Your right hand shall hold me fast

A PC(USA) mission letter from Bangladesh

August 20, 2013

Cindy Morgan at the bedside of Saddam, along with his mother, Rajia, at Dhaka Medical College Hospital.

Cindy Morgan at the bedside of Saddam, along with his mother, Rajia, at Dhaka Medical College Hospital. —courtesy of Cindy Morgan

If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast  (Ps. 139:9, 10) 

Last autumn, before Les and I returned to the U.S. for six months to visit supporting churches, I was in Savar, just north of the capital city, Dhaka, to meet with an evaluation team at the Church of Bangladesh Anandapur Conference and Retreat Centre — a place where I often lead retreats and women’s seminars. After our meeting the team left in a minivan, turning north toward the rural hospital and community program we were to evaluate.  A couple of hundred yards up the road, we passed Rana Plaza, an impressive eight-story building out of which hundreds of female garment workers in bright yellows, greens and reds were leaving for their one-hour lunch break. The building housed five garment factories, a bank, some shops, and an underground parking lot. It was a complex that the local people were proud of — a place close to home where they could work making quality clothing for export to Europe and the U.S.

Throughout the fall, and again the day before we left for the U.S., I visited my 18-year-old friend Saddam, who was suffering from leukemia. In early November he was admitted to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital with fever and bleeding, and I was deeply concerned that he would not survive. However, I later heard of his discharge from the hospital, and when I called him from the States, he said he was feeling better. 

After traveling over 16,000 miles within the U.S. to speak at 54 of our supporting churches in 19 states, we returned to Bangladesh early this month. Last week, on my way to speak at a church women’s gathering at the Anandapur Centre in Savar, I stopped by the site where Rana Plaza had once stood. Because the building owner added three stories more than the foundation could hold, and because the pillars were not designed to bear the weight of the heavy machinery and generators needed by garment factories, the business complex collapsed on April 24, killing more than 1,100 garment workers and maiming over 2,000 more.  

When I visited the site people from all over the country were still standing in stunned silence in front of the pit of rubble and water, now cordoned off by barbed wire.  I met a few of the women who had been in the building on the day of the catastrophe, and they told me of their fear and thirst as they had awaited rescue, and they showed me their wounds.  Others stood silently holding laminated photographs of loved ones for whom identifying remains were never found.  This site is Bangladesh’s “Ground Zero.”  Standing there with these women, I felt the communal ache.

Five days after the Rana Plaza disaster, Saddam died. His cancer had progressively weakened him during the month of April, and he passed away while resting in the heat of the afternoon.  Soon after I returned to Bangladesh, I visited his home to comfort his mother, Rajia.  

Last week she invited me to come to their home again to partake of a small feast she was preparing for her friends and relatives in honor of her son.  As I sat crossed-legged on the bed that had been Saddam’s, in their dirt-floored, tin shack with no running water, she served me rice, lentils and chicken curry. 

One cannot live in a place of such sadness, of such gross socioeconomic inequities, societal neglect and unfeeling greed, without the deep assurance of God’s knowing and caring. I am able to be at the side of Saddam, Rajia and those who have lost loved ones in Savar because of God’s promise that his right hand is holding me fast, and because you are there, faithfully holding me, and Bangladesh, in prayer. 

You made your love and faith preciously clear to us during our time in the States when many of you spread beautiful feasts before us; when small groups of you laid hands upon us in prayer; when 35 of you joined me in two retreats; when you welcomed us graciously into your times of worship and communion; when two of you told me of your own calling to the mission field; when one of you painted a picture of Les and me walking through fields of rice; when you told us how you were using our weekly Prayers for Bangladesh; when several of you shared your grief over your lost child to help me through mine; when you showed us how you are serving the poor and needy in your own neighborhoods; when one of you conducted a benefit concert for Bangladesh; and when three of you told me that you pray for us every day.  

All these things and more have strengthened us anew to continue serving in Bangladesh.

The day we left America to return to Bangladesh, June 1, marked not only the start of a new three-year term but also the beginning of our 25th year of mission service. By the grace of God and the power inherent in your intercessions, the Kingdom of Heaven continues to reveal itself here in Bangladesh day by day, not only in pain and brokenness, but also in friendships, compassion and joy.

Since 1989 Les and Cindy Morgan have been serving as PC(USA) missionaries in Bangladesh, home to the fourth largest Muslim population in the world.  In 1992 they helped the PC(USA) establish a formal partnership with the Church of Bangladesh (CoB), a denomination of over 19,000 members in 94 congregations, and since then have nurtured and helped carry out that church’s health ministries.