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Pray for the Persecuted 2020: Bangladesh & Bhutan

This fourth weekend of November, we once again share the wisdom of some of our country leaders on persecution, building on the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church on November 1st. This week, Pastor Darpan* who leads our Bangladesh ministry and Pastor Jagan* who leads the ministry in Bhutan give their insight.

Open Doors ranks Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority country, as 31st on the World Watch List, which lists the top 50 countries with the greatest persecution of Christians. Read more here

In our pastors’ and missionaries’ experience, persecution primarily comes on a local level and not from the government. Physical and emotional attacks most often come from family and community members when a Muslim, Hindu, or Animist begins following Jesus. For the men and women we support, persecution is more common for them than other Christians in the country because they are openly sharing the Gospel as pastors and missionaries.

Pastor Darpan*, a humble and kind servant of God, oversees a Bangladeshi network of over fifty pastors and dozens more missionaries. He says,

“In general, persecution is happening or has come here mostly from the Muslim extremists, a very few times from Hindus, and also in very rare cases by others. According to their religious thoughts and thinking, they are prideful and arrogant, not honoring others who they cannot tolerate. The extremist Muslim believers are trying to stop others, dominating their religious power everywhere. The pride and jealousy of the extremists makes them do bad works and persecute. They hate Jesus/Christians and do not want Christianity to rise here because of their arrogance. They are afraid of Christians, that if the Christian religion exists beside them, then their believers’ numbers will be reduced. They believe Muslim faith is the best out of all religions. This motivates them.

According to our mission to implement the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, we prioritize verse 20, to teach, make disciples and baptize. But because of our country and communities, I always encourage them to be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves according to Matthew 10:16, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” So, maintaining our own safety first is most essential, and then approach with kindness and love…

Pastor Akash*, who I work with, shares what he and another missionary, Sukesh*, experienced last month, which shows this:

“In this pandemic situation, Mr. Sukesh and I went out three or four times a week. In this area, extremists (Muslim) people were watching us and our activities. One day, suddenly, when we were returning to our home, some of the old Muslim people questioned us about where we are returning from. We told them that we were returning from a nearby remote town. When they checked our bags, they found some Bible tracts, small Gospel flipcharts, and a small Bible. They said we had not told the truth to them. They asked us if these were our evangelical tools or materials we have taken to preach. Then, we told them “Yes, but we preached amongst our believers. So, what is it to you?” Very suddenly, one of the aged men slapped us and chased us from there.

After a month, when we were going out in the morning to another village by bicycle, one of the old extremists found and called us with a loving voice. Just as before, we went to him. That man begged pardon because of their act a month ago, saying it was totally inhuman and unreasonable, and illogical. Because of this, his heart was burning to beg pardon from us.

We became shocked to hear about this. As an aged man, we told him that the Christian religion is to forgive like our Lord Jesus who forgave all our sins, and to bow our hearts in surrender, and then Jesus is almighty to forgive. And we are here to teach all the people about my Jesus. Now that man has become our good guardian and friend. Thanks to the Lord, and we are thankful for His love.”

We are thankful to the Lord, and also for our prayer fighters who have been praying continuously for safety for our brothers and sisters who are facing persecution. Endure to see His face. We would like to say to continue your powerful prayers, which are our only strength.”

Open Doors puts Bhutan, a tiny Buddhist Kingdom in the Himalayas, at 45th on its list. You can read their summary here

Although persecution is not often physical, pressure from the government and police leads to believers often being refused land rights, being taken to prison overnight, and having their children’s names taken off the census, rendering them unabl to access basic services. Pastor Jagan* leads a group of nearly 30 Bhutanese pastors and missionaries partially supported by Harvest Bridge. He reflects,

“The reason for persecution here is not hate of Jesus. No. To the core they don’t want to lose their identity of their culture, which is interconnected with their religion. In terms of Bhutanese culture, it is notable that their culture is their religion and their religion is their culture.

As a leader to persecuted believers, I pray to God who is the only person who can bring solutions for all the problems, I teach them to depend more and more on God than people. To keep moving forward with God. 

‘Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.’ ~ Philippians 3:13-14

Recently, one of my pastors, Pastor Phurba*, shared how God changed a strong Buddhist’s heart.

“One of the villagers in the southwest, Biren*, age 45 and from a staunch Buddhist background, was harassing us all the time whenever we go for ministry. He was bullying us as ‘foreign agents coming with a bag full of money’. We started praying for this gentleman, for God to touch him and bring him into His saving knowledge. On August 23, 2020 as we went for visiting, he invited us to his home. We were filled with much fear and went to his home to find out what kind of issue he had with us. Interestingly, without saying much he requested us to pray for his family, and we prayed for the blessings of the family. He described his encounter with Jesus through his dreams, and that he confessed Jesus is the only living God. Praise God for the way God moved into this gentleman’s heart.”

