At the end of September, I left the cold of Carnoustie (5C) and travelled to the heat of Bangladesh (33C) for three weeks holiday. I knew that there was only about 90 minutes between the flight arriving in Dubai from Glasgow until the due time for the flight to Dhaka, and was delighted that we were approaching Dubai about 30 minutes ahead of schedule. However, the captain then informed us that because of the volume of traffic approaching Dubai he had been told to circle for an hour! Which he did. We eventually landed at the furthermost part of the airport, took 20 minutes to be transported by bus to the terminal and walked though the terminal doors 20 minutes before the Dhaka flight was due to leave. However, there was an Emirates official as we came through the doors, shouting “Dhaka? Sydney?” – and those of us who had immediate connecting flights were ushered quickly through security – and I sat in my seat 2 minutes before the due time for departure – and sat there for another hour until others who were circling Dubai landed and got on to the plane! The joys of International Travel – but impressive service from ground staff. Even better, my luggage arrived with me on the same plane to Dhaka!
And for the next 19 days, everything went like clock work in Bangladesh (except for one train which was two hours late in departing for Chittagong). I had a wonderful holiday, saw more people than I had dared hope, and travelled to more places than I had planned, thanks to the generosity of Bishop Sunil, who took me on a whirlwind tour of part of his Diocese. With Sunil I visited 3 villages I did not think I would have had time to visit, and met some of the youngsters who had been in Primary School when I worked in the Hostels, some of whom I had not seen for over 30 years. Even after all those years they still insisted in calling me “Matthew Sir” which is the way the culture dictated such things! However, I also met three other youngsters who had been in the home I worked in for three years in the late 1970s and was touched when they felt they knew me well enough to address me as they would a member of their own family.
I was reminded of a number of things I had forgotten, but which they remembered. Some of these I have already mentioned during Sunday worship – the letter I had written in Bengali to one of the boys when his mother had died – he still had the letter. The times when I had travelled with some of the older boys to their home villages during holiday time, and stayed in their homes. They told me they had worried how I would cope with no electricity and an outside toilet under the trees (fortunately there was a bamboo screen!) and washing in the river – and how impressed they were that I did – and that they had never forgotten that I had made the effort to discover more about their homes and families.
There were times of profound sadness too. Standing at the grave of Mother Susila who had been such an important part of my life in Bangladesh and of my family when Frances and Andy were in Bangladesh. This was my first visit since she had died but I was glad to have the opportunity to pay my respects. I also visited the widows of three of my friends who had died since I was last there, two of whom were two years younger than me. Because we had all known one another for so long, any cultural barriers disappeared and we hugged each other and cried together.
I met leaders in the church who told me they remembered the fun we had in the Sunday School and Youth Work I was involved in; the 39 year old I had not seen for 30 years but who remembered I had gone to his 6th birthday party, brought some sweetmeats and read the bible and prayed in Bengali for him and his family. The Church Secretary who as a 10 year old got up to every kind of mischief imaginable in the home – but who turned out alright in the end! And the youngsters who reminded me of an incident which, even now, is still spoken about. The day I returned from Language Study and being invited to pray (in Bengali) at evening prayers. The prayer I prayed? “God bless the devil and protect us from children”. Maybe 10 weeks language study was not enough!
I met so many people in Bangladesh who have been an important part of my life for 35 years and everywhere I was met with wonderful kindness and hospitality. This last visit, because it was purely a holiday, gave me the opportunity to meet friends again, and it reminded me again that the work of the church is to do with people, and building up relationships. And that is something that is the same wherever the church is – in the parishes of Bangladesh and in the parishes of Scotland, including Carnoustie Panbride.
Relationships are built up through two way traffic – between minister and people; between elders and those in their district. The teas and coffees and Soup and Sweet Lunches have helped to build relationships amongst those who come to the hall after the service. It was an immense privilege to share in the happy and the sad times during these three weeks in Bangladesh. It is an immense privilege to do the same here amongst the congregation and parish. The Church is wherever God’s people are.