When we realized the large proportion of our church who were born in Bangladesh or who had Bengali friends in Melbourne, it prompted us to hold an initial Bengali Gathering in September of this year.
Our second Bengali Gathering at the West Melbourne Baptist Church on 30 November was another experience of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and people of no religion coming together to meet and eat, share stories and pray together. We sang along to a popular Bengali song that celebrates the way Bangladeshis have often sung together, enjoyed theatre together and raced boats together without caring about each other’s religious affiliation.
As people arrived they were invited to stick their names on a map of Bangladesh on a town or city that was special to them. Later around tables and over a cuppa people shared why that location had personal significance. Former cross-cultural workers to East Pakistan/Bangladesh were in attendance as was a recently accepted candidate bound for service in that country.
With famous poets like Rabindranath Tagore writing lines about the Bengal, it was fitting at our gathering to have an Australian learning Bengali reciting a Bengali poem and a Melbourne-based Bengali poet reading two compositions from his published book of poems.
Lew and Mary-Anne Hess were interviewed about how their relationship flowered in Bangladesh and what it was like to live there thirty years ago. They spoke of their recent visit to Dhaka in November, and the changes that they’d seen. Mary-Anne said they were in the country when Cyclone Bulbul struck causing the death of several people and the evacuation of thousands. She remarked on the resilience of Bangladeshis who are used to facing such devastation. Lew spoke of the 900,000+ Rohingyas who have been exiled from Myanmar and are living in camps in the south of Bangladesh. He said that while there are issues to do with the distribution of aid, Bangladesh has demonstrated a remarkable generosity of spirit in its welcome to these homeless people.
Now, after a recent successful second event, it seems that hosting Bangla get-togethers several times a year will be a fixture for us at the West Melbourne Baptist Church in the foreseeable future.
Pastor, The Eighth Day (also known as the West Melbourne Baptist Church).