On 26 March 2021, Bangladesh is celebrating 50 years of independence – but has its founding promise of religious freedom been eroded? In this interview, Open Doors partner Brother Abraham (name changed) shares how the gospel is spreading despite persecution – and how Open Doors has adapted to the changing needs of our Bangladeshi church family.
Brother Abraham has been a local Open Doors partner in Bangladesh for many years, supporting persecuted believers thanks to your support and prayers. In this interview, he reflects on 50 years of Bangladeshi independence and life for Christians in Bangladesh – which is currently number 31 on the Open Doors World Watch List, rising 17 places since 2018.
The new constitution gave freedom of religion – ‘every citizen has the right to profess, practise or propagate any religion’ – so, after independence, Christians started to spread the gospel all over Bangladesh. At that time, many Christian leaders were also part of the government. Christianity was spreading all over Bangladesh, not rapidly in 1971 or 1972, but slowly and gradually. Many churches were built in different parts of Bangladesh.
We have constitutional freedom. Those who were brought up Christian, they don't face problems. Bangladesh is a country where all people from different religious background are living together. Ninety per cent of people are Muslim, and around nine per cent are Hindus, and less than one per cent are Christians, but Christians live together with the community. But evangelism causes problems. In our constitution we can share our faith, but in practice, it’s difficult.
Praise the Lord, many people are coming to faith in Jesus from a Muslim background. In Islam, there is no assurance of salvation, and they are seeking that assurance. Some of them have come to Christ through local evangelists, some through friends, family members, neighbours, and some through seminars and conferences.
"Persecution is everywhere, but in different forms." Brother Abraham
But then persecution occurs immediately from the family, from the extended family, from their community. Sometimes, from the government officials. Children face discrimination in the schools, by their friends, by their classmates, even sometimes by the teachers.
Persecution is everywhere, but in different forms. Some of these believers have even been kidnapped by extremist groups because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Extremists consider their conversion to be dishonouring Islam. When a believer gets kidnapped, it sends a strong message to believers, or potential believers, that they will face the same.
Open Doors started connecting with the Christian community in Bangladesh in the mid-90s. After some early research, Open Doors partners started distributing Bibles and supporting church schools. Initially, Open Doors worked with traditional churches, because there were very few believers from other backgrounds, especially Muslim backgrounds.
Slowly, the ministry started to increase in the country because of the need. Persecution started when many people from a Muslim background started following Christ. From about 2006, Open Doors started to focus more on working with new believers, increasing the number of projects and partners. Now there are so many projects, they cover almost 50 districts of Bangladesh out of 64 districts. Open Doors has distributed so many Bibles, about 15,000 in the past couple of years.
When we receive news that a believer has been persecuted or kidnapped, we try our best to get more details – then we pray and find out how we can help. If possible, we contact the person or their family, comfort them, encourage them to depend on God. We offer legal assistance, financial support or providing daily needs through our partners, according to the emergency and needs of the family.
We also organise different training, literacy and discipleship programmes, including persecution preparedness to help our believers to apply the biblical principles to persecution. We help local believers with livelihood training too, so that they can also sustain themselves, because many people who come to Christ are living below the poverty line. Sadly, new Christians often lose their jobs, because of persecution - so we try to help them to find a job or set up a small business.
Through the literacy programme, many people who were illiterate can now read Scripture, they can share the stories from the Bible with their children, they can contribute to making decisions in the family, because now they can write and read. This is one area. Another area is that, through the women’s discipleship programme, now women have a voice in the church.
"We always use the example of Jesus, how He forgave those who persecuted Him." Brother Abraham
With the persecution preparedness programme – often, believers previously had misconceptions about persecution. Now they can forgive their persecutors. We always use the example of Jesus, how He forgave those who persecuted Him. We get a lot of responses from the participants, saying, “Before we wanted to fight back against our persecutors. Now, we normally forgive them, because Scripture tells us to forgive our prosecutors.” There's a huge change in the community of the persecuted believers – even children in school.
There are significant basic, practical changes too. In some areas, many believers faced problems drawing drinking water from the community wells. We have dug wells so Christians can get drinking water – and that’s started a change in the communities. Now we got lots of stories from the beneficiaries, saying, “Though they stop us from drawing water from that well, now we're inviting them to get drinking water from our well.”
We want to see many people coming to Christ. The number of Christians will increase rapidly and some day the whole nation will become Christian. That’s my vision.
I want to see a strong local church, with no need to get help from outside of the country – they can sustain themselves through their livelihoods. They can sustain themselves physically and financially, but also spiritually. They can lead lives based on the Bible, and they can be a model in the community.
I want to see a strong church and strong believers so that they can face persecution. When persecution comes, they can stand firm.
We know that prayer is very important and very powerful because we can do nothing without the help of our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father. We ask all the believers in the world to pray for these persecuted believers, especially believers from Muslim background.
"We really plead for your prayers for them so that believers can stay strong in their faith." Brother Abraham
Please pray as some of the believers who were kidnapped are still missing. So far, we don’t have any information or updates about them. Pray for God to help our people, our leaders, to find these missing people. Pray that we will have good news about them.
Christians make up such a small percentage of people in Bangladesh – pray for this community. Every day, in different homes, they are facing persecution, suffering that comes from their neighbours, from the authorities, from these extremist Islamic groups.
We really plead for your prayers for them so that they can stay strong in their faith in facing this type of persecution. I believe they are the instruments of God to be channels of blessings to many, so that the population of Bangladesh will come to know Christ and can receive Him as their Saviour and the Lord.
Order the World Watch List 2021 Top 50 booklet to help you pray for your persecuted family - as well as discovering testimonies, trends, articles and a map of worldwide persecution.
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