Christians in Pakistan are asking for urgent prayer after a mob of Muslim extremists have attacked a Christian community and burned down several churches and homes.
In the aftermath of the violent attacks on churches and Christian homes (see original article, below), Christians in Jaranwala gathered outside a few of the vandalised churches for Sunday services on 20 August. Instead of sitting in pews, they had to stand beside the singed walls. Many of the attendees had their houses torched and destroyed. According to the Christian community leader, Akmal Bhatti, the bishop of the diocese attended one of the services. This drew hundreds of people to the gathering.
Just a few days prior, these people had to run for their lives, leaving everything behind, as a mob of angry Muslims took to the streets due to allegations that two Christians had desecrated the Quran.
"Most of us headed for the sugar cane fields. It was dark, dangerous, and the only place left to go," says a local believer, Rehana Bibi*. "And there was no hope of coming back home. We sat, watched, despaired and tried to cover our babies with our bodies to protect them."
A partner of Open Doors said, “This act of terror was intended to draw out collective and communal fear from the Christians of Jaranwala and those across Pakistan. It was designed to create uncertainty and confusion. It was collective, it was immediate, and it was en-masse.”
The belief from this partner is that the attack was coordinated and deliberate. They say this because the Christians living in Jaranwala do not live in one place but are located throughout the city. And so too are the churches. Many are hidden or run as house churches. It is estimated that more than 20 churches have been destroyed.
"The mob were seeking out Bibles and crosses and destroying anything Christian." Open Doors partner
After speaking with local Christians, a partner of Open Doors said, “Where churches were burnt, the adjacent buildings were left untouched. The mob began by breaking down doors and windows, calling for blood, seeking out Bibles and crosses and destroying anything Christian - even the graves in the cemetery. They climbed onto buildings, pulled down crosses from churches, pillaging and destroying whatever they could find.” Piles of Bibles were burned, many still on fire 30 hours later.
He continues: “We believe that an initial group of men ran ahead breaking down doors, then another followed with acid and drenched homes, Bibles and cupboards and then a third group carried away appliances, beds and those articles that could be sold. The final group came through looking for whatever had been left behind.”
In response, the government has approved a compensation package of two million rupees (£5,275) for each affected household.
Local Open Doors partners are supporting this devastated community. "We are here because we never left; we will remain here with our people – serving God and washing their feet," an Open Doors partner says. "It is our hope that as Pakistan’s Christians stay, serve and keep believing that God will bring us justice, relief and restoration. For that we must be part of the solution."
"We are here because we never left; we will remain here with our people" Open Doors partner
One young girl, Serena*, sums up the true hope of Christians in Pakistan. An Open Doors partner found her sitting outside, holding together the pieces of a broken cross. "They do not know our secret. His cross is actually here", she told him, pointing to her heart.
The threat of violence is not over. According to an Open Doors’ partner, within 48 hours of the attack three other blasphemy cases were initiated and threatened in Pakistan, two in Punjab and one in Sindh. We ask that you continue praying for our brothers and sisters in Jaranwala and throughout Pakistan.
18 August 2023
Christians in Pakistan are asking for urgent prayer after a mob of Muslim extremists attacked a Christian community and burned down several churches and homes. The violence took place in the city of Jaranwala in Punjab Province after two Christians were accused of blasphemy.
"The attacks have been fierce and unrelenting." Peter, local believer
Hundreds of men then stormed the community, attacking churches, setting homes on fire and even destroying a cemetery. Early media and human rights groups estimate that at least eight churches were burned – along with multiple homes belonging to Christians – and 17 churches were targeted. Christians in the community were forced to run for their lives.
“The attacks have been fierce and unrelenting. Hate speeches and announcements from mosques were broadcast all over Jaranwala,” says Peter*, a local believer. “In the blink of an eye, the mob went from 100 people at one location to 4,000 people at various Christian [communities] all over Jaranwala and nearby locations.”
Video from the National Commission for Human Rights in Pakistan shows the aftermath of the violence on a Salvation Army church:
Accusations of blasphemy are often made to target and oppress minority groups in Pakistan, and even an accusation can result in mob violence. “The frequency and scale of such attacks – which are systematic, violent and often uncontainable – appear to have increased in the last several years,” the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan told Reuters.
Local believers are suspicious about the timing of the blasphemy accusations. The First Investigation Report (FIR) was filed with police just hours before the violence began. “It is no coincidence that mosques around the city started broadcasting hate speeches, which led to mob attacks all over the city,” says an activist from a local church plant. “How did all the mosques get hold of this information? How were they able to assemble so many people if there were no advanced planning? No one is answering our questions! But we will wait for justice.”
“This is a case of planned persecution towards us as a minority," says an affected Christian leader, who cannot be named for security reasons. "If the accusers were emotionally charged and were ‘unable to control themselves’ from attacking places of worship or houses of the victims, how then were they able to register an FIR before or even almost near the time of the attack?”
"This is a case of planned persecution towards us as a minority." Local Christian leader
The day after the attack, 146 people were arrested by Pakistani authorities as they began to investigate the situation. Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar wrote on social media: “Stern action would be taken against those who violate law and target minorities. All law enforcement has been asked to apprehend culprits & bring them to justice.”
A local Christian living in the affected area commented: “In the aftermath, residents began returning to, what are now, the ruins of their homes. There is severe fear among the community of Jaranwala about another attack. This fear is not limited to those who live there. The Christian leadership is also acutely aware and concerned about the risk, urging Christians to be cautious and vigilant. The community is scattered and reeling from the pain of this torture they have been subjected to.”
More than anything, they need our prayers. They have walked through a dark moment in their lives, yet they have held on to their faith. As the body of Christ, let us cry out to the Lord for justice and restoration for the land of Pakistan.
Our brothers and sisters are asking us to urgently pray for the situation. Here’s how you can pray:
*Name changed for security reasons
Father God, please bring an end to violence against Christian communities in Pakistan. Please give courage and strength to those following You in such difficult circumstances. May the two Christians accused of blasphemy be treated fairly and kept safe, and any false accusations be dismissed. I pray for Your loving presence as affected communities begin to build. Amen.
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