The Bengali, or Shaikh, people (240 million globally) remain the largest unreached people group in the world. Even 200 years after William Carey came as a missionary to the Bengali they still honour his memory, but a breakthrough for the gospel has not come. • Pray for Bengali Muslims. Many follow “folk” Islam (a blend of Sufi Islam, indigenous cultures, and Hinduism). Most have never heard the true gospel. Pray for the few Bengali believers to depend on God in their poverty, to be strong when faced with persecution, and to find community with followers of Christ from different backgrounds. • Pray for Bengali Hindus (201 Hindu groups, of which 188 are unreached), who face violence and persecution as a religious minority.
The political situation offers little hope for significant change and seems a venue for feuding between two very wealthy clans rather than a means to improving the lot of the poor majority. Many see Bangladeshi democracy as merely lip service to Western ideals in order to secure aid. Corruption is endemic and deeply rooted. Pray for governance that is just, transparent and effective at assisting those in need while thwarting those seeking to gain at the expense of the nation.
Religious discrimination and tension is rising. Islamists, while a small minority, exert increasing pressure for governance by shari'a principles. Minority groups, even Muslim ones, find themselves vulnerable. Christians, Buddhists and especially Hindus suffer as persecution intensifies, occasionally to the point of destruction of property and sometimes even death. Forced reconversion to Islam is an increasing threat. Since independence, the percent of the population comprising minority sections of society has been reduced to half. Pray for binding of the powers of darkness operating in religious, social and ethnic realms. Pray also that the constitutional freedom allowing all to practise and propagate their own religions might be maintained.
The churches have been growing faster than the population rate for the last 50 years. Pray specifically for:
- The people-movement tribal churches. Significant church growth (greater than 10% evangelical) has occurred among the following peoples: Santal, Munda, Khasi, Garo, Maramei, Ralte, Mizo, Poi. Another 18 groups have more than 5% evangelicals and multiplying churches. Pray that these churches may become strong and full of vision for mission.
- The churches among sections of the Hindu population. The majority of indigenous believers have traditionally been from a Hindu background, and usually from the less populous and lower caste peoples. The ill-treatment of Hindus in Bangladesh has made them more amenable to the gospel.
- Believers from a Muslim background. There are tens of thousands who now call on Jesus as Lord, but a wider breakthrough awaits. Some have found Christ through highly contextualized "Jesus mosques", others through relational networks, even visions and dreams. Pray for these fledgling movements with such staggering potential to grow, spread and mature.
The tribal peoples' very existence is threatened as the Bengali population explosion pushes further into traditional tribal lands. Several peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts suffer from this slow squeeze; their lands and even their culture are under threat as Islamization accompanies Bengalization. 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 tribal peoples to Christ (Global Interaction, ABWE, BMS, GFA, IMB, Presbyterians and Lutherans). Some groups are almost entirely unreached while others have large Christian populations.
Other unreached groups:
- Bihari Muslims (Urdu-speaking) are unwanted by Pakistan and stigmatized as traitors in Bangladesh for their role in the 1971 war. Most still live in dozens of former refugee camps. Pray for reconciliation with the Bengali people. Pray for a development plan for them, for Christian workers and for openness to the gospel.
- Rohingya Muslims. As many as 250,000 of them have fled persecution from the Buddhist Myanmar government. Huddled into refugee camps, facing starvation and often subject to forced repatriation or maltreatment, they have never been evangelized. Pray for those seeking openings to reach them.
Scripture is in great demand despite legal complications involving the use of Koranic language in the Bible and attempts to "protect" Muslims from Christian Scriptures. Pray for:
- Literature distribution. The Bible Society and its extensive ministry of Scripture production distributes around one million Bibles, NTs and Scripture portions each year. EHC has distributed over nine million tracts door-to-door and provided over 200,000 BCC courses to seekers.
- Literacy issues. The availability of the Bible in the Muslim Bengali dialect avails little when over 50% of the population suffers from literacy problems. Pray for effective programmes that will combine literacy training with Scripture. Pray for initiatives in sharing the Bible orally, through story telling and other means.
- The translation of the Bible into tribal languages. At least five and possibly more translations are needed; work is in progress in some of these.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.