For over 40 years Maryknoll Father Bob McCahill, a native of Goshen, Ind., has pursued a distinctive form of mission in Bangladesh. In a series of small towns where he has lived, he has offered a witness of utter simplicity, serving the sick, showing respect for the piety of his Muslim neighbors, and explaining to those who inquire the reasons for his way of life and good works. To those who question his motives in serving strangers without any expectation of reward, he answers simply that he is following the way of Jesus. Over time, his deeds and evident faith speak for themselves. Suspicion turns to friendship and respect. At that point, Brother Bob, as he likes to be called, is ready to move on to a new town.
Each year at Christmastime Father McCahill writes a letter home, sharing stories of his day-to-day encounters among “Allah’s poor.” (Many of these letters have been published in the National Catholic Reporter.)
Collected here, these letters, along with photographs, offer a vivid and moving chronicle—a picture of the “dialogue of life” that is a vital expression of mission today.
Here are excerpts from a recent letter:
“The peace of Allah be upon you, my brother!” was shouted at me by a passenger in a noisy motorized rickshaw as it passed me. Whenever I bicycle outside Hobiganj town, men acknowledge me. It was not so 30 months ago, when I first arrived in this district. Then there was suspicion, for I claimed to be a Christian missionary. Such persons are presumed to work solely for Muslims’ conversion from Islam to Christianity. As months passed and more parents with their children accompanied me to hospitals for treatment, trust grew. Now that I intend to spend only another half year among them, there is affection for the missionary. Indeed, the peace of Allah is upon me! …
At a meeting of priests I was asked: “What is the reaction of Muslims to your work and your presence among them?” I mentioned only one fact. A significant number of high school and college youth wish to speak with me. Some state frankly: “I want to do what you are doing.” I urge them to retain their insight into the happiness our service yields. They have no problem perceiving that the good works and the lifestyle they see are because Jesus is my model in life. …
Acquaintances from Dhaka came to visit me. I had assured Jasna, mother of the family from whom I rent a room, that it would not be necessary for her to offer them a snack. Nevertheless, she spread a tablecloth and laid on it biscuits, cakes, bananas, a spicy mix and mango juice. After the guests had gone, I tried to convince Jasna to accept some money to defray her expenses. Cheerfully but resolutely she pushed away my money-bearing hand, saying: “I did it because hospitality is my religion.”
I can believe.
As Father Raymond Finch, superior general of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, notes in his foreword: “With each letter and each story, Father Bob reveals different elements of his mission theology and components of his faith journey. They are interwoven to reveal a life of service, witness and joy, a life lived for others. …
I invite you to enjoy the stories and anecdotes and at the same time to grasp how a missionary disciple’s life, lived for others, is its own reward.”
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