Pakistan - Hard Pressed on Every Side

 

Pakistan was carved out of the Indian subcontinent and achieved independence in 1947. It became a homeland for Muslim people, while India was set aside for Hindus. Amid bitter communal bloodshed it is estimated that 14 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were displaced during the partition, described as, 'the largest mass migration in human history'.1

 

 

 

PURE 

The 'Pak' in Pakistan means 'pure', in the sense that it was created for Muslims. To be a true Pakistani one ought to be Muslim. That said, the wish of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder and first Governor-General, was that, "the minorities in Pakistan will be the citizens of Pakistan and enjoy all the rights and privileges...".

 

 

DARK SIDE 

Pakistan's 'dark side' occasionally rises to the surface. Since independence there have been three wars with India, ongoing tension and conflict over the disputed Kashmir to the north, the 'War on Terror' in neighbouring Afghanistan and the threat of Taliban suicide bomb attacks within the country.

The population in Pakistan has trebled from an estimated 80 million in 1980 to at least 180 million in 2015. The earthquake on 8th October 2005 claimed close to 75,000 lives in the north of Pakistan. The floods of 2010 affected 20 million people and 1,500 were killed. 

Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws remain on the statute books and few dare speak out against them for fear of retribution. Since 1987 over 1,300 people from non-Muslim religious minorities have been accused of blasphemy. Over 50 of those accused were murdered before the completion of their trials. The laws are abused and sometimes used to settle personal disputes.


STRAW BROOMS 

Pakistan's Christians are mostly nominal with around 40-50% from a Roman Catholic background. An estimated 5 million live together in slums, small islands in an ocean of 180 million Muslims. 

Christians in Pakistan are referred to as the 'dirty ones' and are effectively Pakistan's 'untouchable' class. They are given jobs that respectable Muslims shun. Typically, with a straw broom in hand, their task is to sweep Pakistan's streets. 

Michael, a 45-year-old Christian sweeper, earns little over £1.50 a day: "People look down on us Christians wherever we go. That is why my children want to leave this country. There is nothing for us here. The only work available is sweeping even if we are educated."2 

When applying for a job, having a Christian name such as James, John or Peter is prejudicial. Christians are discriminated against and from time to time persecuted. 

 

EXPLOSIONS 

The 15th March 2015 was an ordinary sunny Sunday morning in Youhanabad, Lahore. At 11.11 am, two deafening explosions shattered the quiet air, shaking the ground and buildings within the vicinity of St John's Catholic Church and the Protestant Christ Church, less than 500 yards apart and each packed with 800-1,000 worshippers. 

At St John's Catholic Church the suicide bomber tried to scale the wall, but 16-year-old Akash Bashir grabbed him by his leg and pulled him down. The attacker warned him to get away as he had a suicide jacket. He then detonated his device, instantly killing himself, Akash and others. 

At Christ Church, 32-year-old Obaid Sardar Khokhar was going to meet his daughter at the end of the service. He overpowered the suicide bomber and dragged him away from the entrance. An accomplice of the suicide bomber shot Obaid in the head and then shot his pregnant wife, Ambreen, before the bomber blew himself up, killing those around him. 

"They sacrificed their lives to save many others" commented N, a full-time worker in the local assembly, located less than 500 m from the scene of the attacks. Fourteen Christians and seven Muslims died, and 80 people were injured. Most were walking in the streets outside the churches. 

With a population of over 100,000, Youhanabad is the largest Christian colony in Pakistan. This was a strategic attack on two of the biggest churches, though thankfully the bombers did not gain access inside. 

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, an Islamist group linked to the Pakistan Taliban, claimed responsibility. Their representative told Al Jazeera television, "We promise that until an Islamic system is put in place in Pakistan, such attacks will continue." 

 

FALLOUT 

In retaliation an enraged 'Christian' mob went on the rampage, burning cars and buses, and attacking property indiscriminately. Worst of all they seized two Muslims, beat them and eventually burned them alive. Police subsequently arrested 250-300 people without warrant, mostly Christian men. Many of them were tortured while in police custody, some are still being held and about 25 have been charged. 

Relations between Christians and Muslims inevitably deteriorated. Many Christians across the country are feeling insecure and fearful: the situation has cost some their jobs. 

 

ASSEMBLIES 

There are over 100 assemblies in Pakistan, rising to 200 if preaching points and home churches are included. The first assemblies trace their origins to the preaching of Bakht Singh (1903-2000) a converted Sikh. Missionaries, primarily from Germany and the UK, helped to establish the work. However, there are fewer mission workers in Pakistan because of increasing security concerns. Those who remain serve under the national leadership or are working independently in a support role. Today the leadership is entirely in the hands of nationals. 

The Fellowship of Brethren Churches in Pakistan (FBCP), provide a voice, administration and support to the assemblies. Yunis Lal Din3 handed over the chairmanship to M, the full-time worker for Youhanabad Assembly, in 2015. 

 

WORKERS 

There are over 100 FBCP-supported workers, the majority of whom are men working full time alongside assemblies. Others, including women, are in support roles such as training Sunday school teachers, serving in women's ministry and youth work. The full-time workers meet three times a year for the National Full-time Workers' Conference, locally known as 'Khadims Meetings' ('Khadim' means the Lord's Servant). 

In 2009 the Brethren Institute of Theological Education (BITE) was established, providing a residential, two-year training course for young men and women. Over a dozen students are studying at any one time and most have entered some form of full-time ministry. BITE stands in the grounds of the Bible Training Centre (BTC). This facility can accommodate over 80 campers and is used for children's camps, seminars, Sunday school teacher training and full-time workers' conferences. 

Shared Hope, a UK-based charity,4 has 21 projects in Pakistan: 17 schools, one in community development and three training centres, some of which are led by members of local assemblies. 

 

GOOD NEWS 

Although witness from local churches is mostly to the nominal Christian community, outreach to Muslims continues to happen, either personally or through specific para-church ministries. The assemblies are committed to sharing the Good News. In November 2014, around 1,000 attended the Lahore Convention, and on each of the three nights there were professions of faith. Give thanks that the door for the gospel remains open in Pakistan. 

 

1. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimate. www. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_migration 

2. Pakistan Calling: 'Pakistan's Untouchables: The Christian Sweeper Community.' https://vimeo.com/92854591 

3. Yunis Lal Din went to be with the Lord, 29th April 2015 

4. For more info, see: www.sharedhope.org.uk.

 



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