Making inroads with a Muslim neighborhood through community classes.
With a population of about 164 million people, Bangladesh is one of the most unreached countries in the world, with 88 percent of people being Sunni Muslims and another 10 percent being Hindu.
The country’s official state religion is Islam, and although they have laws to uphold religious freedom, cases of harassment and violence toward non-Muslim individuals or organizations are frequently reported.
The potential danger hasn’t stopped World Challenge partners who want to offer relief and education to those caught in desperate poverty.
One partner* describes his experience:
Before my team and I could enter the slums, we had to be given permission by the Muslim community leaders. But what devout Muslim would let us enter? I began praying for God to open an impossible door for us.
Finally, we approached the slum’s leaders.
They immediately threw out the question: ‘Are you here to convert us?’
We sat down with them and laid out our plans to set up care groups and offer people lessons in practical skills. Instead of kicking us out, the Muslim leaders actually gave us a place to meet and then went one step further and encouraged people to join the care groups.
Within the Walls
Inside the city, the living conditions were dirty and definitely unhealthy. Several families were sick or had children with stark signs of malnutrition. Most visited medicine men and the nearby mosque’s mullah for medical advice.
Initially, people thought we were like other non-governmental organizations, just there to hand out money or free clothes.
When I tried to talk to anyone, they would cover their face and walk away. This is typical treatment for an outsider from traditional Muslim people.
One day I found a child suffering from a severe cold. When I asked if I could pray for the child, the family said, “No. Only after washing your hands and legs can you call on the name of Allah. Otherwise Allah will not listen to any of your prayers.”
We began offering several training classes in addition to the care groups at the church, but the women wouldn’t come.
“Churches are for Christians,” they said. “We can’t go in there.”
The team and I invited them again and so did the church’s pastor. Hesitantly, they attended and saw that they were welcomed. Now they are slowly becoming regular attendees at the church.
However, a few women who still shunned the lessons and care groups began actively discouraging those who were attending. They particularly targeted any women were participating in our financial savings program.
Suddenly, one of the women who’d attended our care groups spoke up. “There’s no age too great for learning and saving.”
Offering New Life
Our team began offering additional lessons about hygiene, civic laws (child marriage and dowry), and Biblical values. As the health and sanitation classes began to improve living conditions, people became less shy.
Gradually, they became comfortable enough to talk with the team and I without covering their faces, even coming to us for advice about personal or family issues.
As the relationships grew deeper, we set up classes for anyone who wanted to learn how to read and write their local Bengali language. We also taught about Christ from Al-Kitab al-Muqaddas, the Arabic-English bilingual Bible.
I was introduced to some of the students’ families, and they finally allowed me to pray for them. They were beginning to believe that when we prayed in the name of Jesus, rather than Allah, our prayers were heard and answered.
The slum where our partner works is one of many caused by the rapid urbanization happening currently in Bangladesh. Outside companies are increasingly viewing the country as resource for inexpensive labor, ignoring the heavy cost to low income Bangladeshis.
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) predicts in its report that Bangladesh will be the 28th largest economy by 2030. However, almost 1 in 4 Bangladeshis (24.3 percent of the population) fall below the poverty line, and 12.9 percent of the population live in extreme poverty.
World Challenge partners are working to help local Bangladeshis know God’s love and care in all areas of their lives, escape poverty, and build a brighter future for their country.
If you would like to support ministry work in Bangladesh, visit our donation page and direct your gift to ‘missions.’
*Name withheld for safety reasons.