Christianity on the rise in Bangladesh as tens of thousands of Muslims are turning away from Allah to embrace Jesus
Christianity is making such significant gains in one Muslim-majority nation in South Asia that local evangelists are now envisioning the day when their country would become a Christian nation.
The country is Bangladesh, the fourth largest Muslim nation in the world with a population of 164.8 million people, only 866,000 of whom are Christian, according to Open Doors USA.
Christian Freedom International (CFI) says official figures claim that 89.1 percent of the country's population are Muslim, 10 percent Hindi, and less than 1 percent Christian.
However, the numbers are deceiving. CFI says official reports on religious composition only count "traditional Christians," or Bangladeshis who are born into the Christian faith and attend government approved churches. The surveys and reports do not include former Muslims who converted to Christianity.
The consensus among believers in Bangladesh is that Christians now make up at least 10 percent of the country's population and is growing more every day. If the 10 percent figure is correct, then this Muslim-dominated nation is now the home of at least 15.6 million Christians, CFI says.
In fact, one local pastor says Christianity is growing so fast that it has become "a real problem" for the country's Muslim leaders.
"In the last 12 months, more than 20,000 Muslims have converted to Christianity, and this is becoming a real problem for the Muslims," says Pastor Khaleque, a former Muslim who is now a Christian street pastor.
The rise of Christianity has also resulted in the increased persecution of believers and crackdown on underground Christian churches as Muslim leaders try to stamp out the threat to their religion.
Pastor Rafiqul is one of the new believers who have suffered from persecution. After he turned to Christ in 2007, his rickshaw shop and tea business were taken away from him. He was also disowned by his family.
When two imams caught him preaching in the market, Muslim radicals beat him nearly to death, took all his possessions, and left him to die.
Pastor Rafiqul survived and he now works as an evangelist, risking his life each day.
"More people are converting every day. Although persecuted, we are preaching the Good News," he tells CFI.
Open Doors USA ranks Bangladesh as the 26th worst country for Christians in its latest World Watch list of top Christian-persecuting countries.
Although the constitution of Bangladesh includes freedom of religion, its government is known to give in to pressures exerted by radical Islamic groups, local religious leaders and Muslim families, according to Open Doors.