Bangladesh
People's Republic of Bangladesh
February 24-26
Asia


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GEOGRAPHY

Area 143,998 sq.km. Occupying the delta and floodplains of the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers, with high rainfall and frequent flooding.

Population Ann.Gr. Density
2000 129,155,152 +1.72% 897 per sq. km.
2010 151,799,126 +1.55% 1,054 per sq. km.
2025 178,751,214 +0.99% 1,241 per sq. km.

Capital Dhaka 10,979,000. Other major city: Chittagong 2,289,000. Urbanites 20%.

PEOPLES

All ethnic groups 61.

Bengali (Bangla) 96.9%. Muslims and Hindus have distinct cultures and dialects. Other related groups: Sylheti 7,060,000; Hajong 36,000; Rajbangsi 15,000.

Other South Asian 2%. Urdu 907,000; Hindi 451,000; Bihari 260,000; Burmese 300,000; Arakanese (Mogh) 200,000; Rohingya (refugees from Myanmar) 200,000.

Tribal 1.1%. Over 35 groups. Most Tibeto-Burman, some Austro-Asiatic in origin. Largest: Chakma 352,000; Garo(5) 250,000; Khasi 242,000; Santal 157,000; Tripuri(3) 152,000; Tipera 100,000; Mru(Chin,10) 54,000; Oraon 31,000.

Literacy 38%. Official language Bangla; English often used. All languages 35. Languages with Scriptures 13Bi 8NT 3por 3w.i.p.

ECONOMY

One of the world's poorest nations, suffering from gross over-population and periodic natural disasters such as devastating floods and cyclones with enormous loss of life and property. There seems little hope that the poverty of this land will ever be substantially alleviated. Major sources of foreign exchange are aid, textiles, clothing, jute and funds sent home from Bengalis working abroad. Over 55% live below the poverty line. Under-employment over 50%. HDI 0.440; 150th/174. Public debt 33% of GNP. Income/person $360 (1% of USA).

POLITICS

For 24 years part of Pakistan. Independence in 1971 after a bitter civil war. Political instability thereafter with assassinations, 18 military coups and a nine-year military dictatorship which ended in 1991. A restored democracy has been marred by the bitter dispute between the two ambitious women who dominated the political scene during the 1990s. The prevailing corruption, cronyism, strikes and unrest have hindered political and economic progress. The opposition party has taken a stronger Islamist line with demands for shari'a law.

RELIGION

A secular state 1971-88. Islam declared the state religion in 1988. Officially there is religious freedom, but this is being steadily eroded by Islamist pressure and a legal system which gives no safeguards to ethnic or religious minorities. The Islamists are a strong and growing minority.

Religions Population % Adherents Ann.Gr.
Muslim 85.63 110,556,810 +1.8%
Hindu 12.38 15,989,408 +1.5%
Christian 0.72 929,917 +3.2%
Buddhist 0.62 800,762 +2.0%
Traditional ethnic 0.57 736,184 +2.4%
non-Religious/other 0.08 103,324 -15.3%

Christians Denom. Affil.% ,000 Ann.Gr.
Protestant 24 0.17 215 +3.0%
Independent 11 0.37 476 +2.6%
Catholic 1 0.18 235 +3.0%

Included are thousands of true followers of Jesus who have not left their culturally Hindu or Muslim identities.

Churches MegaBloc Cong. Members Affiliates
Indigenous groups I   118,000 360,000
Catholic C 81 129,121 235,000
Bangla. Baptist Fell P 518 16,498 40,000
Seventh-day Adventist P 100 13,000 29,510
Bangla. Baptist Sangha P 325 12,500 28,000
All One in Christ Fell I 138 11,000 27,500
Garo Baptist Union P 156 11,960 23,900
New Apostolic I 50 10,000 20,000
Evang Christian P 50 6,557 16,000
Assemblies of God P 160 5,000 14,000
Ch of Bangladesh P 43 4,755 13,600
Evang Lutheran [2] P 126 5,028 9,000
Evang Ch of Bangla. P 92 3,689 9,000
Presbyterian Synod P 98 3,911 7,000
Free Baptist I 84 2,102 7,000
Other denoms [27]   650 36,340 94,417
Total Christians [43]   2,748 389,794 930,000

Trans-bloc Groupings pop% ,000 Ann. Gr.
Evangelical 0.4 584 +2.8%
Charismatic 0.3 400 +2.4%
  Pentecostal 0.0 16 -6.3%

Missionaries from Bangladesh
P,I,A 407 in 11 agencies in 5 countries: Bangladesh 401.

Expatriates in Bangladesh
P,I,A 428 in 65 agencies from: USA 170, Korea 46, Canada 27, Norway 25, Finland 21, NZ 21. C 400.



