Bangladesh. Dhaka. Down town, early Sunday evening. A derelict factory in the middle of a five lane roundabout. It is the building where I am going to preach. I start making my way through the chaotic traffic.
I survive and am taken to the first floor where one of the rooms has been restored. The congregation of 15 arrived quietly. They sat on carpets as the pastor introduced me. I was a guest from England. They showed no sign of recognition and seemed wary.
We engaged in long prayers and hymns with familiar tunes but I gave up the attempt to sing in my language – the rhythm of our languages clashed.
Then it was my turn to preach with an interpreter. I receive silent, intense attention. An hour later I was finished. The congregation went quickly; it was, after all 10.30pm and they had been at work all day and had only a short sleep ahead of them.
Three men and the pastor stayed. He then announced to my consternation that they would now ask me questions about my sermon and what it meant to be a Christian in Britain. I discovered that the men were the church’s deacons and that this was for their personal development as leaders.
I remember just one part of our conversation and it has haunted me. We were talking about why people go to the church and one of my questioners declared very simply and without hesitation:
“I come to church to learn to live by faith”.
It was so obvious but I cannot recall such a thing being said by anyone in the churches I have known.
It reminded later of the encounter between Jesus and a Roman centurion recorded in the gospels where Jesus points out he had not met faith like that of the foreigner ever before and not even among the people of Israel (God), see for example Luke 7:1-10.
He came to church not:
To meet his friends
To do a job
or go where his family had come for years
Not even to worship God – which, when I think about it can be an all too pious and rather vacuous statement.
He, part of a tiny minority religion knew what he needed from the one weekly gathering of his Christian community. He desired to live by faith in Christ and his faith needed nurture and understanding. He knew he would live with his faith for the rest of the week as if in a foreign land and so he came to church with a faith seeking understanding.
He sought that understanding from being in the company of people on a similar path. He did not wish to go it alone. He belonged to a faith community and treated the word ‘disciple’ seriously.
It was midnight before I left the building. The traffic was quieter. My companions left in different directions. We have not met again.
I occasionally think of that man and wonder whether he still seeks faith in community.