Bangladesh (MNN) — ISIS last week claimed responsibility for the murder of a pastor in northern Bangladesh.
Joe Handley with Asian Access confirmed reports that armed extremists killed 65-year-old Hossain Ali, who converted to Christianity from Islam in 1999. He was a member of Valacopa PBT Church (Paraclete Bangladesh Trust Church). Among the reasons he was targeted, “Pastor Ali came to Christ and was leading a small fellowship in his district. When he started connecting with Muslims and then they, in fact, converted and started attending church, then the pressure started coming down.”
A2’s Peter Mazumder noted in an e-mail that Ali was an enthusiastic preacher of the Gospel. [SIC] “He converted 2 other MBB neighboring families, and as their church is 1 kilometer far from their place, he started a HOUSE CHURCH at his own residence about two years before.”
However, in recent months, ISIS has said it was behind a series of attacks on religious converts and minorities in Bangladesh including Shiite, Sufi, and Ahmadi Muslims, Christians, and Hindus. With their presence, says Handley, “They [church partners] are hearing reports of similar kinds of things almost daily, and so he pleaded with us to pray.”
A point to consider: amid these attacks, the country’s Highest Court is considering dropping Islam as the country’s official religion. Yesterday, Bangladesh’s Supreme Court began to hear the challenge to 28-year-old constitutional amendment. Similar situations have occurred in Nepal and Pakistan as the countries considered secularization. Each time, explosive push-back occurred.
Against this backdrop, there’s been tightly focused attention on conversions. In fact, in many Muslim nations, a change of faith is considered “apostasy.” It makes men like Ali targets. Yet, they’re fully committed to sharing the hope of the Gospel, explains Handley. “So in the midst of that, the Church is trying to rally. You’ve got this church-planting movements that are happening. The pastors that are growing in these networks and then the more mature ones, like the folks that are working with Asian Access, do all they can to try to help encourage/strengthen the Church.”
The greatest need in the Church of Asia is leader development. “We have made an effort to try to come alongside and build, within the context of our ministry, supporting these pastors, sponsoring them in such a way that they can receive the kind of help that they need in the midst of crisis and terror that they’re facing,” he adds, noting that by investing in these persecuted pastors, their hearts and hands are strengthened. “It emboldens them as strong pastors in these communities and nations to rally and try to support those families. In this case, Pastor Ali leaves behind a wife, a son, and three daughters.”
What’s described in this story isn’t confined to just Bangladesh. It’s all throughout South Asia, East Asia, the Middle East, North Africa. It’s the new “normal,” says Handley. “This is just indicative of what we’re seeing more and more around the world. I would say at least a third to half of the countries that Asian Access works in, we have pastors facing this kind of persecution.”
A2 has a fund to support persecuted pastors. Twenty followers of Christ, contributing just $20 per month each, can provide the resources to enable one more persecuted pastor to get the invaluable training, support, and mentoring provided by the Asian Access learning community. (Click here for more information.)
The body of Christ rallies. As horrific as it was, Ali’s death is a call to prayer, concludes Handley. Here’s the thing: There are no limits to where prayer can take us. “As we pray globally, it helps these folks, and they feel more strength when they know the body of Christ is praying for them.”
Please also pray for comfort and healing for Ali’s wife and his children. May this tragedy bear witness to the love and hope that Christ offers to all who call upon His name.