Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, in December observed its second anniversary as an independent nation.CHRISTIANITY TODAYreported the religious situation as its existed amid the hunger, confusion, and bloodshed that accompanied the nation’s birth (see February 4, 1972, issue, page 32). The following is an update based on reports by correspondents Phil Parshall and Mrs. Pip Land and on interviews with mission sources.

Bangladesh’s second birthday found the country’s minute minority of 75,000 Protestant Christians struggling to develop a solid identity and to increase numerically. The missionary force had grown substantially since the civil war days of 1971, new churches had been organized, and pockets of remarkable receptivity to the Christian message were evident.

The Churches of God mission in Bogra baptized more than 150 Bengalis last year. More than 3,500 conversions among the animistic tribespeople in the Rajshahi and Dinajpur districts have been reported over the past twenty months. Requests for Christian teaching have come from a community of 6,000 Hindus in a remote part of the land. For the first time there are believers in the 40,000-member Mogh tribe south of Chittagong, thanks to the ministry of the “Bangladesh Brigade,” a group of twenty-four Wheaton College students and adult workers. Revival has come to churches in Chandpur and Comilla.

British Baptist missionary Gwyn Lewis, who in his fourteen years in the area had never before had any direct converts, reported 110 baptisms in a four-month period last year at Dinajpur. Several new churches have been organized as a result, and others are planned. He and pastors of Bangalee churches founded years ago have been swamped with requests from Hindu farmers for instruction in the Christian faith.

“It looks like the Lord is giving us a second chance,” says Lewis. He was referring to the vain attempt to get the nation’s churches together for a unified evangelistic thrust in the late sixties.

Yet a number of churches remain relatively closed to the winds of spiritual change. Missionaries and Bangalee pastors cite jealousy, organizational differences, and lack of initiative and evangelistic zeal.

One of the persons most anxious for the churches to experience an awakening is Garo tribesman Subhash Sangma, secretary of the National Christian Council, one of Bangladesh’s leading evangelists, and a convener of the upcoming Lausanne congress on world evangelization: (Australian Baptist work among the Garos has thrived; there are more than 100 Garo churches.) Sangma believes more evangelistic missionaries are needed in his land, and he wants their work—and that of missionaries already on the field—to be fully integrated with the work and programs of the churches. His sentiment is typical of the feelings of church leaders in lands where churches are developing a national identity. But it is at this point that some missionaries experience frustrations and tension. “Must we wait for the church to take the opportunities, or do we get on with the job ourselves?” asked one.

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With some 75 million inhabitants, Bangladesh is the world’s eighth most populous nation and one of its most densely peopled: nearly 1,500 per square mile. It is also one of the world’s poorest lands. Annual per capita income may be less than $50, and only massive injections of aid keep the country going. In its first year it received more than $1.3 billion in outside help (the United States gave $347 million, India $248 million, and the Soviet Union $132 million). Only a third of the population is literate.

Much of the land is delta territory for five rivers. In 1970 a cyclone driven by 150 mph winds slammed ashore, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths and untold destruction. Many more perished and millions were uprooted in the nine months of civil war in 1971. Looting and arson were widespread. The monsoon rains failed in 1972, a staggering blow to the farmers, who account for 60 per cent of the nation’s economy. Sheikh Mujiber Rahman, the popular Muslim head of state, predicts his country will be able to feed itself within the next four years or so.

About 86 per cent of the people are Muslims; the majority of the others are Hindus. Catholics have about 60 churches, 85 foreign missionaries, and 300 national workers, including four bishops. There are some 200 Protestant missionaries from nearly a dozen nations. (Other statistics were still being processed last month.) Protestant work in the land, then East Bengal, was pioneered in 1815 by British Baptist missionary William Ward, who traveled to India with “the father of modern missions,” Baptist William Carey. So far, the present government is friendly toward the missionaries, especially those engaged in medical, relief, and agricultural work, and nation-building is on the agenda of the churches.

Britain ruled the area until 1947 when East Bengal curiously became part of the Muslim state of Pakistan, the two segments divided by 1,500 miles. In 1971 the distance—and differences—became too great, and with an assist from India East Pakistan battled its way to independence and a name change (“Bangladesh” means “Bengal state”).

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Meanwhile, the work is going on. Several Bible schools are training nationals for full-time ministry. Mission and para-mission groups are becoming more involved in evangelism. The Bangladesh Bible Correspondence School, operated by the International Christian Fellowship mission, processes more than 14,000 evangelistically slanted lesson papers each month. Thousands more are being processed in a similar program by International Correspondence Institute, sponsored by the Assemblies of God.

The Bangladesh Bible Society has set as a goal the distribution of 1 million Scripture portions this year, an increase of nearly 100 per cent over 1973, and a number of other groups are extensively involved in literature projects. For example, new translations of the Bible into two common languages of the land are being spearheaded by the Philadelphia-based Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE), which has fielded the largest Protestant missionary force in Bangladesh. Looted libraries are being replaced.

ABWE is also heavily involved in medical work. Dr. Viggo Olsen tells how Shomar Das, director of music for Bangladesh radio and TV, accepted Christ as a result of contacts made when he admitted his seriously ill 11-year-old son to the ABWE hospital near Chittagong. The boy was cured, and Das gave his first Christian concert at the hospital.

Poverty and hunger abound; nearly a dozen evangelical relief agencies continue to reflect the social concern of Christians in several western countries. Churches in these lands have sent millions of dollars to help alleviate the suffering of the Bangalees.

