Micro-investments Strengthen Women in Bangladesh
September 04, 2014
“But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15, NKJV)
Mita* needed someone to give her a break. She had done her best to support two little boys after her husband abandoned the family a few years ago. They lost contact with him when he remarried and moved to another town.
As the sole provider, Mita worked long hours as a house servant. The callouses on her fingers offered proof of her hard labor. She was rewarded with one meal a day and a small amount of money, far short of what she needed to take care of her children. The very thought of what she might have to do just to pay the bills made her shudder.
The young woman knew prostitution was not the answer. She prayed all the more fervently for Jesus Christ to help her. In 2012 she became a Christian and began attending a church in the village. That was the final straw for Mita’s husband, who viewed her rejection of their Muslim faith as traitorous. From that moment on she had depended on Jesus for survival, trusting Him to go before her. He hadn’t let her down so far.
A ministry that focuses on outreach to Muslims in Bangladesh provided the heaven-sent solution. Mita heard that the organization helped destitute women like herself start small business ventures. With their assistance, she received start–up funds to make sweets and sell them in surrounding village markets. Over the past year she has earned enough money to meet the needs of her two boys and send them to school.
“I am happy and thankful to those who helped make this business possible,” she said.
Love in action
Best known for natural disasters and political turmoil, Bangladesh is ranked as one of the poorest nations in the world. Over 80 percent of its population is Muslim, with many practicing a nominal form of the religion. Although the national government upholds religious freedom, that doesn’t stop local jurisdictions and individual families from pressuring converts like Mita to return to their Muslim roots.
In 1999 a young Bangladeshi evangelist who had a burden to reach the millions of Muslims in his country with the gospel embarked on his own ministry. His strategy was simple—to visit as many villages as he could, lead people to Christ, and then raise up a group of dedicated workers who in turn would disciple and equip other believers to serve in ministry.
Over the years Christian Aid Mission has supported his efforts in a number of ways, including financial assistance for ministry workers, training for church leaders, and vocational programs like the one that made a life-changing difference for Mita. She was one of 62 women who received capital funds from the ministry to start her own business.
“Currently there is a great need to care for widows and divorced women with children. The widows and divorced women who are coming to faith and joining the churches are living very difficult lives,” said the ministry leader.
“Muslim men practice polygamy, and divorcing their wives is a common practice. When husbands die or abandon them, they leave their wives and young children without financial support,” he explained. “There are few job opportunities for women, and they have no money to meet their family’s needs. Many of them go into prostitution to survive and provide for their children.”
As a result of the ministry’s compassionate outreach, 120 women have come to faith in Christ in just the last year and joined local house churches, he said.
The ministry wants to help meet their material needs too. If enough support is raised, they plan to give each woman $100 for start–up capital to operate their own home chicken farm. The chickens and eggs that are produced will enable them to provide for their families.
Transforming one life, one village at a time
Planting house churches and training local believers to lead those congregations is the main thrust of the ministry. Most of the pastors are former Muslims who well understand the challenges faced by Muslim-Background Believers (MBBs).
Aware of the need for pastors to receive nurturing and encouragement, the ministry began hosting an annual “Couples’ Conference” nine years ago.
The three-day event held in March of this year drew one of the largest crowds ever—325 couples and nearly 200 children. Participants were blessed by the Bible teaching, prayer, and camaraderie.
“The main goal for the conference was to build up the MBB leaders and encourage them to have model Christian families who will serve the Lord, keep open their doors to continue the house churches, witness to and disciple others, plant more churches, and build up a Christian generation long-term among the MBBs,” said the ministry leader. “The people were very excited to have the fellowship and to learn from the Word of God,”.
One pastor who leads three house churches brought his wife and their children to the conference. Omar* became a Christian five years ago and received biblical training through a course offered by the ministry. His wife, however, was not a believer.
As she listened to the Word of God and enjoyed fellowship at the large gathering, the Lord began to work on her heart. She opened up to other pastors’ wives about a long-standing health issue, and they prayed with her. Praise be to God, she received healing during the conference, and the pain no longer plagued her body. That experience prompted her to receive Jesus as her Savior, and she was later baptized.
In keeping with its vision to establish strong Christian families as witnesses for the Lord, the ministry offers outreach to children too. August 2nd was a highly-anticipated day, as the ministry celebrated the opening of its school in a Muslim village. Presently 65 boys and girls attend, and more are expected.
Christian Aid Mission helped fund construction of the building, which also serves as an evangelistic center in the evenings and a worship hall on weekends.
“The school will be a big blessing for the whole village. Other than two families who came to faith, the rest of their community has not heard anything about Jesus,” the ministry leader told Christian Aid Mission. “Through the school we will be able to reach parents with the gospel and make disciples.”
It may seem like a lofty goal, but the ministry wants to start at least one house church in every village in Bangladesh within 15 years. There are about 85,000 villages in the country. They are off to a good start, having planted 865 churches already.
The ministry leader requested financial assistance to meet the following needs:
- Income-generating projects for widows and divorced women with children ($100 for start–up capital)
- Church leadership training and seminars (a four-day event attended by 60 people costs about $2,250)
- Ministry van for gospel workers to reach remote villages and transport Bibles and training workshop materials ($25,000)