THE CHRISTIAN MISSIONS IN CHT [BANGLADESH] & THEIR EVANGELISATION
Dr. Md. Yousuf Ali & Abu Sadat Nurullah
Although Bangladesh is the second largest Muslim populated country in the world, there are several Christian missions taking the opportunity of people’s poverty and distress, is evangelizing them through financial assistance and other means. The rapidly increasing number of conversion to Christianity among the tribal population in CHT is alarming. The missionary activities are spreading around the country, chiefly in the intellectual arena, in educational institutions, and in other aspects of life. The influence of it on the culture, education, religion and lifestyle of people results into converting people to the Christian ideology.
Introduction: Bangladesh has the fourth largest concentration of Muslim populations in the world with a population of about 140 billion, of which 88 percent are Muslims. However, majority of the population (74 percent according to 2001 census) reside in rural area with lower economic condition and lowest standards of living. In fact, about half of the population lives below poverty line set by the World Health Organization. This situation paves the way for successful operation of Christian missions through providing financial assistance towards the poverty-stricken people. Khurshid Ahmad has rightly pointed out that the methodology of Christian missions focuses upon influencing the object in a status of weakness and vulnerability. Instead of direct invitation, approaches are made to those who are underprivileged, exploiting their disadvantages for the sake of proselytism. The poor, the sick and the young are made special targets of economic support, medical aid and education.1 The post war period during the independence movement of Bangladesh facilitated for the Christian missionaries to gain the heart of distressed people.
The multidimensional approach adopted by the Christian missions to evangelize people in all nook and corner of the country is being carried out by various churches, agencies as well as through direct espouse by numerous NGOs. Their activities are termed as ‘the revived form of imperialism’ and ‘neocolonialism’ which is obviously the huge threat and challenge for the whole nation in general and Muslims in particular.
Therefore, the Christian Missionaries took this opportunity to evangelize the vulnerable people through various means. As mentioned before, The Christian missionary through a large number of NGOs under the banner of “development partner” working to remove poverty and to bring education, progress and enlightenment to the country are largely engaged in evangelization.
History of Christian Missionary Activities in Bangladesh
Bangladesh has a long history of missionary activities. To deflect the vanquished people from their religion the Christian missionaries descended on the villages of Bangla with the Bible in one hand and the weaponry of voluntary service in the other. When the Muslim entity was facing its great crisis, an impoverished, noble, wise and meditative sage, Munshi Meherullah, began his struggle against the royalty assisted Christian missionaries, and saved the religion of his fellow countrymen and women from them.40 The Protestants launched their missionary assault on the language and culture of Bangladesh with the arrival of William Carey in 1773. His missionary activities were financed by the Baptist Missionary Society of England. He devoted himself to the rendering of the Bible and other Christian literature in Bengali.
Bengali language and literature were first known and appreciated in Europe through the work of missionaries such as William Carey and his colleagues, who became conversant with the Indian culture and made effort to understand Indian mind in order to translate Scripture.42 William Carey and his colleagues concentrated on the production of Christian literature, published several dictionaries and grammars of the Indian languages, translated the Bible into Bengali and other Indian languages and set up of innumerable schools allover the country.
He wrote a dictionary named A Dictionary of Bengali Language. William Carey waged a systematic campaign from the Fort William College of Calcutta, the first Anglo-Indian College of the subcontinent and the Sreerampur Missionary Press to de-Islamize Bengali literature by the wholesale replacing of Arabic, Persian and Islamic vocabulary with Sanskritized Hindu religious vocabulary.44 The mission activities then spread to other towns like Dinajpur (1795), Jessore (1805), Dhaka (1816), Barisal (1828), Khulna (1860), Chittagong (1881) and Rangpur (1891). Over the years missionary activities have increased. Missions were established between 1900- 1947 and also between 1947-1971.45
Although promotion of Christianity was one of the objectives of the colonial powers, their most important objective was economic and political exploitation, such as the East Indies Company.
New Missions have been very successful after the creation of Bangladesh because the Christian involvement in their struggle for freedom changed the attitude of the government towards them. Islam became the state religion of Bangladesh only in 1988. Long before that, during the period 1971-1975, eight new missions entered the country and the government’s attitude has been especially favorable to them by extending to them facilities which help their objectives.47 The churches, missions and Christian agencies have been very happy with their work under such conditions. The objectives of all, apart from helping their own community, have been evangelization.