Pastor Kibu* experienced this too:

“We always used to fear our neighbors, as they always have complained about our singing and many people coming to the house. We went through much harassment. But in the month of April when the lockdown was intensive, we prayed and got strengthened to sing and share the Gospel to the neighbors. Many of our neighbors were regretting complaining about us to the authorities, as they realized that we are praying for our neighbors regularly. A bond of love among the neighbors got developed in this period.”

Being persecuted for faith will be rewarded with church growth, as well as motivation to become much stronger in the Lord. But Christians who are facing opposition for other reasons [other than for faith] are motivated by their self interest, and they need to seek the guidance of God for all that they do.

Please pray for favorable conditions for having at least a house fellowship [which is illegal]. Pray for doors to be open for confessing the faith. Pray for religious freedom to practice and propagate.”

Thank you for reading, for supporting financially, and for praying!

Next week, on the last weekend of November, we will share from two leaders in Kashmir. 

*Names changed for safety

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Countries

Bhutan

Bhutan

In this small, mostly mountainous Buddhist kingdom of about one million people in the Himalayas, we join hands with 27 pastors and missionaries. If Bhutan is known for anything, it may be that they are the only country in the world to officially measure national happiness. The index is known as Gross National Happiness (GNH) and has a greater emphasis in the country than GDP does. However, depression and suicide are common.  

The men and women we support focus on sharing the Gospel in their own villages and cities, as well as traveling to even more remote parts of their country to share the Good News. There is a significant emphasis on counseling, sports ministry with young people, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Despite harsh pressure by the authorities aimed at limiting the growth of Christianity, our Bhutanese partners have seen many come to faith in recent years.

In 2020, 130 families – about 520 individuals – received a month’s worth of emergency food supplies after intense flooding destroyed their livelihoods. Four pastors received motorbikes so they could expand their ministry field. Ultimately, 125 men and women began following Jesus.

Capital: Thimphu

Population: 755,000

Religion: Buddhist 74.7%, Hindu 22.6%, Christian 0.5%, Muslim 0.2%, Ethnic Religions and other 2.0%

Persecution Watch List Country Ranking: 43

Ministries: Pastor TrainingHope Through Education

Leadership Information: Working amid substantial opposition, our Bhutan coordinator leads a network of missionaries who have planted 11 branch churches and over 40 house churches throughout the country.

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Stories

Kingdom Couples

Dear Friends,

In light of Valentine’s Day, this newsletter is dedicated to the missionary couples Harvest Bridge has the privilege of partnering with. 

These members of our Christian family serve Jesus together in difficult places; as couples, their ministries complement one another and facilitate deeper impact in their communities.

Sunil* and Premila* are a perfect example. Married as teenagers without the permission of their families, they lost their first child to disease and began following Christ after their second child was miraculously healed from the same disease. 

For the past 17 years, they’ve been doing ministry together in Nepal. Whether serving those affected by an earthquake, conducting marriage counseling, evangelizing an unreached village or working part-time jobs to support their ministry, they follow the command to love God first and love their neighbors as themselves.

Then there’s Raju*, the coordinator of our Bhutanese church planters, and his wife Divya*. Born in southern India, they met while attending Bible college in Bangalore. 

In 2000, after graduating and marrying, they moved to an underdeveloped region at the India-Bhutan border to focus on reaching Bhutan, one of the least-evangelized countries in the world. 

In pursuit of this goal, Divya had the idea of starting a school, both to educate children and to support the ministry. Today, the Christian school they started has over 400 Bhutanese, Indian, Nepali, and Bangladeshi children, of Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Christian faiths, all learning together. 

Largely due to Divya and Raju’s efforts, it is now common in their town for girls to attend school, when just 10 years ago it was almost unheard of. 

Raju and Divya’s marriage, and their efforts to promote women and girls’ education, are models for women’s empowerment in a society that largely treats women as second-class citizens.

Last but certainly not least, we can’t highlight missionary couples without sharing the story of Mamun* and Tabitha* in Bangladesh. 

In nearly 30 years of ministry together, they’ve faced much persecution – beatings, stalking, death threats – but nothing compares to the rape of their 14 year-old daughter, Anna*. Her assailants, a group of six extremists, made it clear they were assaulting her because of her parents’ ministry. 

Thankfully, Anna received extensive medical help through an HB partner agency and has recovered physically. It would be wholly reasonable to leave the community where this horrific act occurred, but Mamun and Tabitha have chosen to stay and continue serving as Christ’s ambassadors among those who do not know Him. 

As they describe, 

“We pass every day with this threat, but we believe in Jesus – that He will save us – because the Lord is our strength, and we are depending on that.”

