Two recent church attacks in Bangladesh show the escalating violence faced by Christians in the country – with militants from various religions being the perpetrators.
“I can’t go home and sleep, in case I’m attacked. I hide every night, and sleep somewhere else. I still feel that someone is chasing after me.”
Those are the words of a pastor in Bangladesh whose church was destroyed by local Buddhist extremists – twice in two weeks. It’s the second recent story that Open Doors partners have heard of church buildings being attacked.
This violent incident took place one evening in a small community in the east of Bangladesh. The attackers – believed to be local villagers and politicians – were masked, carrying guns, machetes, and wooden sticks. They broke the doors and windows of the church building, cut the tin roof, and demolished the wall of the church.
After destroying the church, the attackers went looking for the pastor to continue the assault, but he and the other believers managed to escape and hide with neighbours. Before the Buddhist extremists left, they threatened to come back if the church wasn’t fully pulled down within three days.
"We love Jesus Christ. We cannot destroy our Lord’s house" Bangladeshi worshipper
“How can we destroy our church? It is our worship place,” says one of the believers who attends the church. “We love Jesus Christ; we cannot do it. We cannot destroy our Lord’s house.”
It’s only a small church, with eight regular worshippers from the village. Throughout Bangladesh, Christians make up a tiny percentage of the population – only around 0.5%. Most Bangladeshi people are Muslim (89%), with Hinduism the next most followed faith (10%). Buddhists make up a small percentage of the population, but still carry out attacks against the Christian population – particularly, as in this case, if the Christians have converted from Buddhism.
After a few days, the Christians came back and started trying to rebuild their damaged church. But when the attackers heard about this, they also returned – it was a week after their initial onslaught, and they again destroyed the church.
Desperate for help, the believers appealed to the village leader for help in protecting the church from attack. To their dismay, he advised them to return to their Buddhist background. Having now found a relationship with Jesus, they refuse to do this. But they feel helpless and vulnerable. The small Christian community has endured years of being verbally attacked and socially excluded, and now that violence is escalating they don’t know what to do. Local Open Doors partners are supporting with prayer, and are exploring other ways that they can help these believers.
In south west Bangladesh, another church building has also been attacked recently: a local prayer house known as ‘The Mission’ was badly damaged by Hindu extremists, following an ongoing feud between the perpetrators and the people who own The Mission.
“This is not the first time we have faced persecution,” says Pastor Swapan. “It happens quite often to Christians here.”
The attackers were heavily armed with weapons, and had bribed other men to help them launch the ordeal on The Mission. As well as hosting church services and prayer meetings, The Mission also acts as an orphanage – the children and the staff were asleep when the attack began. They were jolted awake when rocks began pounding on the roof, and a staff member called Madan was so badly injured that he had to be hospitalised immediately.
And why were they attacked? The persecutors don’t believe Christians should own an establishment like The Mission – even though the purchase was legal, and the believers are able to prove their right to be there. In the eyes of the attackers, Christians don’t deserve this privilege. The local police didn’t take the crime seriously – though they visited the site, the complaint by Pastor Swapan wasn’t officially recorded. Pastor Swapan and his church have been threatened with further reprisals if they don’t move out of The Mission.
"This is not the first time we have faced persecution" Pastor Swapan
“We cannot fight with these Hindus [the extremist attackers] for they are the majority religion in this village,” says Pastor Swapan. “All the local political leaders and people in power hold the Hindu people at a higher priority. We have been enduring and praying for God to protect us.”
God has answered the prayer with emergency support and fellowship from Open Doors local partners, but the believers and the orphans living at The Mission are still living in fear that they will be attacked again.
Bangladesh continues to rise on Open Doors’ World Watch List – it is at number 31, up 17 places in the past couple of years. Persecution has worsened in both public and private life, and violent attacks are also increasing. As these recent stories show, Christians don’t just face persecution from Islamic extremists, but also from militants belonging to other faiths.
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