by Viggo B. Olsen, M. D.
On the night of March 25, 1971, negotiations in shambles, President Yahya Khan of Pakistan gave the order to his troops to smash East Pakistan, beginning with the capitol city, Dacca. That first night Sheikh Mujib, head of the Awami League, was captured, the Dacca radio station commandeered, and many, many people killed.
On the night of March 25, 1971, negotiations in shambles, President Yahya Khan of Pakistan gave the order to his troops to smash East Pakistan, beginning with the capitol city, Dacca. That first night Sheikh Mujib, head of the Awami League, was captured, the Dacca radio station commandeered, and many, many people killed. West Pakistan tanks rumbled to East Pakistan’s No. 1 institution of higher learning, Dacca University. There they trained their big guns on the student dormitories and homes of professors. Hundreds of students were killed, as were professors and their families.
West Pakistan troops fanned out from Dacca throughout the countryside. Carnage, rape, killing, and looting were the order of the day. The incredible overkill involved women, children, and the elderly as well as the young men of the province. Bangladesh now claims that three million Bengalis lost their lives at the hands of West Pakistan troops. One of the most disturbing aspects of the whole affair was the planned liquidation of the intellectuals and the student class. There seemed to be a deliberate attempt to bring this "dissident" province once and for all to its knees.
Our mission hospital (Association of Baptists for World Evangelism) is located in the southern finger of East Pakistan which extends toward neighboring Burma. This area was the last to be taken by West Pakistan troops. Pakistani jets bombed and strafed villages and bazaars a few miles to the north of us. We arranged trenches in the surrounding forest and painted huge red crosses and huge red "USA’s" on our roofs. Our one small can of red paint, however, was scarcely sufficient for this task. From the battles to the north of us we received a number of Bengali wounded. We cared for them and sent them on before the West Pakistan troops arrived. The Bangladesh forces, in charge of our area, demanded our hunting arms and ammunition. We refused on the grounds that we could have no part in the shooting and the killing. Our refusal was accepted, fortunately, for our lives later were to depend considerably on the guns and ammunition.
When the Chittagong radio station, operated by Bangladesh forces, was bombed and rocketed out of operation, Radio Free Bengal was off the air. Three nights later, at 3:30 in the morning, Bangladesh soldiers swarmed over our property. Their mission? To establish the new Radio Free Bengal at our Memorial Christian Hospital. Their words produced visions of those same Pakistani jets diving, bombing and rocketing our Christian center of healing and witness. Only by the touch of the Holy Spirit was it possible to convince them that the hospital was at least as important as the radio, for their lives depended upon it. They ultimately decided to locate the radio elsewhere to save the hospital.
The U.S. government sent officials to us with word from the American ambassador and consul general that we should evacuate East Pakistan. God’s Spirit directed otherwise, and the team, except several who had special reasons to depart, remained in position. We thought we would be bothered no further about evacuation. Several nights later, some time after 11 p.m., following a late operation, one of our nurses, who seldom listens to the radio, flicked it on to the Voice of America broadcast. In a moment the program was interrupted with a special announcement beamed from Washington to American citizens at Malumghat, East Pakistan. That was our group! Miss Davey listened with interest to the broadcast, which said, "Special announcement! Special announcement! You are urgently advised to depart immediately – we repeat, immediately! You can no longer go to the north. We advise you to travel by road to the Burma border and then to points south."
The meaning was clear. The battle was raging across the road to the north, the usual route out of the country. At midnight we held another of our many meetings. But this meeting was different. For the first time it seemed that the divine direction was changing. God’s restraining hand was lifted. The direction seemed to come clearly that the team should evacuate. This divine direction, although a bit disappointing and not understandable, was acted upon. And there was a great peace of mind in every heart.
Thirty-four of our team – four men, nine women, and twenty-one children – drove to the Burma border. They passed through the jungles of northern Burma, heavily guarded by the Burmese army, using a giant sampan, army trucks, feet, an ancient vessel, and an up-to-date PT boat. They proceeded from Akyab, Burma, by chartered plane to Rangoon, Burma, and then to Bangkok, Thailand.