Thank you for standing with these couples, and dozens of other couples like them in Harvest Bridge’s network, through your prayers and financial support!

In Christ,

Andrew David

Director of International Partnerships

*Names changed and faces blurred for security

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Stories

A Journey Through The Himalayas

2 AM, southeastern Nepal. A car carrying three sleepless occupants cruises toward Kathmandu, the country’s capital. The passengers, myself and an Indian Harvest Bridge partner, had just visited church planters in Bangladesh, Bhutan and northern India, checking on projects and gathering reports from their ministries. We intended to do the same in Nepal, but our flight was cancelled due to heavy fog. Scrambling for an alternative, we hired a cab driver and set out on the 390-mile drive from Nepal’s southeastern border to its capital city.

Despite starting our journey at 4 PM the previous day,  we had yet to reach the foothills of the Himalayas. As we drove across flat lowlands on a rough road, I contemplated the difficulty our driver would face in navigating hairpin turns under the cover of darkness. Before confronting the hills, however, an unexpected challenge arose.

As we passed through a small village, the only vehicle in sight,  a drunk man stumbled onto the road about a hundred yards ahead. This was no careless act; our headlights revealed a cold determination in his eyes. As our driver hit the brakes, the man staggered directly toward us, intent on throwing himself into the car. Evidently, our driver was familiar with such encounters; he slowed down to precisely the speed necessary to swerve around.

My heart breaks for the man. What hopelessness, what despair, drove him to this desperate suicide attempt? How many times had he tried it? Is he still alive? Memories like this vividly remind me why Harvest Bridge exists. Ultimately, it is not about programs or numbers, but individuals. It is not only about providing material help – which Jesus called “the food that perishes” (John 6:27) – but about ministering to the deep needs of the soul.

By God’s grace, Harvest Bridge’s Asian partners are ministering to the deep needs of many souls, helping the lost encounter Jesus and find freedom from hopelessness and despair. Recently, in the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, 34-year old Kumar* was delivered from his drug and alcohol addiction following the prayers of HB church planter Levi* and members of his congregation. Kumar is growing in the faith, and his whole family has been baptized. 

In southern India, Prakash*, an organized crime ring leader, was badly injured in an automobile accident, which opened the door for him to hear and believe the Gospel. Though Prakash’s injuries restrain his mobility, his countenance reveals hopefulness as he studies the Bible daily and encounters the living God on its pages. 

Through your prayers and support, you play an essential role in bringing healing in the lives of people like the man we encountered that night.With your help, stories like Kumar’s and Prakash’s continue to be written and the Good News goes forth to those who have never had the opportunity to hear it. Please consider investing in this transformative work with regular support Where Needed Most, if you aren’t currently doing so. We thank God for your partnership!

* Names changed for safety.

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Stories

Reuben: Thrown Out of Teaching and Into Preaching

The Lord God has blessed Reuben’s* ministry in Bhutan. When Harvest Bridge began partnering with him and his wife, Priscilla*, in mid 2012, Reuben’s main church, consisted of over 100 members at the heart of Thimpu city, which is the capital of Bhutan.Through him and 11 other servants, 11 branch churches and 20 house churches had already been planted all over Bhutan!

 Read to the end to learn how the ministry has continued to grow in the last two and a half years. Hear in his own words, Reuben’s testimony:

“I was born July 27th, 1970, and I am the fifth of seven children in my family. My mother died when I was eight years old. My father never remarried. In my mind I always wondered,“Why God, why did you make my mother die?” 

In 1990, I was selected for a primary teacher training college at Paro, Bhutan. I completed my two years of teacher training and was posted in my first job as a teacher in Thimpu, the capital. My father died that same year, when I was 22.

On December 26, 1993 I married Priscilla. We had our first son less than a year later. I received a promotion and became head teacher of a school in the remote district of Chhuka. We became well respected in our village of Lokchin.

One day Priscilla became very ill. Evil people cursed her and she became ill because of demonic forces. I tried my best to get her healed, but with no result. Fortune tellers and witch doctors told me Priscilla had no chance to survive. They said that the curse could no longer be stopped because the person who cursed Priscilla had died.

One night at 10 a man named Jatana* came to my house and told me about Jesus. He said that my wife could be healed. Jatana was a layperson and a very new Christian. I told him that I would decide about Jesus in three months. 

But within a week, my wife’s illness became so serious that I called Jatana and asked him to take us to the Christian fellowship. It took us a full day to travel to the border town where the fellowship was. In a Christian home we were asked to confess our sins and there we accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. 

We made this big decision on March 22, 1997 at 6:30 p.m. My wife was immediately healed!

