One of our recent reports from Bangladesh gives an account of a Hindu village that conducted a ceremony in honor of a goddess. During the ceremony the villagers fashioned idols out of mud, which they dropped into nearby streams at the end of the ceremony. Later that afternoon, when the village leaders assessed the high cost of the ceremony, there was an argument that almost turned violent about how to pay for it.
This apparently seemed perfectly normal to most of the villagers, who had been participating in these ceremonies for years, but several of the youth talked to our missionaries about the futility of a ceremony in which the villagers paid an exorbitant cost, left empty-handed, and then argued vehemently about the expense.
In contrast to the absurdity of this ceremony, the youth were fascinated by the Christian God, who is worshipped in Spirit and in truth. Ultimately, these inquisitive and enthusiastic youth paved the way for the missionaries to preach openly in their village, with great impact.
It is the end of the story that interests me most, because I know how different it could have been.
Suppose the village elders angrily tried to silence these impudent young people, who were critical of their ancient traditions. Suppose, in their anger, they had retaliated against the Christians who spoke to the youth, and this escalated into full blown persecution, as sometimes happens where our partners serve.
Instead, the entire village peacefully welcomed the perspective of the missionaries.
Truth is not served by suppressing minority viewpoints to uphold the status quo, yet that is a common practice in some of the places where our partners serve.
In four of the countries where we work – Bhutan, India, Myanmar (Burma), and Nepal – there are laws against inducing people to change religions. Sometimes simply praying for a sick person has been considered an “inducement”. Two other countries in our network – Pakistan and Sri Lanka – are considering similar laws. While convictions are uncommon, the laws give opponents to Christianity a pretext for harassing missionaries.
For me, the biggest challenge of the story is imagining myself in this story and taking stock of what I might do.
Would I conform to the prevailing beliefs and religious practices around me, just to fit in? Could I be open and objective to consider alternative viewpoints? How would I react if my cherished beliefs were challenged?
If we want to reach others with the Gospel and continue to grow ourselves, we must create an environment where it is safe for people to ask questions and honestly share doubts and other viewpoints. To do this, we need to be honest with ourselves like the youth, speak with courage like the missionaries, and be willing to listen, like the villagers.
Suppressing dissent comes not from faith, but from fear – and we have nothing to fear.
Many blessings in Christ,