Before COVID-19 disrupted so many different aspects of life around the globe, OM worker Farhan* shared the story of ‘the Good Samaritan’ with a classroom of students in his home country of Bangladesh. Stories like this one are a normal part of the sports teacher’s lessons to underprivileged children in rural areas. “We want the [students] to have the chance to learn games, hear stories and enjoy sports,” Farhan said. “This is what our schools provide.”
During the next class, Farhan asked his eager students what story he had previously shared, and eight-year-old Robbie* quickly raised his hand and repeated the whole tale. Robbie also stated that he had loved the story so much that he had shared it with his family and other friends. “Robbie understood that it’s important to help others; [so] that’s what he wants to do,” Farhan proudly recalled. He was touched by the young boy’s desire to help others, no matter who they are, and to pass on this key message to others.
“Children remember what they learn as they're growing up. Later when they become adults, they will remember the stories they heard,” Farhan explained. “My focus is not only my students but their parents as well. I encourage my students to share the stories with their families. We are building bridges with the communities in this way.”
‘In that moment, I began to pray’
Farhan remembers from his own childhood how much conflict his family experienced when his father decided to follow Christ. After having made the choice he kept his faith secret from his Muslim majority community and even his own wife and family. Five years later, his father was ready to make public statements of his faith in Jesus by not attending prayer times at the mosque, which led to conversations with others about Jesus.
“My school friends spoke badly about Christianity,” Farhan shared. “Even my religious teacher, when he heard about my family [being Christian], taught very bad things about Christians and said bad things about my family.” During this time, Farhan’s mother threatened to leave her husband because of his new faith but in the end, chose not to because of the positive changes she noticed in his life.
Then when Farhan was 13, he overheard some people saying that the village and Muslim leaders planned to kill the Christians in their community. Terrified, Farhan ran home. “While I was running, something happened to me,” Farhan recalled. “It was like someone was hitting on my heart and I heard: ‘Farhan, you have to pray to me. I will save your family because you are going to die today…if you pray, I will save your family.’ I didn’t know who was talking to me, because no one was with me. In that moment, I began to pray: ‘Lord, I don’t know who you are. But today my family, we are going to die. Please save my family. We have no chance to live because our neighbours and relatives are against us.”
Farhan got home and warned his family of the threat and his father called the police. In what Farhan describes as a miracle, the police arrived quickly from a long distance away and were able to deter any threat from the community. After sharing about his experience with his father, Farhan too decided to follow Jesus who had protected his family that day.
OM runs several schools in northern Bangladesh, in places where there are almost no other options for children to attend school. “That's why we go there and set up our school programmes because we focus on the very poor areas where there are not many education opportunities for children,” Farhan said. “I enjoy doing sports with the children and telling them stories. I love this job because God loves children and children like sports.” And through these schools, the teachers and staff are able to bear witness to the students and their families about the love of Christ.
Even during COVID-19 and the government-imposed restrictions, OM staff have had opportunities to distribute food packages to those in need around their schools and to dialogue with many about the hope that can be found in these uncertain times. “Muhammed* is one man who was at a food distribution and one week later he visited my home and he asked me: ‘Why are you helping people? Why are you not afraid to go outside? Everyone is afraid and they're not going outside.’ So, I answered his questions and explained why Jesus motivated me to serve others,” Farhan shared about a recent experience.
“We realise that this situation is a unique opportunity to share the good news with people,” Farhan explained. “[Many people] have fear because they see the virus spreading and they know how dangerous it is. When we visit with them we can encourage them, we can share scripture with them and we can pray with them.”
These open doors are only possible through the trust and relationships built through the work that Farhan and others have done in these communities: providing a safe space for children and their families to grow in knowledge and hear of their loving Father.