CHITTAGONG, BANGLADESH (BosNewsLife) — Buddhist extremists held eight Chakma Christians for four days to force them to return to Buddhism, BosNewsLife learned Saturday, September 25.
The Buddhists held a pastor, a church secretary, a village leader and five members from a Baptist church in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, said Caroline Anderson , a well-informed writer in Asia for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, a major mission group.
The captives were all forced to wear Buddhist robes, shave their heads, bow down before a statue of Buddha and clean the temple; they were also threatened with beatings and even death if they tried to escape, she reported.
Detained August 23, they were initially told they would be confined to the temple for one to two weeks, but after four days the Christian captives were released provided they remained Buddhist, missionaries said.
“They are not allowed to pray to Jesus, nor read Bibles, but they say they are still Christian in their hearts,” added a missionary who did not want to use her real name amid security concerns. Despite the difficulties, 10 new Chakma churches have been established with about 300 Chakmas professing their faith in Jesus, Christians said.
These and other Chakma Christians are often caught in the crossfire when violence arises between Bangladeshi Muslims and other groups over land disputes. “The extremists do not feel that the Christians are actively supporting their goals of preserving the Chakma society, since Christians are primarily focused on sharing the Gospel,” the missionary added.
In April, the same Buddhists who held the eight Chakma Christians reportedly took three Chakma Christians captive forcing them to wear robes, shave their heads and worship the Buddha. They were given one month to renounce Christianity and return to Buddhism, Christians said.
Christians in the area face death threats and Buddhist extremists have forbidden them to read the Bible or pray, missionaries said. They are reportedly also not allowed to enter Buddhist villages, use bridges, ferries, or roads. Chakma Christians have also been banned from buying food or sell crops, and Buddhist merchants face fines when selling to Christians, missionaries said.
Believers who have the money and means reportedly flee their homes.
“Only when the Chakma Christians appear outwardly as Buddhists in their dress and do not openly pray, read the Bible or evangelize can they peacefully live in their villages while their children attend school,” a missionary said. Security forces reportedly view the situation as a local problem within the Chakma people that does not impact the Muslim people.
Leaders of the Bangladesh Baptist Christian Fellowship have tried to meet with the Buddhists to bring an end to the persecution, but to date they haven’t had any success, local Christians said.