Terrible flooding has added to the catalogue of crises that Bangladesh has faced in recent weeks – as well as the spread of coronavirus, with the number of cases soaring in June, the country was devastated by Cyclone Amphan in May. It affected 2.4 million people.
Brother Abraham* has been an Open Doors partner in Bangladesh for more than a decade. Now he and his team are serving believers from a Muslim background who are impacted by these disasters. The pandemic and the cyclone have left many without jobs, homes or food. In this interview, Abraham explains the daily struggles of vulnerable Christians in his country, and how your support is making a difference.
Abraham: Because of Covid-19 and Cyclone Amphan, poor believers are having difficulties. Christians, especially new believers who have converted from a different background, are often living under the poverty level. Believers from a Muslim background are daily labourers, earning for daily meals every day. If there is any problem, they don't have food to eat.
"Without food, without shelter, many people are living under the sky" Brother Abraham
Many families are losing their jobs. They don't have food to eat. Without food, without shelter, many people are living under the sky only. They don't have money to pay the tuition for their children. Although schools are closed, still, they have to pay the tuition. This is a very difficult situation.
Pastors are affected too. When they don't have services on Sunday, it means the church doesn't have income, so they cannot pay salary for the pastor. That way, they are having problems.
Abraham: There is discrimination for receiving the aid from the government side, especially against believers from a Muslim or Hindu background. Because whatever aid is given by the government to the people, to victims of Covid-19 or Cyclone Amphan, goes to the local authorities. And they're always discriminating against believers not to get the relief aid or goods from the government.
They say, ‘You are Christian, you became Christian. You've got lots of money! You don't need food!’ or ‘Christians will come and provide you food. The church will provide you food!’ - although the church itself is living without food. That type of discrimination is all over Bangladesh. And there is always propaganda that says if someone becomes Christian, he or she will get huge amounts of money. It's not true! They don't have food, their house is damaged, but they cannot get the help from the government.
One of the graduates from the Open Doors women’s discipleship programme, she is replicating the programme in her area. She has two children and runs a small business, selling cosmetics from her house. Because of Covid-19, she lost her business. No income. Because if people don’t have money, how can they come and buy cosmetics?
So, people from the government were giving relief goods, and someone put her name on the list. Because she's a sufferer, because she's a victim of Covid-19. And when she went there, she saw that her name was removed from the list, cut off from the list. Because she became a Christian! She and her children did not eat for two days. Can you imagine that? She called us and we managed to send some food through our local supervisors.
Abraham: In some areas, we got the news that there is a giving condition: If you become Muslim again, if you come back to your previous faith, then they will give you relief… It's very difficult for believers or Christians to live a life without food. Some might go back, but until now, praise God that we haven’t heard of any believers going back to their previous faith for food.
So overall, the situation is difficult for Christians, especially those who converted from a majority background – 90 per cent of Bangladesh are Muslim, and less than one per cent are Christian. Among them, 80-90,000 people are from a Muslim background.
Abraham: During Covid-19, we've provided food for almost 1,100 families – rice, oil, lentils, sugar and other items. After the cyclone, we also provided food items for 1,350 families. And that packet is enough for almost one month. We extended our help to repair almost 220 houses which were partly or completely destroyed. Many people said that our team was the answer to their prayers. Because they have been praying.
"Though life is very difficult, many people are still coming to Christ." Brother Abraham
Though life is very difficult, many people are still coming to Christ. And many got baptised during Covid-19. We even heard that a man who’d persecuted one of our participants from the women’s discipleship training became a Christian. Despite difficulties, despite problems, and this pandemic, people are still coming to Christ, and people are trusting Christ for their assurance of salvation. That's really good news.
Abraham: It’s risky on one side, because Covid-19 cases are everywhere. Our team use PPE, masks, and try to keep their distance, but it's not easy! It's not easy for them to go and meet the people. Of course, it's risky, but our people, they took the risk. They visited people, they visited believers, they provided food, they are willing to do that. And people are really happy.
But there's a huge need. Thousands of people are waiting for food. We are so thankful to the people who are praying for us, and those who are sending their support for the believers. Those who are in need, those who are facing persecution and problems, those who are living without food. We have a persecuted church in Bangladesh. Different kinds of persecution, they face every day. And they think that persecution is normal for them.
I want to say thank you so much for your care and help. I would like to request, please don't stop praying for us. Without your prayers, we cannot survive.
*Name changed for security reasons
Lord, we thank You for Your provision and for equipping Open Doors partners like Brother Abraham . Please enable partners to reach many more Bangladeshi believers with vital food and aid, and protect them from persecution and discrimination.