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Answers to Prayer

1 A continued relative openness to the gospel continues despite, or even because of, the increased Islamist propaganda and violence, disillusionment with politicians and a series of natural mega-disasters. Pray the openness may increase and yield an abundant harvest.

2 Continued church growth and the emergence of many new, younger church leaders during the 1990s.

3 Indigenous and international NGOs such as the Grameen Bank, WVI and HEED, have made a significant contribution towards reducing poverty through micro loans and self-help schemes for the very poor.

Challenges for Prayer

1 The downward spiral of poverty and suffering cannot be reversed without good, honest and impartial leadership for the nation. The majority of the population is illiterate, malnourished and without adequate medical care. Pray for political stability and a government that is courageous to stand against Islamist demands for increased Islamization and against corruption. It also needs to make tough decisions to improve the quality of life for all.

2 Discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, under pressure from extremist Muslim groups, has increased. Christians, Hindus and Buddhists suffer many disadvantages and there have been cases of destruction of churches and persecution of Christians for their faith. Pray for the binding of the powers of darkness operating in the religious, social and ethnic realms. Pray also that constitutional freedom for all to practise and propagate their own religions might be maintained.

3 The churches have been growing at twice the population rate over the past 40 years. Though still constituting officially only 0.3% of the population, they are having an increasing impact on society. Over 80% are literate. Pray specifically for:

a)Growing churches such as the Bangladesh Baptist Fellowship, Assemblies of God and the Bangladesh Free Baptist churches which have set bold outreach goals for the future.

b) The Great Commission Movement, launched in 1991, which brought together evangelical congregations with the commitment to prayer, research and cooperation in planting a church in every one of the 464 sub-districts and each of the ethnic groups of the country by the year 2000. Pray that this momentum might be maintained.

c) The people-movement tribal churches. Nearly all the Bawm, Pankhu, Garo and most of the Oraon, Mahili and Khasi have become Christian, and the Santal and Munda peoples have a large and growing minority of Christians. Pray that these churches may become strong, mature and full of missions vision.

d) The churches among sections of the Hindu population. Response has largely been among the Namasudra and Muchi castes. Pray that these Christians may be able to reach other Hindu castes still little affected by the gospel.

4 Revival of the Church is the greatest need. Pray that the Holy Spirit may move in these areas:

a) Nominal Christianity. Early people movements brought thousands of marginalized sections of society into the Church. Poverty, illiteracy and lack of trained and godly leadership have led to shallowness and nominalism.

b) Unity. Imported and indigenous divisions have hindered the effectiveness of witness in the past. Pray for the National Christian Fellowship of Bangladesh as it seeks to encourage evangelical unity and cooperative action in evangelism, teaching and aid programmes.

c) Outreach. After years of little interest, there is growing involvement in reaching out to the major non-Christian communities.

5 Leadership for the churches. God is raising up a new generation of leaders who exercise a ministry beyond their own community, yet they are few. Pray for multiplication of leaders.

a) The College of Christian Theology, the Christian Discipleship Centre and the Dhaka United Theological Seminary are key interdenominational residential schools. The CCT and CDC also run TEE and short-term programmes.

b) Five denominational Bible schools and seminaries (AoG, ABWE, Free Baptist, Lutheran and Church of Bangladesh).

6 There are over 20,000 registered NGOs which have multiplied to meet the land's deep social needs – Bangladesh may lead the world in the number, diversity and relative impact of NGOs on the life of the country. Indigenous secular NGOs such as the Grameen Bank have significantly improved the life of millions of the poor, and especially women, with self-help schemes and loans. Christian NGOs have administered aid since independence and, during the nation's frequent natural calamities, have been generous and impartial. HEED and World Vision seek to uphold Christian values and prepare the way for local church and mission involvement. TEAR Fund seconds workers and helps in funding projects. Pray for wisdom and sensitivity for all involved in implementing these programmes – that aid not be perceived as manipulative or dependency-producing.

7 Bengali people are by far the largest unreached people in the world with a global total of over 230 million. The majority live in Bangladesh and India, but large communities live in Britain, USA, etc. It was to the Bengali that William Carey went as a missionary. Although they revere Carey's memory, the great breakthrough has still not come after 200 years. Now could be the time for the Bengali people! Many are torn between being good Bengali and good Muslims. Pray specifically for:

a) Muslims, who number over 110 million. The majority follow 'folk' Islam – a blend of indigenous culture and Hinduism, overlaid by a thin blanket of Islam. Pray for:

i) Openness to the gospel – the vast majority have never heard the true gospel.

ii) More workersin 1985 there were only 25 committed to their evangelization. There has been some improvement since then, but both needs and opportunities are greater.

