Growing Danger in Bangladesh

Dear Friends,                                                                                                                 

Earlier this month, a friend told me about a severe case of school bullying. She asked how the school could tolerate a culture in which this could occur. A good question! 

Severe bullying and school violence can occur anywhere, but they are more likely to occur where lower-level bullying is tolerated. This applies not only to schools but to entire nations. 

Consider the recent terrorist violence in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Some commentators portrayed this as an unprecedented event in what they called a tolerant nation. 

In reality, the Dhaka attacks were conducted by radical Bangladeshis who grew up in a society that routinely overlooks the abuse of religious minorities. 

We have been trying to bring attention to this abuse for several years. Our longer-term readers will recall two occasions when we have dug wells because villages prohibited Christian families from using public water. 

In addition, we have written about pastors who were beaten and framed for murder, and about how extremists raped a pastor’s daughter in retaliation for his preaching.

In all these cases, local police and moderate Muslim leaders didn’t intervene even though the perpetrators were known. 

It is more expedient for them to look the other way than to confront fellow Muslims to uphold the rights of minority Christians, who comprise less than 0.5% of the population. 

As long as it predominantly targeted the poor and powerless, religious violence was regularly overlooked. 

But hatred is like fire; when not constrained, it grows and puts more and more people in jeopardy. 

The recent attack, which targeted affluent people of various nationalities and religions, demonstrated that ultimately no one will be safe if bigotry and hatred are left unchecked. 

Civil authorities have taken notice and are beginning to take the persecution of Christians and other minorities seriously. Recently, the police in Dhaka recommended that churches build high walls, install video cameras, and hire 24-hour guards. Our ministry partners are genuinely pleased that the police want to work closely with them to reduce violence.

Notwithstanding, there is a cost. Only large, established churches can afford a high wall, the video system and 24-hour security guards, so these steps effectively assess a tax on churches that many cannot afford. 

It remains to be seen whether these steps will be required of churches that do not have buildings, but meet outdoors or in homes. Also, these defenses make churches less welcoming both to members and visitors.

I fear that these steps have been a victory for terrorists because they confine Christian worship behind locked gates. This is painfully ironic. 

Jesus told us that the Church would overcome the gates of hell – not hide behind gates of its own.

Please pray for the people of Bangladesh – for extremism to be overcome, and for the rights of religious minorities to be upheld. Please pray, in particular, for our partners. They have been targets of hatred for a long time, and the Dhaka attack has emboldened extremist elements all over Bangladesh. Our partners are in greater danger than ever. 

Please pray that Christians will take prudent steps to keep safe, without shackling the Gospel.

Pray also for the United States. Pray that we will not harbor hatred or deprive any group its rights. Please pray, as well, that our government’s measures to prevent terror will not inadvertently go too far and further diminish our liberties. If this happens, terrorists will win a victory.

Many blessings in Christ,                                             

Tim M.,