The First West Bengal Youth Camp
From May 25-29 the first West Bengal Bible camp for young people was held at Mandarmoni, 4-5 hours drive southwest of Kolkata. This is a resort town right by the beach on the Bay of Bengal, and the beach was a popular place with the young ones. A bus was hired to take people from Kolkata to the camp, picking up extras along the way. It was very full by the time we arrived. 45 people attended the camp, including parents from various ecclesias acting as hosts, young people from Bangladesh, Australia and West Bengal and the speaker from Australia.
The purpose of the camp was to encourage the young people to meet together in a relaxed environment around the word of God, to study it, and to make friendships with others of their age who share the same beliefs and values. This is particularly important here, where the predominant religion is Hinduism, and believers are always surrounded by many unbelievers. They need all the support they can get!
The main theme for the week was Hebrews 11: people of faith. This was a very positive topic, and the speaker gave many examples of Bible characters who had faith, to inspire us to grow our faith. The rest of the mornings were full of Bible reading and explanation, and discussion groups about first principle subjects. During the afternoons – normally very hot at that time of year – there was plenty of free time, with many enjoying splashing in the sea, playing cricket or just chatting and “taking rest”, which Indians like to do during hot afternoons!
Our evenings were varied, with many interesting and informative activities. One evening we watched a DVD on the life of William Carey, who translated the Bible into Bengali (and other Indian languages too) – the young people were encouraged to think of the hardships he and his family suffered to bring them the Bible in their mother tongue – and to value their Bibles more than ever. The Bible games’ night was good fun, including Bible charades and sorting jumbled Bible verses. The music and praise night presented inspiring slideshows of God’s wonderful creation, and included singing “Abide with me” in Bengali and English.
The days passed quickly and soon, regretfully, we all headed for home, with lots of happy memories, and many new or deeper friendships formed.
A blessing in disguise.
When we think of blessings, we often think of all the lovely things we can have – a beautiful garden, a loving husband, a wage rise, a healthy baby… Have you ever considered the blessings in disguise? I mean those things sent from God which are not pleasant, but which have good come from them. Take for instance a broken foot! Does that sound like a blessing? When Ruth twisted her foot in a rough Indian drain, it didn’t feel good, and the diagnosis of a broken bone and 2 months to heal wasn’t appealing either. How could we do all the things we had planned? Yet so much good came from it. There was more time to learn Bengali, which often ends up on the ‘back burner’ and more time to type up exhortations in Bengali too.
And what about the love and concern shown? When hobbling from sister Pritilata’s house to the road to catch an auto, this dear old sister held Ruth’s hand all the way! Now I don’t know if it occurred to her to wonder what she’d do if Ruth slipped – the gentle hand couldn’t have supported her, but the love and care shown was a real blessing – for both of them. And then there were the many Sundays when Ruth was chased out of the kitchen and told to sit down. One young brother said, “I haven’t cut up onions before, Auntie, but I’ll try” – and he did it! It isn’t always easy to accept help from others, but it is a good way to develop our own humility, and also encourages others to care and to help.
After several weeks spent waiting for the foot to recover, Ruth decided it was well enough to allow her to travel to Joynagar on the train. However, the station is more than a kilometre away from the flat, so we left early and prayed for a taxi to take us to the station. After walking around the corner, we were so thankful to see a taxi approaching which not only took us to the station, but used the meter which has been very unusual in the last few years in Kolkata. Instead of having to hurry, we were able to sit on seats on the platform for half an hour until the train came. What a reminder that we have a God who cares for us when we need it. Two weeks later when we visited Joynagar again and Ruth’s foot was still not recovered, we were blessed again in the same way. Although the broken bone was mending, the trouble continued for about 10 weeks and without such care from God, even more time would have been spent waiting for more complete healing.
Unexpectedly more time was spent in Kolkata, and it was here that there was a great deal of work to be done with three keen young men who wanted to learn so much more about the Bible. It seems God knew we were needed in Kolkata more than elsewhere on this visit.
One of the hardest things being here is not having all of our family with us. However, we have been very happy to have both of our older daughters (Cathy and Rebecca) able to visit us here in the last few months. They have both now returned to Australia and we are left with only Heidi, Philip and Laura, but our ‘memory bank’ has been filled with their precious fellowship! Our brothers and sisters, and many contacts have also benefitted by their being here.
We have just been uplifted by the baptism of a young lad, who turned from Hinduism to the one true God. More news of Sanjit next time! Two other young men are also very encouraging with their keen attention to the Bible, their many questions and their eagerness to learn. May we follow their eagerness!
And so two more months have passed, and there is still so much to be done before we leave for home in mid September.
May our Lord bless each of you as we wait for his kingdom to come!
From Mark, Ruth, Heidi, Philip and Laura