Various Churches, missions and agencies in Bangladesh
According to David Barrett, the specialist recorder of missionary activity, 420,000 Christian missionaries are involved in trans cultural mission around the world today, and the annual income of global foreign mission amounts to 12 billion U.S. dollars.49 From this we can assume the trick of Christian missions around the world. In the context of Bangladesh, we find Protestant churches, Roman Catholic churches and different other agencies for evangelisation. Some of the important Protestant churches are:
All One in Christ,
The Assemblies of God,
The Association of Baptists for World Evangelism
Bangladesh Baptist Union
The Bangladesh Northern Evangelical Church
The Baptist Union of Bangladesh
The Church of Bangladesh
The Church of God
The Churches of God
The Garo Baptist Union
The Evangelical Christian Church
The Khristo Dharmashava
The New Life Centre
Seventh Day Adventists
The World Missionary Evangelism.
Some of the important Roman Catholic churches are:
Congregation of Holy Cross (from USA)
Congregation of Holy Cross (from Canada)
Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions
St. Francis Xavier
The NGO Bureau of Bangladesh Government has identified NGOs as engaged in converting people into Christianity in one way or another, those are:
World Missionary Evangelism,
The Salvation Army
Bangladesh Foreign Mission Board,
Main-Night Central Committee
Seven-Day Adventist Church of Bangladesh
Adventist Development and Relief Agency International
New Zealand Baptist Missionary Society
Bangladesh Luther Mission (Venice)
International Christian Fellowship
Baptist Mid Mission Bangladesh
New Life Center
Baptist Missionary Society
Social and Institution Board
Church of God Mission
Christian Service Society
Community Health Care Project
Finnish Free Foreign Mission
Association of Baptist,
Christian Reform World-relief Committee
World Vision of Bangladesh
Bangladesh Luther Mission (Finnish)
Young Women’s Christian Association of Bangladesh
Bangladesh Bible Society
College of Christian Theology
Christian National Evangelism
The Australian Baptist Missionary Society
World Alliance of YMCA Bangladesh
National Council of YMCA Bangladesh
New Apostolic Church of Bangladesh
Calvary Apostolic Church
Assemblies of God Mission
Santal Mission (Norwegian)
Presbyterian Plebes in Bangladesh
Bangladesh Luther Mission (Norwegian)
Jatio Church Parishad
The Church of Bangladesh Social development Program
Friends of Bangladesh
Rainbow House International
Christian Life Bangladesh
Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh (CCDB)
Swedish Free Mission
BCRS Foundation Homes
World-vision Prayer League
Rangpur-Dinajpur Rural Service,
Methodologies of Evangelization and Target Population
The poor of the world are the great missionary force of the present phase in mission history, and churches are growing with astounding vitality in the world of poverty.53 Since the economy is not self-sufficient, poverty, death and disease plague Bangladesh; precisely this factor attracts missionaries, by using their various skills in education, aid, medical treatment etc. such a society offers many opportunities which they can influence according to their way of thinking.
The main thrust of the missionary is also in rural areas because of the concentration of population in these areas.54 Churches are being built in the midst of Muslim villages and rice fields, and in strategic corners of big towns, out of all proportion to the Christian presence in the area.
Allocation of the development sector funds for various districts involved many areas, such as agriculture, irrigation, fisheries, health, training and scholarship, agricultural repair, education, cottage industries, rehabilitation, etc. Allocation for the welfare sector took care of destitute, the handicapped, orphans, the sick, under-privileged children, assistance to Tribal, youth groups, poor women and widows, etc. The expenditure layout itself suggested that the thrust of the missions was in rural areas and that it was spread and well organized all over Bangladesh.
In fact, social activity is one of the principal aims of evangelism because it can break down prejudice and suspicion, open closed doors and gain a hearing for the gospel.
The Christian missionaries followed an even more repugnant policy. There were complaints against them that on the one hand they were helping the Bengalis who had left the country, and on the other hand they were the source of secret information to Pakistan’s military government. Christian missionaries were also accused of assisting in the dispatch of plundered wealth to West Pakistan.
What is certain, however, is that Christian missions are intensively concentrating on evangelization of Muslims, because the success of their mission in Bangladesh lies in converting its majority population.
After independence in 1971, War-ravaged Bangladesh provided unprecedented opportunities to the Christian World to come in aid of distressed humanity. Unimaginable devastation and countless deaths in the civil war turned the unfortunate country into a fertile soil for the propagation of the message of Jesus among the hungry masses of the new-born state of Bangladesh. They adopted new methodology of propagation of faith through economic development through the NGOs.