iii) Those who have responded. Thousands have come to trust in Jesus. Many of these continue to live in their communities. Pray for great wisdom in nurturing this movement – its leadership, worship patterns and cultural relevance without compromise of biblical truth. Pray for unity to develop and for leaders to model confession and forgiveness. Pray they would learn dependence on God in poverty, firmness under persecution from Muslim neighbours, evangelistic vision and positive relationships with the older Christian community from a different cultural background.

b) The Hindus who feel vulnerable as a religious minority. Their insecurity increased during the time of the Babri Mosque crisis in India when Muslims retaliated by destroying Hindu temples. Pray that this may open many to the truth of Jesus. Many thousands of followers of Jesus remain within the Hindu context and do not link up with 'foreign' Christian bodies. Of the 29 lower castes, only four are over 2% Christians, and in a further six there has been a smaller response. The upper castes have remained resistant to the gospel.

8 The tribal peoples' very existence is threatened by the general population explosion pushing hundreds of thousands of Bengali to invade their territory. The Chakma of the Chittagong Hill Tracts have responded with guerrilla warfare to the destruction of their villages, occupation of their land and even massacres by invading Bengali. Pray for a just settlement – the granting of limited autonomy to the region has not improved the situation much. Pray also for Christian agencies seeking to bring the tribal peoples to Christ (ABMS, BMS, IMB-SBC, Presbyterians and Lutherans).

9 Other unreached groups:

a) Non-Christian tribal groups. Some are resistant to the gospel or have not had adequate opportunity to hear: the animist Mru (work by Baptists), the Buddhist Chakma (Baptists), Mogh and Khyang (several thousand Christians).

b) The Bihari Muslims who, while being refused Bangladeshi citizenship, are also denied entry to India and Pakistan. They live in large refugee camps. Pray that their dilemma may bring an openness to the gospel.

c) Rohingya Muslims. In 1978 200,000 became refugees, and again in 1992, fleeing Myanmar government persecution. They have never been evangelized – pray for those seeking openings to reach them.

10 Young people are strategic but little is done to meet their spiritual needs.

a) Over half the population is under 16, most living in great poverty.

b) Students number over 650,000 in 458 tertiary colleges. There are 600 Christian students in 17 groups led by two staff workers. It is not possible for them to meet on the campuses. Pray for real commitment among these believers and a vision for outreach.

11 Missions have been welcomed for their social uplift programmes – hence the emphasis on institutions and aid programmes – but too few are directly involved in evangelistic outreach and church planting. Pray for increased opportunities to fulfill their primary calling. Since 1980 limitations have been placed on missionaries, with all projects, plans and finances needing government approval and strict quotas placed on the number of missionaries allowed. Reinforcements with a vision for evangelism and discipling are needed, yet the expatriate force continues to dwindle. Pray for visas, patience with red tape, and strategic usefulness for the small missionary force in a pressurized situation. Some significant agencies are Association of Baptists for World Evangelization, Norwegian Santal Mission, Scandinavian Pentecostals, Mennonite Central Committee, Interserve, IMB-SBC and SIM.

12 Christian literature is in great demand because of the hunger created by:

a) Widespread distribution by EHC and ABWE , the latter with a large literature division.

b) Bible Correspondence Courses run by SIM and others; the former have a staff of 5 in Dhaka processing over 2,000 papers a month. Pray for these and all efforts to follow up contacts, and for many to be added to the churches. Pray for inspired, national writers and for efficient production of suitable evangelistic and teaching literature.

13 Distribution of Scripture portions and sales of Bibles have risen year by year. Pray specifically for:

a) The Bible Society and its extensive ministry of Scripture production.

b) The wise distribution of the Scriptures in the Bengali Muslim dialect. Many copies of the NT have been distributed since 1981. It has been well received and appreciated by Muslims, but initially met with opposition from some churches. A temporary ban on its import in 1990 enhanced sales. Praise for the publishing of the entire Bible in 2000.

c) The translation of the Bible into tribal languages. At least six, possibly nine, translations are needed; work is in progress in three of these.

14 Other Christian media are important since a high proportion of the population is illiterate. Pray for effective outreach through:

a) Radio. Christian broadcasters (TWR, FEBC and FEBA) transmit eight hours a week in Bengali and 88 hours in English. Pray especially for the production of suitable and sufficient programmes for the non-Christian majority.

b) The JESUS film has been used among Hindus and Muslims with good response. It is completed in Bangla, Sylheti, Assamese and nine tribal languages and is in preparation in five more. Pray for freedom to show the film in villages and for protection for the operators.

c) Cassettes. GRN have a team of recordists working on master tapes in indigenous languages; 21 languages have been recorded. Pray for the completion of the recordings in a further 13 languages and effective use of the finished product.

d) Drama teams are being used to communicate biblical truth to village people. A long tradition of village drama allows more freedom to raise questions and address social issues on the stage than in general society.

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