Growing a legacy of service in Bangladesh

Chad Stout, a third-generation MCC worker in Bangladesh, and his father, Kevin, reflect on their family’s longstanding ties to the country

Chad and Kevin Stout smiling for a photo in front of a building

When Kevin Stout took an agronomist assignment with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in 1987, he didn’t just help crops take root in Bangladesh. He also planted seeds for his son’s future.

Kevin Stout’s days were spent helping farmers grow soybeans in the Noakhali District, about 100 miles (170 kilometers) southeast of the capital city of Bangladesh. In their free time, he and his fellow MCC workers would meet for Bible study or hymn singing. Occasionally, they would gather at the home of Beronica Mendes, a cook at MCC’s local guesthouse, for a meal.

“Hospitality was a big thing in Bangladesh, and it still is today,” says Kevin Stout. It was during a Christmas gathering that Kevin Stout met Nita, one of Mendes’ daughters. The two married after Stout’s term ended in April 1991 and they moved to Pennsylvania and started a family.

A photo of Kevin and Nina Stout smiling
Kevin and Nita Stout, parents of current MCC worker Chad Stout, embrace in Bangladesh in 1990. Photo courtesy of Kevin Stout

In 2003, an opportunity with Compassion International brought the couple back to Bangladesh — this time with their four young sons. While there, Kevin Stout was delighted to learn that the children of some former colleagues had become second-generation MCCers, following in their parents’ footsteps. He hoped that one day, one of his children would follow suit. 

Chad Stout examining a woman's garden
Chad Stout listens to farmer Tanjoli Gatha Rema share how she grows eggplants in elevated sacks during a field visit with MCC partner Sabalamby Unnayan Samity. MCC photo/Kamal Hossain 

In 2021, his second-youngest son, Chad Stout, did so. In fact, he is a third-generation MCCer — continuing the legacy started by his maternal grandmother’s and father’s service. 

'The Lord was calling me to do more.'

Kevin Stout’s initial journey to Bangladesh began while working on a Delaware agricultural cooperative. He was using his bachelor’s degree in agronomy, but after a few years he was ready for a new opportunity.

“I felt the Lord was calling to me to do more. I wasn’t sure what that calling was.” He shared his predicament with his roommate, a Mennonite named Brad Hershey, who told him about MCC. Stout wrote to the organization, and MCC quickly responded with news of a soybean agronomist opening in Noakhali.

“That was in March 1987,” Stout says. “In August 1987, I was in Bangladesh.”

By the time he’d completed a course of study in the Bengali language, he says he had fallen in love with the country. After that, he explains, “I felt called to live among the people,” and was invited to stay with the family of a Hindu co-worker. For three years, Stout slept in a room with the family’s cows, which, per Hindu tradition, were brought inside each night.

A black and white photo of a man holding a small child
Kevin Stout holds a child from the family he lived with for the three years in Bangladesh. The family made pottery to sell. MCC photo (1989)

“I culturally adapted to Bangladesh through those interactions, both living with a Hindu family and marrying into a Christian family there,” he says.

Every day, he revved up his motorcycle and rode to farm plots growing on char land in southern Bangladesh. Char land — land created when rivers or oceans pile sediment onto a shoreline — was available for free in the area. But because the land was created from ocean sediment, it had a high salt content, which made agriculture difficult. MCC helped farmers grow crops in spite of this challenge.

Kevin Stout, right, stands with Khalique, left, and Shyam, who worked with him on the MCC Bangladesh Soybean project in 1990. The three reconnected when Stout visited his son in 2023. Only first names are available. Photo courtesy of Kevin Stout

During his term with MCC, Kevin Stout kept in touch with Brad Hershey and others back home. When Stout’s family was unable to travel to Bangladesh for his wedding, Hershey was one of two U.S. friends who flew out to celebrate with him. 

A series of homecomings

When the Stouts returned to Bangladesh as a family of six, they sent Chad and his brothers to a Christian international school in Dhaka, the country’s capital. Reflecting on the adjustment to life in Bangladesh as a child, Chad Stout says, “It was quite easy. … That was a fun experience, having people from all different cultures.”

The Stout children got to witness development work firsthand, and the family took memorable vacations to Bali, Angkor Wat and the Taj Mahal. “The boys got to see the world,” says Kevin Stout.

When Kevin Stout’s time with Compassion International ended in 2009, the family returned to the U.S. He completed a Master of Divinity degree and is now a pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in York, Pennsylvania.

In early 2020, Chad Stout was a senior at the University of Pittsburgh. He’d been considering staying at the university for a fifth year to play soccer, but the COVID-19 pandemic had left the athletic season in flux. He instead graduated that May and headed to Bangladesh, first to intern with a fair trade organization, after which he started a role with MCC.

Now, he serves as a planning, monitoring, evaluation and reporting coordinator based in the city of Bogura, about 120 miles (190 km) northwest of Dhaka. He assesses MCC-supported projects — many of which remain agriculture-focused but also include education and peacebuilding — and helps partners and communities make recommended changes.

Chad Stout delivers a presentation during a training on planning, monitoring, evaluation and reporting (PMER) in Rajshahi Division, Bangladesh. Representatives from each MCC partner organization in Bangladesh attended this capacity-building PMER training. MCC photo/Gregory Vanderbilt

He says that his familiarity with Bangladesh has helped him greatly. He explains that, for many overseas MCC workers, it can take some time to get adjusted to a new country. But for him, “That comfort already existed, has made more time to focus on the work.”

He keeps in touch with the family of his mother, who passed away in 2016. Each Easter and Christmas, he travels south to Noakhali to celebrate with them. “Connecting with country, culture and family … has been quite nice,” he says.

Decades of development

Much has changed since Kevin Stout’s time with MCC.

“MCC projects definitely had an impact,” he says, “Places that were in poverty are not anymore.” As Noakhali became more developed, MCC ended their work there and began focusing on flood-prone char land in the north, created by river deposits. With this change, the focus shifted away from soy toward other crops. Today, Chad Stout and his colleagues do not travel on motorcycles, but via bus and train — the result of infrastructure improvements.

And while Kevin Stout was only able to call home once a year during his MCC term, his son now contacts him on Zoom or WhatsApp daily.

Perhaps the most notable change is the MCC Bangladesh program’s shift to a partnership model. While Kevin Stout and his colleagues directly implemented their agriculture work, workers today provide support to local NGOs, whose staff works closely with local farmers. 

A group of men examining a hanging bag of mushrooms
Chad Stout, center, examines a mushroom at a safe food production fair, where MCC’s partners demonstrate how to grow pesticide-free food.  ARCO photo/Raton Urao

Chad Stout says that local NGOs can quickly build a rapport with communities, which makes farmers more open to adopting new practices. He hopes that, three decades from now, these NGOs will have the capacity to operate independently. “There are a couple of sectors where [MCC is] doing very good work, but we are doing work so we don’t have to do this type of work in the future.”

'A double win'

As much as things have changed since 1987, some things have stayed the same. “The MCC staff that they have was just some of the best when I was there,” Kevin Stout says, and he is equally impressed with the team that Chad is working with now.

Chad Stout joins MCC colleagues and partner staff (Phoebe Chiring Marak, Mita Bhattacharjee, James Kisku, Maloti Das and Gregory Vanderbilt) on a visit to Baptist Mission girl’s hostel, run by MCC partner Social Health and Education Development Board. Photo courtesy of James Kisku

When Kevin Stout visited his son in early 2023, he got the chance to catch up with former colleagues and saw MCC’s present-day partnership model in action.  The trip made Kevin Stout all the happier that his son had, too, pursued a role with MCC.