Christmas celebrations in Bangladesh show persecuted children from a Muslim background that they aren’t alone. For some, it’s their first time celebrating the birthday of Jesus.
In the dirt of the schoolyard, Bijli* draws with a stick. She sketches a girl like herself, surrounded by smiling children. But in real life, no-one is playing with her.
She notices a couple of girls whispering. Bijli stares at her drawing, but it’s too late – they’ve started walking towards her.
“What are you doing?” one of the girls asks. “I’ve just been drawing…” Bijli stammers. One of girls stamps on the srawing, making the smiling faces disappear.
“In the village, Muslims are the majority. They tell us, ‘Go away, you are Christians. You are not the same as us. ”
“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.
It’s a hazy afternoon in December when Bijli and her family arrive at the Christmas celebration organized by Open Doors partners. After hours of travelling from their village, they finally reach a Christian compound on the edge of a city – a safe place. Here, she doesn’t feel afraid when one of the girls walks towards her – and invites her to play.
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.
“We can’t celebrate in this way in the village because of the restrictions and fear of persecution,” Bijli’s father Badol* explains.
A few days later, Bilji is back in the school yard again. She’s still on her won, 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.
*Name changed for security purposes
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Every HK$375 could provide a Christmas present for a persecuted child to let them know that their Church family loves them.