Marianne “Skip” VanTuinen is serving as the first ever Bible study leader for first and second generation Christians at a new church in Bangladesh. “My spirit was provoked,” she said, when about six months ago at Monroe Community Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., she heard Bangladesh native Nidhu Das tell of the need for a Bible study leader for the recently established Grace Bible Church.
VanTuinen had been a Coffee Break Bible study leader on and off for 40 years, but at 78 she felt she was too old to go to Bangladesh to lead a study. And she doesn’t speak Bangla. However, after a month of praying for Grace Church and speaking to Das again, the obstacles VanTuinen saw began to disappear.
Das, who VanTuinen said clearly loves his Bangladeshi Christian brothers and sisters and wants to satisfy their hunger for Bible study, had already established the nonprofit Medical Ambassadors of America for which he travels to Bangladesh frequently. On one trip with a group of volunteer surgeons, he set up Zoom video conferencing for a long-distance study at the multipurpose building which houses the church.
And VanTuinen’s lack of Bangla and the Discover Mark materials published in English were not insurmountable. English is a required subject for all Bangladeshi students—participants would have some understanding of the language. The seven men and five women who signed up for the study also were not opposed to a female leader. Getting the study materials to the village and providing English NIV Bibles and supplies were accomplished with a $200 gift from Monroe Community Church.
Now on Saturday mornings VanTuinen, another Monroe church helper, Sharon Wiersum, and Das as translator, join the Zoom studies from home in Grand Rapids with help from Monroe Church’s technology team. But the time difference to Bangladesh means the group meets at 7 p.m., an hour when elephants are moving about. Would study members be safe walking two or three miles to the church building? Once again, a gift from the Monroe church has helped to hire a four-wheel transport until Grace Church might be able to acquire its own vehicle.
VanTuinen said, “This is one of the most exciting groups in my experience.” She sees participants so eager to learn that they attend every week despite walking distances, experiencing unreliable electricity, and struggling with two languages. “Saturday mornings are such a joy, and at times I feel I am standing on Holy Ground,” she added.
VanTuinen has encouraged the group that any of them would be able to lead a study of the gospel of Mark after completing this study. One group member plans to attend Bible college next year. If others want to continue, she said, “I would be willing to move on to (the book of) Acts,” or walk alongside anyone willing to lead a study.