Bangladesh is a small nation in Southeast Asia with a lot of people – almost 160 million! We are based out of the capital city of Dhaka which is the most densely populated city in the world. It was once a part of India, but separated itself in 1947 when the region became East Pakistan. Political exclusion and economic exploitation by the politically dominant West Pakistan led to the Liberation War in 1971 where they became the nation of Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is a Muslim nation, with nearly 90 percent of the population following Islam. While there is freedom of religion, Islam exerts a powerful influence on politics, businesses, and societal norms. In terms of population, Bengalis are the largest unreached people group in the world.
We love Jesus and we love our friends and neighbours. It only makes sense that the two should meet. We are intentional about building relationships with the intent of sharing the gospel. We want to love people so that they can know Jesus loves them. We want to be a light and an example of what a relationship with Jesus looks like and what Christian values are. We want to find points of commonality and engage in conversations about faith in a respectful, caring manner.
Many people in Bangladesh have never met a Christian before and their understanding of Christianity is confused by western media (think MTV and summer blockbusters). They think that the US is a Christian nation and therefore whatever they see from Hollywood, etc must represent Christian values and beliefs . Part of what we do is try to clear up some of those misconceptions by dressing in a culturally sensitive way, telling our friends what the Lord is teaching us or what we've been reading in the scriptures, and praying for them.
We are learning more and more about where our two faiths have common beliefs and where we have beliefs that differ. We ask our friends a lot of questions and hopefully we get them thinking about what they believe and what we believe. People are always very respectful and usually very curious about how we practice our faith. A big part of sharing our lives with our community comes around holiday times. For example, when the Muslim world celebrates Eid- Al-Adha, meaning “feast of the sacrifice” this holiday honours the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God. This opens up incredible doors to talk about sacrifice and how we believe Jesus to be the ultimate sacrifice. We also get to share our faith around Christmas and Easter. They know these are Christian holidays, so we get to talk about why Jesus is so important to us (and we can clear up pesky confusions about Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny... “No we don't worship the Christmas tree.”).
REACHING MUSLIMS THROUGH MEDIA
Our team is engaged in creating evangelistic resources. A variety of videos are created to catch the interest of “seekers.” Some videos are more 'pre-evangelistic,' meaning they teach biblical principals and morals or share testimonies that point to Christianity to get people interested in knowing more. Other videos are more directly evangelistic – to be placed into the hands of those who are ready to hear the gospel.
The majority of churches in Bangladesh are made up of “traditional Christians,” meaning their families came to Christ generations ago. We have learned that there is often a great divide between those who come from a traditional Christian background and those who come from a Muslim Background. In many churches Muslim Background Believers (MBBs) are often not trusted and therefore ostracized, or the churches are styled in a Western format with guitar, drums, projector, etc and MBBs have a hard time making the transition to something so vastly different from Islam. Those who change faiths are sometimes disowned by their families and communities, and in this culture where social connections are everything, that can be extremely difficult. For this reason many new believers return to the mosques and their community, or they worship privately and have no community to fellowship with at all.
Our desire is to create a place where MBBs can gather together for fellowship and community. We study the scripture, sing songs, and pray for one another in a small environment where people can get to know one another and trust can develop.
We also wish to create a place where we can invite Muslim friends and neighbours to ask questions, learn about the faith, and experience a community of believers. One way we foster this environment is by the kind of language we use. The first to come to Christ from Bangladesh came from a Hindu background and so in Bengali the words Christians use for God, worship, etc. are terms which the Hindus would use, and it's either offensive to Muslims or they are terms which are foreign or different from what they are used to. This can be a huge barrier in witnessing. By using terms they are familiar with we lay the foundation for common ground. We are essentially saying, “This is not a foreign religion. We are not so different. You can put down your defences and engage in conversation here.”