The Journey of a Little Girl Rescued from an Islamic Training CenterBy Corey Bailey
Shantona looked at me with a deep sadness in her eyes. Only 10 years old, she should be full of life and joy, but instead she looked down to the ground as tears threatened to fall.
In February 2012, Shantona’s father sent her off to, what he thought was, a Christian Hostel to go to school. A poor family in the hills, education is the only hope of a future, so this opportunity seemed like an answer to prayer.
But Shantona’s father was lied to. Dreams of a bright future became a horrible nightmare.
Once Shantona was taken from her father’s house, she was sold to an Islamic training center, known as a madrassas, where she was imprisoned and forced to learn Arabic, study the Quran and pray to Allah five times a day. Shantona quickly realized that something was wrong. They were not learning the usual subjects you study in school, and as a Christian she did not want to be forced to practice Islam. So Shantona refused to pray or learn Arabic. As a result, however she was disciplined. Not only was food withheld from her, but her hands, now scarred from numerous beatings by a cane, also bear witness to punishment for refusing to comply.
Shantona’s father only learned of her whereabouts months later when another girl, imprisoned at the same madrassa, escaped and told of her own harrowing experience. When Shantona’s father realized had been tricked and his daughter was being harmed, he frantically began searching for her. He called on an ICC ministry partner to help find his daughter. Months later, when Shantona was finally located, he personally went to pick her up. When the leader of the madrassa realized he intended to take his daughter away, he began verbally berating them. Shantona’s father stood strong as he the leader yelled, “The Bible of the Christians is full of lies and evil things and only Islam and [the] Quran can guide people to right path to heaven!” The teacher continued to criticize Christianity, but finally let Shantona and her father leave.
Since her rescue, Shantona’s father was scared the Imam or other leaders would search for her at home, since they knew where she lived. ICC’s partner intervened and placed Shantona in a Christian hostel where she could live and receive a quality education. They are attempting to help her work through the persecution and trauma she experienced; however, Bangladesh lacks counselors to help with these types of things.
While listening to her story, it was clear to me that Shantona, from a different tribe than the other girls at the hostel, feels alone and sad. I In fact, the only time she smiled was during the children’s sermon I gave where I said, “Jesus is our friend and never leaves us alone. We can tell Him when we feel happy or when we feel sad. Even if we feel alone, we can tell Him and He will remind us that we are never alone because He is always with us. He is a good friend who loves us and wants to know how we feel.” This was the only time I saw Shantona smile; her lips could not help themselves as she heard about a Savior who comforts the lonely. She smiled the entire time, with a tiny flicker of hope in her eyes.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15NIVBy Corey Bailey
As I reflect on my recent trip to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka I am struck by our need as humans to be heard; to tell our story and have someone care enough to listen.
I spent much of my time in these countries listening to people’s stories and experiences of persecution. Both children and adults relayed astonishing accounts of what they went through. It covered a broad range of abuse, from children being sold to Islamic Training Centers and beaten with live wires when they refused to read the Quran, to pastors in rural areas that were beaten and told to close down their churches or watch the “bloodshed as we kill all your parishioners.”
For some, I traveled eight hours on a bumpy road into the jungles to sit with them and listen. Others invited me into their homes and taught me how to make traditional bread, called chipati, and shared their stories over dinner. Still more traveled to a secluded area to meet me, far away from the prying eyes of their villages, to convey their struggles. Some parents brought their children on a 15-hour journey to meet me in hopes that I would be able to hear their story and help them.
Even more humbling was the fact that, for the most part, they just needed someone to listen. They needed someone to hear them. They were amazed when I would tell them that people across the world were praying for them. With tears in their eyes the pastors would say, ”Thank you for your prayers. To know that someone is listening to us and caring for us means everything. We are not forgotten and we can continue to face our persecutions.”
When the children who were held captive in Islamic Training Centers finished relaying their experiences, they said, “Please let everyone know what happened to us. Please, please ask them to remember us. Ask them [to] help us to get a good education so that we can have a future.”
As they left one by one, it was always the same: hope would flood their eyes and a slight smile would cross their face. It was as though you could see the power of their story being shared, heard and valued fill their eyes and souls as a balm to heal and give them the strength to carry on.
It’s amazing what a few scribbled letters can do.
This week we received a letter from a little girl named Chloe. Chloe is new to the ICC team, yet she is famous among our hallways. She wrote to let us know that she held a garage sale “to help kids whose parents are persecuted for their faith.”
At five years old, we can only assume her parents explained the concept of “persecution” in the broadest sense of the word: “It means that people are not kind to you because you love Jesus.”
Chloe did not need to see gruesome photos of severed body parts; she did not need to hear stories of women abducted and forced into a life of slavery; she did not need to know about the bombings, attacks, murders and kidnappings to understand that people need to be helped.
This little girl helped her mom bake cookies and brownies, old enough to simply stir the dough. Then she helped her parents with a garage sale, probably parting with some of her own toys. At five years old, she gave all that she had to help relieve the suffering of a child whose parents are persecuted for their faith. Her letter reads: “Here is the money we made. Please send our love to the kids. Thank you.”
Her earnest attitude humbles our office, as we silently reflect, “Am I giving what I can?”
We challenge you this week to ask yourself this same question. If you have the means, please give to one of our funds. If you have the words, please write to our brothers and sisters, encouraging them in their time of need. I guarantee you that just like Chloe, who chose to give to children just like her, there is someone just like you who needs to know that they are loved.
We are grateful to be the bridge. Can we send your love today?