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Pray for Walt White, Global Consultant, helping the River Gypsy Community in Bangladesh.

December 5, 2012

Walt's vision is to see people from the major historical religions come to know God in all his fullness through Jesus Christ and to live in obedience to Christ in a way that is faithful to God and honors their culture. He seeks to engage in effective and sustainable evangelism that results in transformed lives and communities.

He writes: A development worker among the “River Gypsy Community (Bede)” in Bangladesh was admiring a new baby, less than a month old, of a beneficiary.  She thought to ask where the baby had been born.  The mother replied, “In Delhi, (India),” which was over a thousand miles away!  The worker was further amazed to find that the mother had travelled on foot, by bus, train and boat to move that thousand miles since the little one’s birth just 4 weeks earlier.

Leaders of the Bede community approached me years ago asking to give them opportunities for development that they had seen offered to other poor people groups with whom we work.  Rather than being hated, the leaders had also found a unique respect from our development workers.  I took this as a Macedonian call.  YOU stepped up, and this is mission project was fully funded in 2012.  I want to say thank you myself, and on their behalf and let you know that we are continuing with the project into 2013 and beyond!

Gypsy or nomadic communities present unique challenges for development workers everywhere.  We discovered quickly that it was impossible to run a normal literacy class.  A somewhat different group showed up for class each week.  The first lesson had to be repeated every week!  Finally, one committed worker volunteered to move with the itinerant community, living in a tent made of bamboo bows and black plastic sheets.  But he discovered that even then, the group was like a pool with water running in and water running out, and the pool never remained static.

The intriguing Bede community presents many other significant and unique challenges.  One of the things we teach is the legal rights of women and in particular those dealing with marriage.  But few if any of their marriages are registered, and a few clan leaders meet every year and decide who should be married to whom depending upon various factors, including how they seem to be getting along.  So not only are groups within the clans fluid, but so are marriages!

Traditionally, these people lived only on boats, and owned no land.  They would disembark to perform shows with snakes and mongooses fighting, use their “powers” to find lost articles like jewellery lost with bathing in ponds, and catching nuisance snakes.  Their women would sell costume jewellery door-to-door.  But television meant that entertainment was easily accessible, and people lost interest in snake versus mongoose fights and magic shows.  The changing society meant that now men could engage in door-to-door sales, whereas before only these “gypsy” women had that freedom of movement.  They were forced to abandon their traditional lifestyle to survive, but had few skills to live on land, like gardening or tending animals, and little knowledge of sanitation.

Our job is not to change the Bede's culture, but to give them more skills to survive and even thrive, so that they can make informed decisions regarding how to adapt. We give them knowledge they did not have access to before, so that their lives can be transformed.  Thank you for providing them these opportunities that they simply would not have except for people like you.