THE LOSS OF A BANYAN TREE
SALMON SWAPON BOSE (MAY 19, 1951 - JULY 19, 2019)
By Brother K
Are you familiar with the banyan tree? Last fall, our AIM team took some time to study and enjoy one of these majestic giants in Northeast India. Old banyans can produce a large canopy with branches supported by aerial prop roots. From a distance, one tree can appear as a small forest.
On July 19th, Pastor Swapon Bose, our long-time partner and friend, passed away in a Vancouver hospital. One of his close relatives and staff in Bangladesh wrote to me, “We lost our guardian. He was like a banyan tree.”
Swapon was a pioneer missionary in his country. He saw himself as carrying the missionary mantle which William Carey began among the Bengali over 200 years ago.
The Lord Jesus plucked Swapon, a pastor’s kid, out of a life of running after what the world had to offer and called him to the work of planting new churches where there were none. He often referenced the Apostle Paul’s ambition in Romans 15 to describe his own call, “My aim is to preach the gospel where Christ has not been named, so that I will not build on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 15:20). For nearly a half century, Swapon and his wife, Rachel, were busy serving the Lord in his harvest fields.
I have many memories of Swapon. I first met the Bose’s in Winnipeg in September 2008 when I was new to AIM and just beginning to get to know some of our partners. A few months later I was in Bangladesh with the Boses on my first overseas trip with AIM. There I witnessed an indigenous church unified in the Gospel and intent on taking the news of the Lord Jesus to the lost souls of the Nation. Among the forty-five denominations which gathered for the national pastor’s conference, Swapon was seen as the key indigenous leader.
Many pastors, evangelists, lay leaders, and believers saw Swapon as a spiritual father. Salim, who has succeeded the Boses in leadership, told me, “Swapon was there at all of the major events in my life; he was there when Jesus saved me, at my baptism, when I got married, and when my daughter was born.” Swapon was dearly loved and held in high regard by so many believers.
What stands out about Swapon’s leadership was the way that he loved and cared for the pastors and missionaries serving with their mission. I remember arriving in Dhaka for one of my visits a few years ago and a pastor had just arrived in the city, having just fled his home village. The church building had been destroyed by angry villagers, and this pastor came to see Swapon for comfort and counsel. After they spoke together for a while, this pastor departed the room. Swapon was in his favorite chair in their living room where he silently agonized in prayer and reflected on how he should handle this situation. Most of his staff faced unending challenges and difficulties in the ministry, and they all looked to Swapon for leadership, wisdom, and care. On that visit I took note of how Swapon loved these pastors. How the pastors and missionaries loved and appreciated Swapon’s care.
So much can be written about Swapon’s resolve to follow the Lord in obedience and faith, his passion for the purity of the Gospel, his innovative methods of communicating Gospel truths, and his vision for preparing the church to face future challenges. The Lord used Swapon as a herald and guardian of the Gospel among so many.
An interesting fact about the banyan tree is that it often begins as a seed which germinates in the branches of other trees. It then grows its roots down to the ground to become an established tree.
Through proclaiming the beauty and trustworthiness of Jesus, Swapon served as a tower of strength and stability for the church in Bangladesh for many years. Those whom are now left with their greatest affections set on Christ will now shoot down their own roots from the branches of the banyan to grow up and become a canopy of shade and strength for others to thrive beneath.
Note: Advancing Indigenous Missions will be releasing a book in the next few months which contains the story of Swapon’s mission to the unreached in his country. Please contact our office if you would like a copy of this volume.
August 7, 2019