It’s a hazy afternoon in December 2019 when Bijli and her family arrive at a Christmas celebration organized by Open Doors partners. After hours of travel from their village, they finally reach a Christian compound on the edge of a city—a safe place.
After entering the gates, they walk down the driveway. Bijli and her brother run on ahead while their parents walk slowly with their bags, tired from the long journey. Bijli sees a group of girls talking and looking at her. But here, she doesn’t feel afraid. One of the girls walks toward her.
“We were going to play a game of hide and seek. Would you and your brother like to play?”
Soon, there are 100 Christian families at the celebration, all believers from Muslim backgrounds who come from isolated rural communities, just like Bijli’s family. For some, this will be the first time they have ever met with so many other believers—and the first time they will celebrate Christmas.
Once most people have arrived, it’s time for dinner. At one point during dinner, a table bursts into a song of praise to Jesus. Most of the room joins in, clapping and enjoying the freedom to sing their praises to God at the top of their lungs, with no fear of who might be listening.
“We can’t celebrate in this way in the village because of the restrictions and fear of persecution,” Badol explains later. But that burst of song is just a taste of what’s to come. It’s not long before the sound of drumming can be heard from the room above where they’re eating—the main hall where the celebrations will take place.
The Christmas celebrations are colorful and joyous. There are parties like this in the village—for the end of Ramadan, or to celebrate someone’s wedding—but Bijli and her family aren’t invited. She can smell the food cooking and hear the music—and she hears about the celebrations the next day at school. But she can never join in, because her family is left out.
But this party is different. Tonight, Bijli knows she is welcome. At one point in the evening, the music stops, and everyone sits down on the floor. One of the leaders speaks into a microphone: “We are here to celebrate ‘Emmanuel’—that when Jesus was born, God came to be with us, here on Earth. And He is with us all the time, and promises never to leave us.”
“Is He even with us in the village?” Bijli asks her mother, whispering.
“Yes, dear,” she replies.
“Even when I’m at school?”
“Yes, Bijli. Jesus is always with you.”
Christmas in 2020
Sadly, this Christmas celebration isn’t taking place in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many families throughout the world, Bilji’s family’s Christmas plans have been disrupted by the virus.
Instead, the family will celebrate Christmas in their home in a “very normal way,” Badol says. There will be no decorations. Even celebrating Christmas in a small way is a bold step for this family. Believers who left Islam but still live in Muslim communities are often targeted for celebrating Christmas. They may face more abuse from their community, and Bilji may encounter more bullying at school.
“We will have a good meal that day,” Badol says, adding that the children might expect new clothes. “If possible, I will try to fulfill their requests.
But it has not been an easy year for Bardol and his family. When COVID-19 hit Bangladesh, Bijli and her family had to stay home during the lockdowns—she couldn’t go to school, and Badol couldn’t go out to work. It was a challenging time for the family.
“I had no work for around two months, and it was really difficult to manage the needs of my family,” Badol says. “We live from hand to mouth, so no work means no food.” Even when many people in his village received government relief, Bilji’s family did not.
Sadly, believers have shared many incidents of not receiving government aid in Bangladesh—often relief is distributed by the village authorities, who will discriminate against those they don’t like and withhold support. But your prayers and support have continued to show Bijli and her family that they are not alone or forgotten during this crisis. Open Doors partners were able to provide the family with emergency food aid.
“Now the situation is getting better,” Badol says.
Bilji’s family is just one of more than 4,500 families in Bangladesh who have received vital food aid during the COVID-19 crisis, thanks to their church family around the world. While they may not be able to celebrate Christmas with other Christian families like they would in the Children’s Center, this support has helped show this family and so many others that they’re not alone or forgotten.
Badol asks us to continue to pray for his family:
- Pray for Bijli and her family, that they will still find ways to celebrate Christmas at home, and that it will still be a time of joy for them.
- Pray that God will provide for their needs, particularly as they continue to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 lockdowns.
- Pray for their safety and protection—believers from Muslim backgrounds are often targeted and persecuted when they celebrate Christmas at home. Pray for protection for all of the believers from Muslim backgrounds in Bangladesh at this time.
*Names changed for security reasons.
This article appeared first in Presence magazine. Download the full issue of the November/December issue here.