Christian Missionary Activities in Chittagong Hill Tracts
The Christian missionaries started to provide funds to the NGOs. In some cases they are directly implicated in the preaching of the Gospel, especially in the rural areas and the tribal belt. Professor Ruhul Amin mentions: “According to our survey, by 1984 they have already converted five hundred thousands to Christianity. Their annual target of conversion is 5 million. Its initial symptoms are already manifested in Chittagong Hill Tracts.”
The Christian missionaries are moving forward and with their assistance, open or tacit, 30,000 NGOs are operating in an area of approximately 54,000 square miles. This concentration of NGOs has resulted in an assault on the customs, culture and religion of the poverty- stricken people of the nation. Society has been destabilized, the social fabric destroyed, families broken up, and religious ideologies subdued in the name of economic liberation, yet the declared objective of poverty alleviation has not been achieved. No significant improvement due to NGO activity has been recorded in any economic sector. Instead there are reports of increased dependence by the poverty-stricken people on the NGOs.
Nuruzzaman poses the question: “Could a single Western country show an example of poverty alleviation through assistance to micro-industry and small credit network? What they did not like for themselves, how could they impose it on others under glamorous slogans of economic development, poverty alleviation, empowering women, and so on?”
Twenty years of diligence on the part of Christian NGOs and missionaries has resulted in an alarming rise in the Christian population to more than 5 million. The Christian missionaries have chalked out an ambitious plan to convert to Christianity one in every three Bangladeshis by 2015. Bangladeshis are heading towards the worst crisis in their history. A situation such as that prevailing in Indonesia may engulf the country at any time.
Deceit, force and financial bait are openly used by the Christian missionaries and their NGOs for the conversion of the Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus to Christianity. An illustration will clarify the ultimate aim of the Christian donor agencies. World Vision of Bangladesh dismissed 500 non-Christian employees for not accepting Christianity.
Another report has mentioned that the World Vision of Bangladesh has chalked out a plan to convert 100,000 Bangladeshi children to Christianity.68 More than half the population of the Chittagong Hill Tracts is now Christian. A Christian belt has been deliberately created along the Indian borders.69 It is obvious that the NGOs were assisting the separatist movement in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Under pressure from the Christian donor nations, missionaries and Christian NGOs, the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina signed a peace accord with the tribal insurgents of the Chittagong Hill Tracts on 2 December 1997. By the so- called peace accord, the NGOs have sownthe seeds of separatism in one-tenth of the country from the rest. After the signing of the so-called peace accord, the NGOs are reportedly resorting to the forced conversion of tribal to Christianity. If this trend is not resisted strongly, then CHT will become a Christian homeland.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts is an important area for Christian evangelization. Regarding the tribes in that area, McNee writes: The greatest gift we can give to Bangladesh is a Christianized Hill Tracts population. The Tribals are under pressure from many directions… The necessity for this change is near bursting point. Christians now number 5 percent of the population. The Hill Tracts is a top priority for evangelistic effort.71 The Christian missionary converted the tribal people living below the poverty line in the Lama sub-district of Bandarban district. The Christian missionaries also converted the Marma tribe by promising housing facilities and other benefits for them. By giving poor people money, the Christian missionaries have thus destroyed the religion and culture of the aborigines.
The Christian missions and NGOs work among the illiterate, slum-dwellers and ordinary villagers, and they never hesitate to have meals alongside the half-naked aborigines of the Morong tribe in the thick forest of Bandarban. To understand the villagers’ mentality properly and to communicate with them, they learn Bengali by attending a short course for three months at the Christian-run institute for the Bengali language in Dhaka and Barisal.73 Conversion among the Muslims is also achieved by taking advantage of their poverty and vulnerability.
People are accepting Christianity to save them from starvation. Christian missionaries have made a deep thrust into the least- developed areas of the country populated by ultrapoor population. Starving illiterate people lose the moral sense of right or wrong and Christian missionaries exploit such painful economic situations. They organize the starving people into different target groups and give them some money. After some time, they openly declare that if the group members become Christian, they will be given jobs, accommodation, more economic benefits, and so on. Finding no alternative, these ultra-poor illiterate people become Christians. Nuruzzaman poses the question: “Is it Christian morality to convert such poor people to Christianity in this way?”
In April 1999, the Home Ministry of the government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh had made strong allegations of large-scale conversion of lower caste Hindu Santals to Christianity by the Christian missionary-run NGOs. The home ministry pointed out that monetary gain was the main reason behind the conversion of 200 Hindu lower caste families in the districts of Nilphamari and Naogaon. The Lutheran Mission (Danish) and sixty other Christian NGOs are spending billions of dollars for converting poor illiterate Bangladeshis to Christianity. There are allegations against the Christian missionaries and their NGOs that they are totally unfit for socio-economic development, that is, the alleviation of poverty.
