“You are not the same as us.”
Bijli* stands in the yard of her school, drawing a picture in the dirt with a stick. She draws a figure who looks like her – a girl with short hair and a dress. Then she draws other children, friends for her imaginary girl. One holds the girl’s hand. Another has a ball to play with. They all have big smiles.
She looks up at the other children in the playground. The scene does look a bit like her dirt drawing – except that no one is playing with her.
She notices a couple of girls whispering to each other and looking at her. Bijli quickly looks down and stares hard at her drawing, but it’s too late – they’ve started walking towards her. She looks around for their teacher, but Bijli can’t see her.
“What are you doing?” one of the girls asks.
“I’ve just been drawing…” Bijli stammers, gesturing to her drawing in the dirt. One of girls stamps on it with her foot, making the smiling faces disappear.
“My mother says that your family are infidels,” another girl says.
“We’re not infidels,” Bijli says, starting to cry.
“Are you saying my mother is lying?” The girl pushes Bijli over, and she lands on the floor where her drawing once was. The girls laugh and run away. Bijli stays on the floor, tears rolling down her face.
Bijli’s family are one of just a few Christian families in their village of 50 houses in Bangladesh. Her grandfather has received biblical training through Open Doors partners, and now he’s a church leader.
But his decision to leave the traditional Muslim faith of the village and follow Jesus hasn’t been easy for the family.
Bijli’s mother, Maya*, says, ““I feel sad. In the village, Muslims are the majority. They tell us, “Go away, you are Christians. You are not the same as us.”
The rejection and isolation are especially hard for ten-year-old Bijli. “My friends don’t want to play with me. They push me,” she says.
This makes the Christmas celebration organised by Open Doors partners all the more welcome for Bijli and her family.
Badol and Maya smile as they approach the outdoor dining area where some families are already sitting, talking and laughing and drinking cups of hot tea. Some of the local Open Doors team get up to greet them and take their bags, and other familiar faces smile and wave them over.
Bijli sees a group of girls talking and looking at her. But here, she doesn’t feel afraid.
One of the girls walks towards 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.
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 them at school the next day, but she doesn’t get to join in.
But this party is different. Tonight, Bijli knows she is welcome.
Of course, the Christmas celebration can’t last forever, and soon it is time for Bijli and her family to go home. Even just by coming to this celebration, they will attract negative attention from their community. “They will ask many questions,” Badol says. The rejection the family already face will be made even worse when the community hear that they have been at a Christian event.
But when I ask Badol if he thinks it’s worth it to come to this event, knowing what the consequences could be, he is adamant that it is. “Yes, my decision is right. I will give them our answer, that we are followers of Jesus Christ, and we went to celebrate the birthday of Jesus.”
A few days later, Bijli is back in the school yard again. She’s still on her own, drawing with a stick in the dirt. But this time, she draws someone different next to her – a tall man with a beard and a big smile. She smiles at the memory of the Christmas celebration. “Jesus is always with me,” she says.
Badol asks us to pray for the family’s good health and safety. Pray that God will provide for all their needs. Pray that the whole family will remember what they heard at the Christmas celebration – that God is with them, and has promised never to leave them.
*Names changed for security reasons
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