It started with the life of Albert Schweitzer, world famous medical missionary to the French Congo, now Gabon, in western Africa. Shreveporter, Leslie Morgan, a 1976 sophomore in college, became inspired reading about this brilliant man who inspired people the world over until his death in 1965. But his influence on others did not die with him.
Les looked into the mission field and found an opening on the other side of the planet, in Bangladesh, the small country between India and Myanmar (Burma.) The following year, his home church, First Presbyterian Shreveport, funded his flight to Bangladesh, to volunteer for three months in a mission clinic outside the teeming city of Dhaka, the country’s capital. Les became hooked.
“When I first applied for volunteer mission service during college,” said Les, “the Presbyterian Church sent me to Bangladesh. I fell in love with the country and felt God calling me to serve there on a long-term basis so I oriented all of my education and training towards that goal.”
After undergrad in Maine– medical school. LSU Medical School, here in his hometown, accepted him and he started in 1978.
A young Cindy Cook traveled around with military parents until the family landed in Natchitoches. She blew through NSU and graduated in three years. “While there, heavily into science, she became drawn to social work, the ministry of the Word and sacrament, and medicine.” She also chose LSU Medical School where she met Les and the two became engaged in 1980. The test of their love and engagement came when the two flew back to the mission clinic in Bangladesh that summer. The two then knew. They had both received the call from God to the field of medical mission work.
“When I met Les,” Cindy remembered, “he was already on a path to serve in Bangladesh. He fell in love with the country, and I fell in love with him! It was in Bangladesh that I found the people God wished for me to serve in his name.”
Next came intense training in international public health at Johns Hopkins and a degree for Les at Harvard Divinity School, again both partially supported by First Presbyterian Church. Finally, they were ready. In 1989, now with three young children, Les and Cindy Morgan were commissioned by the Presbyterian Church (USA) as mission co-workers to take off from Shreveport to serve full time in Bangladesh, where well-trained physicians were sorely needed.
In a country of over 160 million people in a land the size of Arkansas, four fifths of the population are Muslim and one fifth Hindu. Christians make up less than a half of one percent of the population. This was not and is not a problem for the couple as they had answered a call. They are doing God’s work in the name of Christ– without fear. Les and Cindy are life partners, but it is important to understand also that these two Presbyterian missionaries are serving under a close partnership between the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Church of Bangladesh.
Today, more than 26 years later, Les and Cindy will soon sign up for what will possibly be their last tour of duty. At the start, they lived and raised their children in the western city of Rajshahi, across from India on the Ganges River, where they served in the 100-bed Christian Mission Hospital treating indigenous people from the outlying rural villages, but also people from the city. Ten years ago they moved their home to an apartment in Dhaka, to serve the medical needs there. Many times they are paddled across a wide and busy river not unlike the Mississippi at New Orleans in very small water taxis to serve the needs, both medical and social, in the labyrinthine alleys of the slums of Dhaka, a city of over 15 million people.
Once a month, the couple takes the six-hour train ride to the west, back to Rajshahi, to work with the hospital there and travel into the countryside to small villages surrounded by rice fields to make far flung house-calls in homes of mud and to support the small but growing Christian congregations there.
In Dhaka and the Rajshahi area, Les and Cindy and the Bengali people with whom they cross paths, co-workers and patients, have a mutual respect for each other. This is due to their open and loving personalities, their professional healing skills, and the fact that they are fluent in the Bengali language. Their Christian ministry of healing is ongoing and effective.
Sadly, in 2015, representatives of ISIS arrived in Bangladesh with acts of violence in this majority Muslim country known well for its moderation. Foreign aid workers and even foreign medical missionaries have been targeted.
Pray for Les and Cindy Morgan, their safety, their patients, their medical mission work, and for the wonderful people of Bangladesh. They are Shreveporters making a valuable difference in a country far, far away– in both geography and culture.
Note: These photographs were made possible when First Presbyterian Church sent four pilgrims from the Shreveport congregation this past October to stay with the Morgans for almost two weeks to witness their work and bring back images and stories to share.