NOTES FROM THE FIELD
In this series, thoseinvolved with CLC foreign missions profile one aspect of our overseas endeavors.
With President Eichstadt’s recent declaration of fellowship between the CLC and the Bangladesh Lutheran Church Mission (BLCM), I would like to introduce Pastor Monotosh Banarjee to you, and describe our Savior’s work in uniting us in God-pleasing fellowship and partnership in spreading the Gospel.
Bangladesh is a relatively small country in South Asia with a very large population. It ranks as the eighth-most-populated country in the world, with a population of over 161 million. In terms of landmass, it ranks ninety-second. With much of the southern portions of the country being made up of uninhabitable lowlands, river delta areas, the world’s largest mangrove forest, and the Bay of Bengal, this makes Bangladesh one of the world’s most densely populated countries.
Islam, adhered to by nearly 90% of the population, is the officially designated state religion of Bangladesh. Hinduism and Buddhism make up approximately 9% of the population. Christianity and tribal religions make up the other 1%, with Christianity representing only .03%.
It is in this predominantly Muslim nation that the Lord has opened a door of opportunity for us to assist in proclaiming the truths of His saving Word!
In 2016 Pastor Monotosh Banarjee found the Church of the Lutheran Confession on the internet. His initial email to President Eichstadt indicated that he was looking for fellowship and additional training in God’s Word. At President Eichstadt’s request, I began correspondence with an email requesting more information about his background, affiliations with other church groups or organizations, and his reasons for seeking a relationship with the CLC. Three years of regular correspondence took us through studies of basic Christian theology and the doctrine of the CLC. We agreed that it was necessary to be united in doctrine before beginning work together in God’s kingdom.
In early 2019, Board of Missions Chairman Joel Krafft and I made a trip to Bangladesh to visit Pastor Banarjee, and to see firsthand the work that he was doing. The visit went well, and encouraging reports were sent to President Eichstadt. With the president’s approval, correspondence and online theological studies continued. In January of 2020, Pastor David Reim, having been appointed by President Eichstadt to represent the CLC for a colloquy, accompanied me for a second visit to Bangladesh. Following the colloquy and visit, both Pastor Reim and I gave favorable reports to President Eichstadt, recommending a declaration of fellowship.
Our Savior was active in Pastor Banarjee’s life long before anyone in the CLC knew of him. He was born into a Hindu family and was raised to worship idols. That is, until a seventh-grade classmate first told him about Jesus. He was intrigued but didn’t quite know what to think or how to find out more. After he was given a New Testament by his classmate, he hid it from his family and began to read it whenever he could find a private place where he would not be discovered. As he read and learned the stories of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, he was impressed. But he was also very confused, because what this Bible said about Jesus was nothing like the idolatry that he had been taught. It wasn’t until a few years later that the Holy Spirit worked faith in his heart. This saving faith led him to repent of his sins and trust in Jesus Christ alone for forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.
In Bangladesh, those who convert to another religion are required by law to file an affidavit with the district judicial court stating that they were not coerced or bribed to convert. After Banarjee filed the required affidavit, he was forced to leave his home and family. With nothing but a few coins in his pocket, he made his way to the big capital city of Dhaka, where he lived on the streets for three months with very little food or other provision. In 1999 he was taken in by a Christian family and was baptized. That same year he married a Christian girl named Elizabeth. The Lord continued to strengthen his faith over the next year, and in 2000, he and his wife began taking classes at a Bible School. In 2003 he heard from his family for the first time in many years. His brothers had sent word that his mother was very sick and he should come to visit. When he arrived he found out that his mother was fine. The message had been a ploy to try to get him to reject Christianity. When he refused, his brothers beat him, locked him in a small building, and denied him food and water. Finally, after three days, his mother intervened, but he was not allowed to stay.
The persecution that he endured from his family, along with many other hardships during these years, was difficult to bear; but God used these earthly struggles to work a strong desire in him to serve the Lord. It was love for Jesus, and for his own family who were lost in unbelief, that sharpened his desire to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
He eventually enrolled in a non-denominational Bible school. It was there that he was introduced to the teachings of Martin Luther and the Reformation. While he was exposed to the teachings of many different denominations, it was Lutheran theology that rang true and that agreed with what he was reading in Scripture. He became convinced that Luther’s theology was Biblical theology. He began to look for a Lutheran church to join but wasn’t able to find one. In 2009 he received a Bachelor of Theology degree from the Bangladesh College of Theology in Dhaka and started the Bangladesh Lutheran Church Mission.
The BLCM has grown to fourteen congregations and six schools in eight districts. Most of the fourteen-hundred BLCM believers are converted from Hinduism. Pastor Banarjee spends most of his time traveling throughout Bangladesh to visit and provide the Gospel in Word and sacrament to the congregations of the BLCM. Recently he began gathering the elders and school teachers in the various districts to provide Bible training. Having translated many of the CLC online theological studies that he has completed, he is using these lessons to train more faithful preachers and teachers of God’s saving Word.
With prayers of thanksgiving to our Lord for the proclamation of the Gospel in Bangladesh, and for the privilege of sharing in this work, we ask for the Lord’s blessings on our fellowship with Pastor Banarjee and our brothers and sisters in Christ of the BLCM.
Todd Ohlmann is a full-time visiting missionary for the Church of the Lutheran Confession.