Pakistan visas, which we had tried for months and years to obtain, were suddenly granted freely in Bangkok. And the type of visa given was beyond our fondest expectations. If the team had departed when advised to, before the road to the north was closed, they would have reached West Pakistan or elsewhere and still be without visas. We thanked God for his wonderful ways with our team. These visas got the group back into East Pakistan and will facilitate our high school children’s education and other necessary activities in the future in West Pakistan.
Three of our team, Mr. Reid Minich, Dr. Dorm Ketcham, and myself, remained behind in East Pakistan when our families evacuated. Mr. Minich remained in the city of Chittagong while Dr. Ketcham and I remained at our hospital, 65 miles south of Chittagong.
Reid Minich moved about the city of Chittagong giving help, assistance and encouragement to local Christians and others. His ministry was meaningful and much appreciated: Dorm Ketcham and I had our share of activity during that period. While evacuating our Bengali staff, I smashed my right elbow in a freak accident. There are few injuries so serious for a surgeon. During that night one surgeon operated on another and the Great Physician stood by, guiding and helping to produce, under terrible circumstances, an excellent operation with a grand result. The next nights we were surrounded by armed outlaws desirous of putting us out of the way and looting the hospital from one end to the other. God’s very special intervention made the difference, preserving our lives and the hospital.
We expected a bloody battle around the hospital when the Pakistan army arrived, for the Bangladesh forces were dug in strongly around us. May 5, 1971, was the fateful day. The Pakistan army arrived in great strength – 75 vehicles filled with heavily armed troops. Their potent show of strength helped save our hospital. The Bangladesh forces melted away before them, and the battle was never joined in our end of East Pakistan. The 75 vehicles stopped in front of our Memorial Christian Hospital and the commanding officer, a colonel, with other officers roared in to contact us. They were not happy with us. Their questions went something like this:
"Do you have many Bangladesh wounded in your hospital now?"
"Did you have, prior to this time?"
"What were their names?"
"Who were their companions?"
"Where did they come from?"
"Why did you care for them?"
We gave straight answers to their questions. Then it was our turn for a minor offensive. We explained our position: "You men are soldiers and have a military code. We’re doctors and we, also, have a code. We take care of those who are sick or injured regardless of their race, religion, or politics. We are not criticizing your code, and you will have to understand ours." We asked for guarantees of safety for our hospital staff members and their families. Our request was granted, including even the hated Hindus on our staff. We asked for guarantees for our Christian community. Granted. Then, fearful for our Hindu neighbors, we "stuck our necks out" on their behalf – we appealed for their safety. The colonel stiffened. He did not like this appeal. But we were able to give four reasons why our appeal was valid and, wonder of wonders, in that whole area the Pakistan army did not kill a single Hindu. It was an island of safety in the blood-soaked terrain of East Pakistan. That was God’s doing!
Ultimately, our evacuated team members were able to return – the last to go, and the first to get back. Very soon, the work was resumed at full capacity and, as the situation was quiet, our family returned to America on regular furlough.
Meanwhile, India began to train young men from the refugee camps in the techniques of guerrilla warfare to become "freedom fighters." In the month of August, 1971, this "liberation army," the mukti fouj, started returning to its native land to harass the occupation army of West Pakistan troops. (Mukti, incidentally, is the same Bengali word we use for salvation or liberation an the spiritual sense.) From August to December their activities and harassment of the Pakistan military steadily increased.
Finally, in December, 1971, the war escalated dramatically when powerful contingents of Indian troops crossed into East Pakistan. In a whirlwind, fourteen-day campaign they brought the Pakistan occupation army to its knees. On December 16, 1971, the surrender was signed in Dacca. The signatories, with rapid strokes of the pen, erased the bleeding and battered land of East Pakistan into oblivion; from its ashes rose the infant nation of Bangladesh.
For the Bengali people the results of the conflict were dreadful and upsetting. Bangladesh leaders claim that some three million Bengalis were killed, that 200,000 women were raped by West Pakistani soldiers. These women are no longer acceptable to their husbands, according to their religious code, and thousands of them are on their own. What will happen to these women? What will happen to their unwanted children? The Hindus were most terribly affected. Many thousands of Muslims, too, were killed by the Muslim troops of West Pakistan. The Christians fared better than others because the troops had no particular vendetta against them. A recent letter from Bangladesh reports, however, that "several scores were killed and hundreds rendered homeless." As the refugees return from India to their villages, most of them find only the burned out foundations of their ancestral homes. The poverty, human suffering and need are incredible.
