DHAKA, Bangladesh (BP) -- As youths, Qahir Hamad* and his Bangladeshi friends beat a group selling Bibles and Christian literature and threw the wares into a pond.
Consumed with guilt over what he'd done, Hamad hardly slept that night. Having secretly saved four books to read later, he found someone after weeks of searching to tell him what the books meant.
He learned about how Jesus would save him.
Now, Hamad is the pastor of a house church in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with a vision to see Muslims in the city find lasting peace like he has found in Christ. Bangladesh, he believes, should be a Christian nation.
This is also the vision of Travis and Madison Strauder*, International Mission Board workers who minister among Muslims and Muslim background believers in Dhaka.
"Our vision is a vast multitude from Dhaka city knowing and worshiping our Lord Jesus Christ," Strauder says.
Strauder sees Dhaka as a strategic place for outreach. Thousands of Bangladeshis move to the city of 15 million people looking for jobs, education and a better life.
"We'd like to see people from all over the country coming into Dhaka and hearing the Gospel and then being able to take it back to the villages with them," Strauder says.
Bangladesh, with roughly 158 million people, is one of the world's most densely populated countries. It'd be the same as if roughly half of the population of the U.S. lived in Arkansas.
Strauder is helping equip Hamad's house church to reach Muslims more effectively.
Hamad's house church started with three people: Hamad, his wife and his daughter. Now, 35 people gather to sit on the floor of Hamad's house to worship and learn more about God.
These 35 believers are taking part in a church planting and discipleship training widely used throughout southern Asia.
In the training, believers are challenged to write down the names of people they can share what they learned that week. Many of the believers invite these friends to come to a house church with them.
"Our desire is that churches would start in their homes and that everything they learn through these trainings they would pass on to others and there'd be multiplication and that, soon, Dhaka would be filled with churches full of believers worshipping God," Strauder says.
Their desire is being fulfilled. In December, Hamad baptized some 20 new believers in his bathtub -- 19 of whom came to faith through the training Strauder and Hamad hosted.
"If we want to see the growing of Christianity, we have to build the leadership and delegate the leadership," Hamad says. "If you don't do this, Christianity will not grow."
Recent statistics list Christians as 0.05 percent of the population of Bangladesh.
Investing in leaders and sharing the Gospel has its consequences. Hamad and the new believers expect persecution.
"I am always ready for persecution because Jesus was also persecuted," Hamad says. "When I took baptism, persecution came into my life."
Hamad's family has ostracized him. He was beaten and tied to the pillars of a mosque for selling Christian literature.
"If they found me, they would kill me," Hamad says.
Many Christians, however, are afraid to acknowledge their faith for fear of the repercussions from their Muslim communities, Hamad says.
As Bangladesh celebrates the 40-year anniversary of its liberation from Pakistan in 1971, Hamad and Straider are praying for Bangladesh's next 40 years.
"In the next 40 years, you can pray for our nation," Hamad says. "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. You can pray for workers."
God already is answering that prayer, with a volunteer team venturing in December from the couple's home church in Tennessee as part of a partnership with them and the city of Dhaka. The volunteers hosted Christmas parties and ministered alongside the Strauders, Hamad and other Bangladeshi partners.
From the Strauders' and Hamad's prayer list:
-- Pray for the Gospel to spread among Bangladesh's growing population.
-- Pray that God would call out national believers in Dhaka who have a vision for the city.
-- Pray for unity among believers.
-- Pray that the Strauders would see God's purpose and plan and act in His strength.
-- Pray for wisdom as the Strauders and Hamad train others to spread the Gospel
-- Pray for boldness for Hamad's house church members in their witness for Christ.
-- Pray for courage for Muslim background believers to share their faith.
-- Pray for more godly leaders.
*Names changed. Caroline Anderson is a writer based in Southeast Asia.
Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net