As I write this update, I’m coming near the end of a three-week stay in Teliapara, a tea garden/plantation village about three hours from Dhaka and an hour and a half from our Holy Cross parish in Srimangal. Normally a village such as Teliapara only receives a visit from a priest once or twice a month, but occasionally a brother, sister, or priest will stay for a longer visit. The people of Teliapara haven’t hosted a religious for more than ten years! Needless to say, they have been very enthusiastic about their welcome.
Most mornings, I teach English and math to the village’s fourth and fifth graders. The afternoons are usually filled with playing games with the children, and in the evening, I visit families. I’ve also led Communion services, taught marriage prep, and taught church songs - all in Bangla, a definite learning experience for me.
Every day I eat meals at a different family’s home, which has been a great way to get to know a wide range of people. Unfortunately, three weeks is not enough time to attend to all of the invitations I’ve received. It leaves me wanting to stay longer and to have more time to spend with more families.
The villagers here lead very challenging lives. They work all day in the tea gardens or cultivating their own food, and after eight hours of labor, whether in the rain or the scorching heat, they earn 120 taka a day (less than $1.50). The cost of living in Bangladesh is much lower than in America, yet it is not so low that $1.50 is sufficient to feed and educate one’s children. Being here for a few weeks has offered me a chance to hear and see so much more than I could have ever expected. The people have been very open to sharing their stories with me, and I’m grateful they feel comfortable enough to do so. I wish I could do more than just listen, but I remind myself that listening is the first step in learning what people really need.
I feel like God is present in this village in a way I’ve never experienced before. I have so much more to share, but for now, I’ll close with this: one woman, after revealing how painful her life has been and still is, told me that God has truly blessed the tea gardens because, without God’s blessing, it would not be possible to raise a family on as little money as they do. The people here suffer much, but their faith in God is very strong. I have learned more from them than they have from me. I may be a missionary, but they have evangelized me.
Br. Jimmy, C.S.C.