I RSVP’d to a social event this summer with my regrets: “I’m sorry I will not be able to attend. I will be in Bangladesh.”
There was a pause, then this response on my phone: "Oh wow, Valerie. We’ll miss you, but better you than me.”
I admit, Bangladesh has not been a top travel destination on my bucket list, but when Marylou Long, a girlfriend from college, asked me to speak at the graduation of The William Carey Academy in Chittagong, I never paused, I answered, “Yes! Of course, I’ll come.”
Travel. Almost nothing expands my understanding of life like spending time in a different place, with different people, eating different food, hearing a different language, worshipping with the body of Christ in expressions of devotion that, while foreign, somehow seem so much like coming home.
But travel has another draw for me beyond cross-cultural experiences. I have learned that somewhere along the journey, I’ll experience God. And when that happens my travels will become more than a trip . . . it will become a pilgrimage.
That’s why I am always ready to hop a plane to somewhere. I keep a travel suitcase packed with toiletries, electric adaptors, international travel documents. I have Global Entry access to avoid the long lines at American customs, I am a silver elite United airlines member and TSA pre-approved at baggage check so my shoes and laptop stay on feet and in briefcase. My passport is colorful and full of international customs stamps. Phew!
So I said, “Yes!” and started a self-learning crash course on Bangladesh, about which, I admit, I knew very little. How do you spell Chittagong? With one t or two? Hmm . . .
“Bangladesh” the book said, “could be said to float. It is a flat and fertile delta region serviced by rivers and bays. It is surrounded by India on three sides and Myanmar on one corner.”
“Bangladesh,” I read, "is the most densely populated nation in the world . . . 999 people per square kilometer compared with the USA’s 31 people per square kilometer.”
“Bangladesh is a religious country: 89.7% Muslim, 9.2% Hindu, .6% Buddhist, and .5% Christian.”
And then there were the confusing adjectives. Bangladeshi refers to citizenship and nationality. Bengali refers to the main ethnic group. The language is Bangla.
In reprospect, the book, while informative, would never prepare me for Bangladesh and the things I would learn there.
I invite you to come with me in the next few weeks as I blogaboutmy pilgrimage. I met God in Bangladesh.