These organizations are spending charity money collected in the name of the poverty stricken people of Bangladesh for the construction of churches and hostels for the newly converted Christians, and stipends and jobs for the Christian community. They are using the charity money for high salaried consultants and experts with expertise only in the evangelization of poor Bangladeshis.
Christian missionaries and NGOs are building houses for the newly converted people, arranging jobs for them, digging wells and sanitary latrine, and giving them allowances for health care and education. Muslims have changed their names, their children attend Christian schools, and they attend Sunday prayers in newly built churches.
The direct or indirect inclusion of Christian missionaries in the economic development of Bangladesh has resulted in many problems. Since the ultimate objective of the Christian missionary-sponsored NGOs is the ‘evangelization of the people of Bangladesh’, their economic development programs do not aim at benefiting the rural people. To the NGOs and their subsidiary organizations all over the country the economic development of the suffering rural people is not an end in itself, rather it is a means to an end.78 The idea is to create an economically and educationally influential community of converts who would control all the key sectors of power.
The claim of the NGOs for development and the removal of poverty were negated when a case study was conducted in a locality where NGOs had been working for some years and where people still die of diarrhoea resulting from malnutrition and eating poor and harmful food.80 The much-publicized participation of NGOs in the development of rural Bangladesh has neither increased the per capita income of the people nor reduced the level of poverty. It highlights the ineffectiveness of the development strategy adopted by them. From the angle of the economic development of Bangladesh, the NGOs have been a great failure.
Since the Christian missionary-run NGOs have IIUC Studies, Vol. 4 100 come to Bangladesh with the noble intention of serving humanity in distress by improving economic conditions, the mismanagement, corruption and economic exploitation of people negate their declared aim.82 The methods used by those NGOs are corruption, seduction and conversion through many policies, like the policy of employing Muslims last and to favor those who convert.83 The Christian missionaries utilize different strategies, tactics and approaches to facilitate evangelization, some of which are: a) People’s Movement, b) Education, c) Evangelization of women, d) Christian literature, e) Bible correspondence schools and reading rooms, f) Medical services, g) Orphanages, h) Direct preaching, i) Bible reading groups, j) Relief and rehabilitation, and k) Other emergency aid programs.84 In addition to these, they use the opportunity of globalization to achieve their aimed target. Missionaries today go about their work making use of the globalization process.
New specialized agencies for Bible translation, broadcasting media, health services or mass evangelism developed in the United States, and their missionary concept and methodologies, which reflected American cultural values and mores, have become influential around the world.86 Rene Padilla affirms: “Gospel has to be distributed among the greatest number of consumers of religion, for twentieth century has provided with the perfect tool – technology. The strategy for the evangelization of the world thus becomes a question of mathematical calculation.”87
Success of the Christian Missions
It is evident that the Christian missions are operating effectively and successfully in a Muslim majority country like Bangladesh. They have been able to win the heart of the poor people through various means. They are utilizing the process of globalization to accomplish their goals. They have already converted half of the tribal people in various part of the country. They have great plan for evangelizing Hindu community as well as the Muslims. With the increase of Christian population in the hill regions of this country, problems like Lebanon may be created.88 The following statistics will demonstrate the expansion of Christianity.
A recent media report illustrates that the Christian missionary workers are quite active in their movement. On November 28, 2007, Bangladesh authorities arrested 14 ‘Chin’ Christian missionary workers as some local people complained to local authorities from Rumana village in Bardarban town in Chittagong hill tracts, Bangladesh for distributing Christian Bible tracks (Booklet) in the areas.91 It should be noted that the Chin Christian missionary workers mainly target its mission to Bawn community in Bardarban district. It is easier for those missionary workers to evangelize people as the people from Bawn tribe use the same language that used by Lai tribe in Chin state from Burma and Mizoram state, northeast India.92 Thus, the missionary workers get better opportunity for spreading Christianity among people in that area. Saidul Islam has pointed out three reasons of success of Christian missionaries in promoting Christianity in Bangladesh, those are
Missionaries are incredibly hard working and sincere
They have awful cooperation and collaboration with some powerful NGOs
It is easy to work with the vulnerable and poverty-stricken people. In addition, their collaboration is with the political parties who are not sensitive towards Islam.
NOVEMBER 20, 2014