“The radicals told us to destroy the church, but we will not. If we have to sacrifice our lives, we will. They threatened us to return to our old religion, but we will not return. Jesus Christ is our savior. We will die for him,” Tubel Chakma Poran Adetion, the church’s assistant pastor, told Asia News, the official press agency of the Roman Catholic Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions.
The pastor further said that believers at the church were previously Buddhists who “met Jesus Christ” in 2005.
The Christian residents of Suandrapara built the small brick-and-tin church in January through funding provided by the Bangladesh Bawm Tribal Baptist Church.
The pastor said they gathered and prayed daily despite threats and opposition from the Buddhist majority. The Christians were given a seven-day deadline to stop all church activities and re-convert to Buddhism.
The believers refused to comply.
Buddhist radicals are led by Joan Chakma, the leader of the United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF), a local political group. They have been accused of attacking the church on July 15.
According to Asia News, the perpetrators carried out their threat, broke the church gate, the cross, and other parts of the church. The Buddhist radicals attacked the church again on July 22, damaging a wall, the door, and the tin roof.
They also threatened more consequences if the Christians reported the indecent to the media or the police.
Adetion said the church did not report the destruction to the police station for security reasons and the Christians’ desire to live in peace.
“We are a minority and Buddhists can do anything to us. We want peace by talking to them,” he added.
Rev. Leor P. Sarker, general secretary of the Bangladesh Baptist Church Fellowship (BBCF), a Protestant church organization in Bangladesh, said church leaders are worried for the church in Ranfamati.
“We are concerned about our members. There are about 50 of them. They live in fear. Most of them are staying away from their homes to protect their life after the attack.
“We are praying for the attackers, that they may change their way of thinking and let our people live there in peace,” he continued.
According to persecuted church watchdog organization Open Doors USA, Bangladesh is ranked No. 31 on its 2021 World Watch List of countries where Christians face the greatest persecution.
In Bangladesh, many believers usually gather to worship in secret house churches for fear of attack. Christians primarily face persecution from Islamic extremism, as the majority of the country is Muslim. However, Open Doors warns that Bangladeshi Christians also face persecution from the Buddhist minority.
According to Open Doors, Christians also faced discrimination from the government during the pandemic when many Christians suffered starvation or severe health issues after being left out of government relief.
Bangladesh’s population is nearly 170 million, and less than 1% identifies as Christian. It also has the eighth-largest population in the world and is one of the most densely populated countries.
Bangladesh is also home to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. The country struggles to care for them despite help from the international community.