When we returned home, all the villagers and my relatives disliked us and filed a complaint to the District Officer saying they didn’t want a Christian to teach their children. To them, “Christian” means a low caste, inferior person. The person in charge of the district issued an order for my compulsory retirement.

At this moment of decision, we decided to strengthen our faith. We knew that the people who opposed us – our relatives, the villagers, the government – did not heal my wife, but the Lord Jesus Christ did. We owed Him our loyalty. 

We were baptized Christmas, 1997.

After much prayer, we moved to Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan, and I became the head teacher in one of the private schools. Outside work, we attended a Christian fellowship and I began planting churches while also teaching. In 2006, when the people running the private school found out, they dismissed me for being a Christian.

The Lord who saved me from the clutches of sin put a great burden on me to reach out to my own people who are Bhutanese–the least reached people of the world. I left teaching and submitted my life to full-time ministry. 

Now we have three sons, Daniel* is 19, Samson* is 16, and Seth* is 14 yrs. Along with my family, I am serving the Lord who gave me life, and God has blessed my ministry. Please continue to pray that God would grant me a huge harvest.”

In two and a half years, many more churches and house churches have been planted in order to reach the least reached throughout Bhutan. Reuben and his team have a long term plan to plant exactly 81 additional worship groups by 2020. Their goal includes discipleship at it’s finest, as they plan to raise 10 to 15 leaders every year in order to accomplish their mission. 

In addition to Bhutan, they also have a mission to Sikkim, a small and extremely spiritually dark area of India, where they have several worship groups with a few hundred members. In the last two and half years, directly through all of our Bhutanese missionaries, 14,943 individuals have heard the Gospel, and 1,459 have accepted Christ, and 391 have been baptized. These numbers do not include people hearing the Gospel through those our partners led to Christ, they only reflect the direct impact of our 21 partners.

Will you join us in praying for this vibrant ministry within Bhutan? And especially in praying for Reuben, Priscilla, and their three boys?

*Names changed for safety

Categories
Stories

From Child Bride to Mentor: Mia’s Story

Mia* and her husband Puran*, minister in the capital city Bhutan, Thimphu. They work primarily with Nepalese and Sharchop people groups. Read Mia’s story of how she and her husband accepted Jesus Christ after their son was miraculously healed.

“I was born in a Hindu family. My parents were farmers in a remote village in Southern Bhutan. When I was a child, there were no schools, and girls in my area weren’t sent away to other schools, so I didn’t have the opportunity to attend school. Because of this, I got married to a Hindu man when I was 14. We had our first baby when I was 16. 

When our son was only 6 days old, he became very ill. We took every measure and even tried witchcraft, but he was getting worse. At that time, one lady shared with me that Jesus could heal our son. I told this to my husband and we went to a pastor and asked him to pray, and we vowed if our son would get well, we would commit our lives to Jesus. The pastor prayed and our son became well – he is still with us and has his own family with 2 children now. That is how we came to the Lord in 1984.

We came to the capital city of Thimphu in 1985. We were attending a church till 2009. Since the time I became a Christian I had this great desire to tell others about Jesus; those who are helpless and have no way out of their problems. I want to tell others about this great hope, just like the lady who told me about Jesus. After my children grew up I found time to go out and share this hope to others. Then we started a fellowship in our house in 2009. 

I know I am not educated, but God is using me to be a hope to some that I meet and share.

It is my desire to be able to bring 100 families to the Lord in the next 5 years, [by 2016].

I visit the sick and those helpless and discouraged who stay at home without work. I encourage them from the word of God and pray for them. I reach out to young people who are my children’s ages who have already started to work or are coming to Thimpu to find work in hotels and other places. I meet them and counsel them and tell them that Jesus cares for them and loves them. Evenings we meet at different homes for prayer and sharing.

The work began in 2009. We began fellowship and meetings at my house along with a few believers who had grown cold and stopped attending church. Slowly the attendance began to grow, as I visited homes and shared the love of Christ and prayed for the sick and more people came forward and accepted the Lord. By 2011 we were a group of 8 families; approximately 30 people.”

Since mid-2012 when we joined Mia in her work, she and her husband, Puran*, have seen 60 individuals turn to faith in Christ. Many more have heard the Gospel, and have become curious about this couple who cares about them and their children.

Mia and Puran have faced heavy persecution in this Buddhist and Hindu dominated country. Mia has asked for prayer because 

“Our Bhutan Government has announced that there should not be any gatherings on the road with more than two people. This is a major problem for street evangelism…New believers are threatened by the Hindus who say that their conversion will stop the benefits they receive from the Government of Bhutan. This gossip has disturbed the new believers.” 

She also asks prayer over the youth in her community; drugs have devastated many.

Thank you for your prayers and support! You are very much a part of Mia and Puran’s ministry!

*Names changed for safety