Deep in the hills of southeastern Bangladesh is a place called Sinai Para – Mt. Sinai Village.
Sinai Para is only about 100 airline miles from Chittagong, the second largest city in the country. Chittagong, … with a population of 4 million, … and Sinai Para … with less than 200 people, … are separated by distances not measured in miles but by a wide and a deep expanse of culture. The hills, jungles, rivers and the primitive lifestyle of the people make Sinai Para and other villages in the area truly distant places.
The people living in the sparsely populated area known as the Chittagong Hill Tracts are collectively referred to as The Tribals. There are over 30 individual tribes that can be distinguished by their customs, … language, … economic status, … clothing, … homes, … and their religious beliefs.
Bandarban (Bon-dur-bon) is at the end of the road for traveling to Sinai Para. The path to the boat dock, … strewn with trash, a goat awakening from its slumber, and a man chopping wood, … sets the stage for the hour and a half boat ride up the Sangu (Shan-goo) River to the village.
On the river, boats can be hired like a taxicab and, … like taxi drivers, … the boatmen often have colorful personalities!
The skyline of Bandarban melts away and a comfortable place is found on the roof of the boat. Here the cool breeze provides some relief from the hot and steamy cabin.
Most of those living along the river’s edge near Bandarban are Marma (mar-maa). Marmas number over 200,000 and are one of the larger tribes in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The Marmas are strongly committed Buddhists. They practice Buddism as well as worshipping their ancestors and various spirits.
Occasionally, fisherman from the Murong (moo-rong) Tribe can be seen casting their nets or trying to spear a fish in the shallow water. The Murong are animist who worship objects such as trees, stones, or rivers and are dominated by the fear of evil spirits.
As the boat chugs up the river, several small settlements come into view. Many people from the Chakma (chak-maa) Tribe live in these small homes. Chakmas (chaak-maas) are a tribe of about 500,000 people and the largest and most influential of the Tribals. This tribe has developed skill in farming the steep slopes along the river’s edge. Using hand implements and hard work, they raise rice and a variety of fruits and vegetables. They worship Gozen (Go-zen) as the one supreme god and believe that he created man by breathing the breath of life in him. A variety of blood sacrifices are included in their worship activities to appease the evil spirits.
It is hard to tell which tribe built the shrines seen along the river’s edge. Some are easily seen while others are small and often go unnoticed, but they are believed to help ward off evil spirits.
Much of tribal life and culture can be observed along the river’s edge. They gather water here, bathe here, socialize and play here. The river is a source of food and transportation as well as livelihood for many.
This flat sandbar supports an almost universal passion among the Tribals … playing soccer. They travel for long distances to fields such as this since flat ground is difficult to find in the hills near their homes.
Many of those along this area of the river are part of the 200,000 members of the Tripera (TEE-pur-ah) Tribe living in Bangladesh. It is here that the boat is anchored on a sand bar and the ascent to Sinai Para begins. It will take about 20 minutes to reach the village.
The Tripera (TEE-pur-ah) are an oppressed minority in Bangladesh and few convert to the country’s dominant religion of Islam. Many mix animism with their Hindu beliefs. They place their trust in charms, spells, and fetishes in an attempt to appease various evil spirits. They will even give blood sacrifices to ward off evil spirits that may be in a rice field, in a village or even in a sick person. Fear dominates their belief systems.
Here, … life is simple for those living in the 20 to 30 bamboo and thatched roof homes. Wood is carried for cooking. Rice grown along the slopes is dried and then stored for use later in the year. Clothing is woven from yarn and children play with the few toys they have. For the most part, the men work the fields during the day.
Yes, life is simple, but not easy. Trying to survive in the hills of Bangladesh is a daily challenge – often a hand-to-mouth existence in a harsh climate. The dominant Bengali people pushed the humble, non-confrontational tribal people off the fertile plains land. Yet, they have taken all of these difficulties in stride as part of their fate over which they have no control.
But, … Sinai Para is different than most Tripera (TEE-pur-ah) villages. … Over half of the 50 families are Christians. The church, … located in the center of the village, …was established many years ago.
Despite the difficult lives these people lead, they have joy in their hearts as they serve and worship their new Lord, … Jesus Christ. You see … He has freed them from the spiritual darkness to which their tribesmen have been bound for centuries. … The songs and preaching are in their tribal language. This makes it difficult for the occasional non-Tripera (TEE-pur-ah) visitor to the church.
As more and more of the Tripera (TEE-pur-ah) have an opportunity to hear the Good News, they are responding with open hearts. Many small groups of believers are forming. Several leaders among the Tripera (TEE-pur-ah) have received Christ and are, in turn, sharing the Good News. Tripera (TEE-pur-ah) Christians have started many believer groups. Since starting work among the Tripera (TEE-pur-ah) in 1983, more than 70 new churches have been formed. A church planting movement is in the making.
(Call to action by Lalzaum Bawm (Lal-jom Bomb) Put his name and title as an overlay. Some of the worship group scenes will be used during his comments.)
Mt. Sinai – only one of hundreds of remote villages in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. In the Old Testament, Mt. Sinai was a place where the Israelites met God. The people of Sinai Para have also met God. Pray that all the surrounding villages in the hills of Bangladesh will also come to know and worship the one, … true God.
(They say Sheenoy Para, but I would go with Sinai Para as you have to keep the Sinai consistent.)
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