives to faith. Years went by and we realized that this was not happening. Later we learned that one of the few reasons a woman can divorce a man is if he becomes a Christian.
Instead we invited the group of men who had come to faith in Jesus to bring their wives to our house. That day I taught the women from the Gospel of John. I had the joyful experience of sharing with them that the first people Jesus met after his resurrection from the dead were women. At the end of the day I prayed with them that if any of them had come to faith in Jesus, she would pray to receive him. Afterward, one of them said, “I have never traveled this far from home.” She had come seventeen miles from her house on the train. “I did not know why my husband wanted me to come here. It is as if I had been blind but now I see.” She was one who could read. We were later told that when the women went home, she would read the Bible to the others while they did chores together. Since then, house churches have been established in the areas where these women live.
Because of changing political climates, our residential visa was refused. Several years later, Walt worked with a few other men to establish a development organization that was focused on teaching illiterate people to read, save their money collectively, and develop income-generating businesses from funds they saved. The majority of the people who completed the literacy training were women!
Women in Bangladesh have been marginalized because they are women. Historically, girls have not been given priority to get an education. If a girl had a brother and there were limited resources in her family, her brother would be given the opportunity to go to school. If a girl were going to school, she might have to stop when she got to fifth or sixth grade as it might be considered “unsafe” for her to walk to school. In some areas, for financial reasons, the girl might be given in marriage when she was thirteen or fourteen years old. She would then go to live in the home of her in-laws and have too many chores to do to have time for school.
Now, through this development work, over 20,000 women have learned to read, write Bengali, and do basic math. They have started businesses so that their families could send their children to school. Here is one woman’s story:
As a teenager, I was given in marriage to a young man who worked finding whatever job was available. Some days he rode a bicycle rickshaw. Other days he worked bent over planting rice seedlings. One day he was killed in an accident unloading logs from an ox cart. Suddenly I was left with no income and two small children. Living in a small part of a relative’s house, I wondered how I and my children could survive. Development workers came to my village and offered to provide teaching for a group of twenty women there. Shyly, I joined the group. As the weeks went by, I was excited to be learning to read and do math. I was amazed that although I (like the others in the group) contributed a small amount of money, the account grew. After a few months, I borrowed from the account to raise chickens. As the chickens grew, they began to lay eggs. My children had better nutrition by eating the eggs, and I was able to sell some. During the second year of my training I was reading the booklets made available and learning to plant a kitchen garden, learning my legal rights, and learning how to better care for my children. I paid back the money from the first loan and took a bigger loan to buy a goat. As I made more money, I was able to live in my own small house and send my children to school. As my children grew in school, I grew in knowledge, skills, and experience. I now have confidence and take an active part in my community, standing up for the rights of women and looking out for the welfare of those who have suffered loss.
There are Bengali women living in village areas who lead these projects. They are my heroes. They work six days a week overseeing the groups that meet in their areas. In spite of the pandemic, I have been able to lead some of these women in Bible studies by Zoom. Over the past year, we have been taking a close look at who Jesus was, what he did, and what he taught. My goal is that these women will recognize that they can lead Bible studies by carefully looking at the Holy Bible and considering what it says.
Jeanine White and her husband, Walt, serve as International Ministries global consultants, training teams working with historically underserved religious groups that include pastors, missionaries, development workers, and partners.