DHAKA, Bangladesh (BP)–Throughout the capital city of Bangladesh, the call to prayer perforates Dhaka’s early morning air, spilling out from the tops of mosques, a reminder that prayer is better than sleep.
Although Bangladesh, a country about the size of Arkansas, is considered a moderate Muslim nation, the influence of Islamic teachers is significant, especially among the many non-literate people living in villages outside Bangladesh’s larger cities.
Yet, God’s love knows no boundaries in this country of 149 million people, 86 percent of whom follow Islam. New ways to reach out to the lost people of Bangladesh are emerging.
Though many people in the villages cannot read the Bible, “If you [tell] it in story form, you’ve got a group of listeners like you wouldn’t believe,” volunteer Ed Schneider, 71, said.
Last fall, a radio program began doing just that throughout Bangladesh, via a drama in which a Muslim-background believer uses the Koran as a bridge to share about Jesus with two of his friends.
The program’s nine episodes repeat at the end of each cycle. The first episode shares truths about Isa (Jesus) from the Koran, using various verses to point to the truth of the Injil (New Testament), which many Muslims also consider holy. Then, the second episode begins sharing the full story of the Good News.
Muslims believe there are 99 known names for Allah, but that 100 names exist, the last being unknown to man. Setting forth Isa as the 100th name, Christians are able to share the Gospel message, beginning with passages in the Koran.
Most of the Muslims the program reaches do not have a clear knowledge of what the Koran says and their imams, or religious teachers, tell them that today’s Bible is corrupt.
“They know so much, but they know it so wrongly,” said Claire Mwendo, 31, a volunteer who spent time in many villages getting feedback from those listening to the program.
Upon launching the program, a group of Bangladeshi Christians tried to establish listening groups in various villages by searching for persons of peace (see Luke 10) to give radios. Along with the radios, the group also gave a challenge: that the villagers listen to the program for three months after which someone would return to discuss the program with them.
They also set up a phone number and post office box for listeners to ask questions.
“It started out slowly, but lately calls and letters have begun to pour in,” program representative Dean Kaufman* said.
Rasul*, 20, a Bangladeshi Christian who is a primary call-taker for the program, said feedback has been very positive and most people want to know more.
“There have been a few [negative calls],” he admitted. “They accuse us of telling lies, but in those cases, we send the caller the information and ask them to compare it to the Koran.”
The next step is turning the listening groups into fully functioning house churches. With this in mind, the Christians go to villages to answer questions in person, find out how the people are responding to the program and, when appropriate, challenge the villagers to follow Christ.
“I was amazed at how they listened to us and accepted us,” volunteer Betty Schneider, 69, said.
Since the words of the imams (local Muslim leaders) are so central to the villagers’ faith, Christian believers arriving to teach the truths of Christ stir consideration of the Gospel among the people, Rasul said. The Christians are able to put a valuable visible presence behind the truths that the people hear on the radio.
“We can’t go everywhere … but the radio -– that’s a good way,” Rasul said.
*Name changed for security purposes.