From prison ministry in Australia to a missionary with 30,000 Muslim young men becoming Jesus Followers in Bangladesh

Doug Clements

At 21 a lonely and desperate Doug Clements cried out at night to God in the streets of Merewether, a suburb of Newcastle. Calling out “I want to be like this man Jesus” who he had  found in the Bible, knowing no Christians. The story of being led into ministry, first in church and later in jails is the first part of his story told to the Other cheek.

This is the story of how Doug ended up funding an entire evangelistic ministry in the majority Muslim country of Bangladesh on his own, starting with no job but living as a faith ministry.

“I have been released from jail” he says with a laugh. He had spent seven years working in prison ministry/ “It was certainly  a formative experience working with the poorest and most broken lives, people with all sorts of issues in their life, and particularly in the maximum security prison that I was involved with every week.

It was hard living in two worlds.

“I reached a time where I felt, I felt I was living the mind of prisoners, and people in the church, churches didn’t wanna know a bean about it. The prison mind and then the church traditional mind. I couldn’t, I couldn’t continue.”

He found church possibly the more difficult of the two. “I’ve got a deep experience of the Holy Spirit speaking to me, not rushing in, not at a slow, quiet firm voice of a Holy Spirit showing into things that are in the Word of God, but also in my life as well.

“And I had a great deep desire in my heart to do something because I found the churches knew nothing of the experience that I’d received, which ultimately is described by ‘you must be born again from above from heaven,’ which is what happened to me. I found so few people had that experience [who had been] brought up in religion. And I’ve always felt different and also always felt called, by God for a special purpose.’

He was invited to join the Newcastle City Mission, as a chaplain and later as its superintendent. He started several new initiatives there. “One was courthouse ministry to most courthouses in the Lower Hunter, giving cups of tea, coffee and talking. We had a van to do that. BHP donated a brand new van when they were closing as well. And I got a lot of cooperation from every magistrate I approached and the police. Not only that, but Newcastle City Council gave us a bag to put over the parking meters, so we could park anywhere.”

A gambling ministry, the first Christian unemployment scheme. But Clements found it hard to find staff. “Probably you shouldn’t say this too loudly, but I would send out a letter to all the churches in under the lower, uh, inviting people to apply for a position. Then only two weeks or so after that would, I advertise publicly in the newspaper or whatever to find staff. But there were so few people who actually wanted to do work as Christians in a Christian organisation. We had a lot of applications from secular people, but not so many from Christians, which surprising cuz they were good salaries. 

But as time wore on Clements found the Newcastle City Mission too traditional. Then we start to talk about something Clements is a bit shy about, because it invites criticism. As Clements moved on in church ministries he began a side hustle, property. He began very small, he had little money, beginning with a bargain in East Maitland, and then another.

He sees a kingdom of God principle “The sewing is small and the reaping is much larger, a hundred times larger if you take the parable of the sower.”

“Did you see it as having a purpose, a kingdom purpose of some sort?” The Other Cheek asks. “Or was it just, was it just a bit mysterious why God wanted you to do this?”

“Initially it was mysterious,” Clement responds. “It came my way, shall we say. It was provision that came by the guidance of God into my life and to step out and trust him for something we couldn’t fund. Yes.”

“What was the something you couldn’t fund?” The Other Cheek had to ask.

“Well, see, from the beginning of my life in Jesus, I’ve had this burning desire in me to reach into the wider world. I’d never travelled overseas till 2003. But I read lots of missionary books, particularly about Indonesia, Muslim Indonesia, and China. I always felt that God was leading me in some way, but the doors never opened. And so when doors aren’t opened, but God has been speaking to you, my experience is you persevere in the faith that you have until a wide door opens for ministry, as Paul speaks about in his letters.”

This desire was accompanied by a persistent dream, something that Clements knows others will see as weird, of flying like Peter Pan (although he does not use that metaphor) around the Earth ”over towns and villages and valleys, sort of high in the sky.”

 Discussions about missions in Venezuela and Indonesia did not lead to a door being open.

But then another call. “In the year 2000, I was sitting on a wharf in Newcastle, the Tug Wharf in Newcastle Harbour. “God’s spirit said, ‘Go and get a job so that you can develop the property better and also do mission work and go to Wesley Mission [in Sydney] and seek a role there. Well, I did. I contacted them, and immediately I was invited for an interview for a position that already closed as Minister of Wesley Church, working with Gordon Moyes.”

