Bangladesh (A2/MNN) — The U.S. Department of State warns that travel to Bangladesh is especially dangerous right now.
The alert notes, “There is reliable information to suggest that terrorist attacks could occur against foreigners in Bangladesh, including against large gatherings of foreigners.”
Additionally, groups like Barnabus Fund, Open Doors USA, and the Voice of the Martyrs USA have observed a dramatic surge in the persecution of Christians and Hindus, instigated by Islamic extremists. Noel Becchetti with Asian Access says, “Leaders in both of these areas are getting texts saying, ‘Make sure you eat your favorite foods over the next few days because we’re going to kill you in five days,’ or ‘Plan your funeral because you’re going to be dead in three days.’”
It’s disconcerting, Becchetti explains, because “Bangladesh, historically, has always been known for its tolerance. This is really a new phenomenon. Some people think it’s just folks have seen what ISIS is doing, and to some degree, you don’t have to sign up. Anybody can just say, ‘Well, we can do that, too.’”
But are these extremists actually members of ISIS? Not necessarily, says Becchetti. “It’s almost like there are ISIS wanna-be’s out there now. In other words, you’ve got this ISIS phenomenon in Syria and Iraq. Everybody can see what they’re doing, including other disaffected folks in other parts of the world.”
Part of the push-back could also be connected to the fast growth of the Church. Growth means Gospel. Gospel means change. There are just some people who don’t like the direction of that change. In terms of protecting Christians, “The government is aware. The government is not happy about it [the threat].”
Barnabus Fund further explains who is behind the violence: “Those sending the threats claim they are part of Islamist groups Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and Islamic State. Their agenda is clear: ‘This country will be ruled only by the [Islamic] Sharia law,’ read the letter sent to [one pastor]. Although Bangladesh is a secular country and its legal system makes it one of the most tolerant Muslim-majority countries in the world, there are Islamist groups lobbying for the Islamisation of the country. The situation has become increasingly volatile in recent months, and Bangladeshi Christians, who make up just 1% of a population that is 90% Muslim, are vulnerable targets.”
These have not been idle threats, says Becchetti. “Pastors are being approached by folks saying, ‘Hey! We’re interested to talk about Christianity. We want to know more about Jesus.’ They’ll come into their homes and then they’ll attack them.” In another incident, he shares, “The secretary to one of our leaders, some of her family members…were at home at night, asleep; and somebody broke out one of the windows and started shooting. Three people were shot inside the house, all wounded.”
However, Bangladeshis are resilient. “People don’t want their lives to stop,” says Becchetti. “It’s trying to juggle not letting the terrorists, in a sense, ‘win’ by paralyzing your whole life.”
Bangladeshi Christians consider a certain level of persecution to be a normal part of being a Christ-follower. In fact, in this context, there is a lot of genuine interest right now in the Gospel. “Muslim young people are being disaffected on a lot of levels for a lot of reasons in a lot of this part of the world.”
That’s not to say these church leaders and pastors are not taking precautions. It’s nerve-wracking to be constantly looking over your shoulder, not knowing who to trust. “Part of their challenge is being able to discern between the students who are genuinely interested and then students who are actually infiltrators…pretending to be interested so they can infiltrate these groups.”
A2 is asking believers to pray for Bangladesh’s Church. “They can feel somewhat isolated, so when they know that believers all over the world are trying to stay aware [and] are praying, that means a lot. It really does.”
There are more ways to help here.
Thank you for standing with and continuing to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ across Asia. This phenomenon is occurring not only in Bangladesh, but also in many places across Asia.
Let us persevere in prayer.