The People’s Republic of Bangladesh has a population of 142 million – 98% Bengali, 83% Muslim and 16% Hindu. During the fifteenth and sexteenth centuries, Bengal was the wealthiest part of the Indian subcontinent. It was also the place where missionary William Carey laboured for many years, the first Bangla grammar book being authored by him.
After World War 2 the British granted India independence and divided it up by religion – the result was India in the centre (Hindu), flanked by East and West Pakistan – both Muslim.
But having West and East Pakistan as one country was a bad mistake, for apart from religion they had little else in common. When in 1970 the Karachi government decided to make Urdu the national language to the exclusion of Bengali, it started a civil war.
On 16 December 1971 the state of Bangladesh was officially created from East Pakistan. It did not have a smooth start, being rocked by political assassinations, military coups and natural disasters.
In 2001 the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) regained power and Begum Khaleda Zia is the current prime minister. It should be noted that she won with the help of three other political parties, two of which are fundamental Islamic parties.
Since the 1970s, the gospel has made steady progress. There are now over 20 churches spread across three of the six administrative divisions of Bangladesh. These are all committed to the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.
Since the mid-1990s, various pastors have been trained each year to further equip them for gospel work. Also, selected books have been translated into Bengali – Spurgeon’s catechism, and Grace Classics Life by his death, God willing, Learning to be happy, The roots of true faithand God at work.
Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14(B. S. Poh), A. W. Pink’sSovereignty of God, Jesus is both God and Man (S. Olyott) and What is a biblical Christian?(A. N. Martin) are also available.
Persecution has increased since 9/11, with Islamic fundamentalists groups moving into Bangladesh. In June 2004 one of the believers was so badly thrashed that he was bedridden for six months and then died. It is common to have enemies of the gospel following preachers from place to place seeking to undo their work after they leave.
Floods and cyclones are common; water-borne diseases are rampant. Culturally, women and young children (below twelve years) do not attend public meetings. This makes reaching them with the Word of God much harder.
Currently, there is only one brother translating Christian books into Bengali and more translators are needed.
Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2 are highly appropriate as we remember persecuted believers and preachers in Bangladesh: ‘Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith’.