These are the missionary statistics: two Catholic priests and one nun killed by West Pakistan troops; all 160 Protestant missionaries alive and well; eight Protestant missionary homes smashed and looted.
The missionary community faced the danger and mental anguish of those days with rare courage and equanimity. Their help did "come from the Lord which made heaven and earth."
Now they fund themselves with an unparalleled opportunity to serve, to love, to help, to minister, and to share their faith. Reports are not yet in from all areas of the country, but I can say that in our ABWE area many have "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God." Many from the Hindu community we served and helped have come to faith in Christ. Something happened during those days that opened their minds, cleared away the obstacles to faith, and brought them to new life in Christ. Many of them already have been baptized.
And what are the results in the government of this land? The government is not communist. Sheikh Mujib is not a communist. Indeed, his massive election victory was at the expense of communist and other parties. Sheikh Mujib has chosen a reasonable cabinet of moderate men – there are no radicals or communists among them. And, wonder of wonders, this part of the world will no longer be an Islamic republic. There is to be separation of church and state. The government is to be a secular government, not a religious government. A notice has just been promulgated in Bangladesh that Sunday will be the chief holiday rather than the Muslim religious day, Friday, which has been the school holiday. Now, over the Bangladesh radio come readings not only from the Koran, but also from the Bible and Hindu scriptures.
But the big question, of course, is what about visas? I visited the Bangladesh mission in Washington, and to my surprise and delight, one of the senior counsellors turned out to be an old patient of mine from Chittagong and, in God’s providence, the ambassador, an old friend from Chittagong. We were thrilled to see each other. We talked for hours, completely missing the noon meal. The day the surrender was signed in Dacca, I called him at his home in Washington to congratulate him on the developments. Later we talked again on the telephone. I raised the question of visas. He stated that he had been authorized by the Bangladesh government to issue visas. I indicated I was eager to obtain my visa as soon as conveniently possible. Over the long distance connection I heard his pen scratching on paper, and then these words, "Dr. Olsen, I am making a written entry that we are reserving Bangladesh visa No. 1 for you." Praise God! This means that missionaries will be obtaining visas to Bangladesh, apparently with ease.
This is a tremendous development in the history of God’s work in South Asia. Visas for Pakistan are very difficult to obtain. Visas for India are very difficult to obtain. But now, this area of ancient India, Bangladesh, seems to be opening widely for God’s servants to enter.
I can state the needs for Bangladesh in three words: prayer, paisa, people. You say, "Prayer and people I understand, but what is paisa?" Paisa is the Bengali word literally translated "penny"; in its larger sense it means money or funds. There is a great and urgent need for funds for our various mission teams to carry on and expand their ministries. There is a huge and overpowering need for funds for helping the returning refugees, many with zero assets, Christian and non-Christian alike. We have established a Bangladesh Famine and Medical Relief Fund and, secondly, a Bangladesh Evangelistic Fund. The latter fund will be used to purchase bibles, print correspondence courses and Christian literature, send Bengali evangelists into the countryside, etc.
Without prayer all will be fruitless. If anyone ought to be moved by the terrible holocaust that battered the Bengali race, it should be the children of God. May there be a great outpouring of sincere and impassioned prayer on behalf of the people in Bangladesh. Prayer is in order for all Bengalis especially those of the household of faith. The missionary teams need your prayers, for they have seen too much and are physically and emotionally exhausted. There is so much to do, and so few to do it.
So many people are needed! Preachers and teachers, doctors and nurses, pharmacists and technicians, linguists and translators, business people and administrators, Bible school teachers and directors, and many others. Perhaps the day has come when it will be possible to establish Christian radio which has never before been allowable. This is the time par excellence to minister to the Bengali people! The ravages of war have opened the hearts of many. A new secular government with separation of church and state is being established. It appears that the doors are open for Christian men and women to enter, to serve, and to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ.
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