On the one hand, spiritual breakthroughs. On the other, hardship and unspeakable need. One worker summed it up: “It’s been two years of heaven and hell.”

Humbard’s Cathedral: Supply Versus Demand

Financial woes are still plaguing TV preacher Rex Humbard and his Cathedral of Tomorrow church in Akron, Ohio.

In response to a court-ordered repayment offer to 4,000 holders of nearly $13 million sold by the Cathedral since 1959, investors have asked for more money than the Cathedral has available in its repayment fund. Published reports indicate the repayment Requests exceed $8 million; the fund has only half that much. The Cathedral had reached a settlement in November with state and federal securities agencies, agreeing to set up initially a $4 million trust fund to pay off note-holders who wanted their money back. To implement the arrangement the church agreed to pay $50,000 monthly to the fund.

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Sources say that early last month the trust fund has only about $3.5 million in it and that Humbard had dickered for sizeable loans to bring it up to 50 per cent of repayment requests. The shortage means the note-holders who met the year-end deadline for requests will be paid a pro-rata share of the amount owed now and get the balance from the monthly $50,000 the church will continue to pay to the fund. The remaining note-holders must presumably wait until later for their money unless special arrangements are worked out in the interim.

Humbard and other religious leaders who sell bonds have repeatedly made a point that seems to fall on deaf ears: virtually no bank or business that leans heavily on investment capital could meet such demands as those imposed upon the Cathedral without being forced—in effect, by court action—into bankruptcy. But such demands would not have been made in the first place, regulatory officials point out, had the Cathedral registered and marketed its bonds properly and had it adequately informed and protected its investors.

Meanwhile, blaming the energy crisis but offering no details, Humbard announced on a telecast last month that television rallies in cities across the United States and Canada had been canceled. Thus another source of offerings and names for the mailing list was cut off from Humbard at least for the present. (Sources say fuel shortages at airports dictated the grounding of the church’s four-engine Viscount prop-jet that enabled the Humbard team to meet its rally schedule.)

Humbard also told his TV audience the Cathedral had sold all its secular enterprises, including Realform Girdle Company in Brooklyn. From now on, he implied, he’ll concentrate only on the Lord’s business. That business, unlike the other operations, has been good. Humbard says he’s preached in live appearances over the past four years to 646,000 persons, of whom 80,000 made first-time decisions for Christ.

The Jesus Bowl

There was plenty of Christian visibility as the clock ran out on the football bowl season at the turn of the year. At the Orange Bowl in Miami, Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ led the stadium audience in prayer over national television, and Miami (Southern) Baptist Association workers handed out Scripture portions. Testimonies of Christian players on both the Penn State and Louisiana State teams got newspaper coverage. Penn State coach Joe Paterno said he believes the Christian faith possessed by some of his players “is a good thing” and has had a beneficial influence on the entire team. (Penn State won.)

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At the Cotton Bowl in Dallas it was noted that Nebraska University head coach Tom Osborne, five of his coaches, and fifteen players attended a pre-game worship service. All six coaches are known on the NU campus as committed Christians. Two of them helped spark the formation of fifteen Bible-study groups on campus. Throughout the season, Southern Baptist campus worker Brett Yohn and one of the coaches led pre-game Bible-study sessions for the team. (Nebraska defeated Texas in the Cotton Bowl, 19–3.)

Power To The British

The Evangelical Alliance (TEA) in Britain is sponsoring a continuous plan of evangelism named “Power.” It has four phases. The first fifty days, beginning with hundreds of united sunrise services on Easter, will be a time of preparation for individual church members. Three months of summer evangelism will follow. After this churches will examine their own structures and effectiveness, drawing up strategies for evangelism appropriate to their areas. The final phase, beginning next year, will involve local outreach to the entire community.

During the first phase the musical Come Together, written and directed by Californian Jimmy Owens, will be a major feature. London’s Royal Albert Hall was packed for a recent two-night stand of the musical.

“Power” grew out of the general reawakening of interest in mission and evangelism, according to TEA spokesmen. TEA invited a large number of representative evangelical leaders to two meetings in the summer and autumn of 1972. Out of those meetings emerged an executive committee, with the Reverend John Bird as Power’s director. There has been no major promotional campaign for Power. Ministers and church leaders are being approached on a personal basis. The hope is that in this way more than 1,000 men and women strategically placed in major towns will help to make Power known.

Already more than 1,000 people have become Power partners, 300 have enrolled as prayer supporters, and about $5,000 has been given toward the projected $50,000 total cost.

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Greece: Still No Peace

Peace is still a missing commodity in the Orthodox Church of Greece. The election last month of the new primate, Archbishop Seraphim, 61, sowed more seeds of dissent, and several bishops say it will result in division in the church for decades.

Seraphim was elected by a majority of the Assembly of Bishops—after the military government barred from voting twenty-nine bishops consecrated under the former primate, Archbishop Ieronymos, as well as five of the seven bishops who had elected Ieronymos in a special synod in 1967. (Ieronymos was forced to resign in December.) A few of the remaining thirty-two active bishops boycotted or walked out of the assembly in protest against the procedure, and of the twenty-eight votes cast, Seraphim won twenty. Ieronymos himself drafted a protest, but the telegraph office refused to accept it (he then sent it by mail).

Seraphim is a long-time friend of several leaders of the military junta that seized control in November, including President Phaidon Gizikis.

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