He got the job. A Wesley church picnic in Hyde Park soon after led to a life-altering encounter. A young man started talking to Clements. Doug mistook him for an Indian. He turned out to be Bangladeshi.

“His name was Mohamed Siddique Ahmed, you know, what does that sound like?” Says Clement aware that Ahmed had a Muslim background.

Befriending him, Clements discovers “he had been placed in the detention centre at Villawood. because he’d overstayed his visa and didn’t want to go back to his town hometown, his home country, uh, and so he was placed in detention, like what many people have been. And while he was in detention, a, a prison officer or detention officer there gave him a Bible to read. He read that, and he started following Jesus, which I thought was pretty remarkable. Thank you Lord.”

Clements nurtured and funded Ahmed, and with the help of Wesley Mission put him through a course at Wesley Institute (now Excelsia college). Ahmed finished with getting a Masters in Theology.

Meeting Ahmed turned out to be a door opening wide.

“I said, ‘I think it’s time for you to go back to Bangladesh.’ I knew nothing about Bangladesh. I desperately started reading about it.

They were very dedicated Muslims and well up in the Muslim movement and also politics in Bangladesh And I think I said to him, ‘by faith you should go back to and meet your family, your Muslim family, and discover if there are any churches or Christians there in Bangladesh.’ 

“He said, ‘You didn’t know them.’ I said, Well, if you go back, I will come with you.’

“And that was a step of faith. I’d never been overseas before. he agreed although he had left under very difficult circumstances, owing them a lot of money.

“So we landed in Dhaka and he met up with his family who welcomed him back, he was welcomed but faced criticism. After a month he actually disappeared to find his wife whom he deserted and  left me with the Muslim family.”

A friend had told Clements if ever he was in Bangladesh “to look up Professor Stephen Sharker, an evangelist for the Baptist Church of Bangladesh who had established many, many churches in Bangladesh. He was, was very committed to Muslim work because the churches had traditionally only worked with Hindus. Now, you know, the population is 90% Muslim, so you should be spending 90% of your time with Muslims. Right?

“He was involved in an effort with Campus Life Bangladesh, and was training people to become evangelists, particularly, using Muslims to become trained over a nine-month period and then sending them out to work with churches. So Steven was also praying like I was praying, ‘Lord, show me your will.’ And we met up and we were on the same page. 

“That was amazing, isn’t it? I formed a nice friendship with Steven. He and I were partners for six years, but he died, after six or seven years of diabetes, which is very common in that country. “

As Clements began supporting ministry in Bangladesh “An amazing thing happened Those nighttime flying dreams, over valleys and fields, I had for years have all stopped since I first arrived. They never returned for the 18 years of my involvement in Bangladesh up to today. But other dreams replaced them. They are dreams that come through faith. Does the Lord speak through dreams and visions? He certainly does. When the focus is winning Muslims to Jesus!”

Campus Life moved on from that ministry and what Clements called phase two began, working with a young Bangladeshi minister. “That lasted six years until he, he left for the United States, like many people do, to get the green card and to have citizenship, which many pastors do, sadly desert the country.”

“So we started phase three, which is where our success really grew. So we adopted a methodology, a strategy then that we, we learned together with a young, a young leader. And that has grown very rapidly. We currently have about 30,000 male disciples, and then there’d be an equal number of women and then an equal number of at least, two children each and then the grandparents and a total following in village home groups, which is what we based ourselves around.”

“All our, all our evangels are Muslim convert converts. I won’t go too much into this, but we have 350 evangelists, all Muslim converts. We have another 30 who are working in the Rohingya refugee camp.

“I am the only foreigner involved. I am the funder. That is why I told you about the property development. Cause the Lord had raised that up in order for me to fund [this work in Bangladesh] This is how I now look at everything.

“Seek first the kingdom of God. He will meet all your needs. And that is what he has done and given us the opportunity to fund [this work without] any need for a public appeal or asking anyone to assist.”

Clements says, it’s a miracle of god’s provision.

I ask him what the young Doug Clements crying out to God in a Merewether street would think.

“It’s impossible to do that. Well, with God all things are possible. All things are possible. I’ve never quite put it that way. Thanks for asking that question. But all things are possible and he will prosper your faith. He will multiply your faith to make it much larger than it is.

“The smallest faith moves mountains. Bangladesh is a mountain, – it’s flat land, subject to flooding, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a mountain of challenge and difficulty. And that young man would say, I don’t know if that is possible, but I like it.”