Last month, thousands of Muslim extremists brought devastation to Christians in Jaranwala, Pakistan, by attacking more than 20 churches and almost a hundred homes in response to allegations that two believers had desecrated the Quran. The three stories below highlight the horror experienced by some of the victims. The awful incident has affected more than 1,600 people – thank you for your continued prayers and support for them.
Christians in Jaramwala are holding onto Jesus as they recover from last month's devastating attacks
“Our church is very small,” says Sara*. “We normally must split our church into those who sit outside and those who can fit inside. Our musicians and the pastor must speak loud enough so that those outside can also hear. We have a few Christian families linked to our church building itself. We all donated a small part of the land from our homes to start the church. Our homes are directly connected with the church building.”
The church is near to a mosque where thousands had gathered to attack. It meant that Sara and others couldn’t flee. “We only had each other,” she says.
“Hundreds rushed to the church, and we watched in horror from our homes as they destroyed each part of the church,” she recalls. “Some had mallets, sledgehammers, pickaxes and axes, and others had metal rods and wooden sticks. They piled up the Bibles and hymn books and set them on fire. They smashed the furniture and poured fuel over the small worship area.”
"In that moment of terror, we held onto each other and prayed..." Sara
A group headed for the metal cross on the church’s roof. “We heard them running on the roof as our home was connected to the roof of the church,” continues Sara. “We heard them running, and with each thump, we heard more people on the roof. We just prayed, ‘Lord, keep us safe.’ My daughter was crying, and my son stood at the doorway with a stick – just in case the protesters decided to break in.”
The mob reached the family’s front door, banging on it whilst shouting verbal abuse. “In that moment of terror, we held onto each other and prayed, ‘Dear God, You are our high tower and our fortress. Please save us.’ The banging got worse. For over 20 minutes, a group of about 15 men tried but the door held, so they gave up and left with my son's motorbike which was parked in the alleyway.”
The family was safe, but many were not. “We wandered the streets and met with neighbours who had left their homes to the mob,” she says. “Everything was gone, even the dowries of daughters about to be married, worth a lifetime of saving.
“We know our world was shattered, but not destroyed; our lives were saved. Our dignity is still found at the cross of Calvary; our faith is still in the Living Word, Jesus Christ, who brings us joy in our tears. We belong to a God who truly cares for His church.”
For 50-year-old Asad*, church was not just part of his weekly routine, but also his daily routine – that was until the devastating events of 16 August.
On that day, just like any other day, he had flatbread, curry and tea, before taking his daughter to the bus stop where he made the sign of the cross on her forehead before she headed to college. On his way back, he stopped by his church, a 1,500-square-foot space on which a tent stood that was owned by a cluster of families. He swept the tent, spent time in prayer and returned to his nearby home.
It was then that he heard loud angry screams. “The mob is coming, and they are angry!” said locals as they fled the area, but not Asad. “My daughter will come home from college,” he said. “If she doesn’t know and she comes home, I want to be here for her. I can’t leave my home.”
Asad ran up to the roof and hid behind a derelict wall. From there, he could see his church as well as another nearby church. “I saw them immediately target the church in the next street,” he recalls. “They took anything that could be sold and loaded it onto trucks. They then poured acid over the items. I saw them trample the crosses and Bibles. I saw them throw the Bibles out onto the street and jump on them. It looked like they had no sense at all – just blind hate. They poured fuel from their petrol bombs, lit the Bibles on fire, and watched them burn, only walking away when satisfied.”
Asad was grateful that his church remained untouched. “They did not recognise it as a Christian space,” he says. But then he saw one of his Muslim neighbours call the mob back. “They came back, pulled down our beautiful precious tent of prayer and worship, and threw it all to the fire.”
Asad stayed hidden behind the wall for the entire day. Fear grew when his daughter didn’t return when she normally did. “Where is she? Why is she so late? Did something happen to her?” He eventually heard her voice call out to him. She had come from her auntie’s home, which is where she went after hearing about the attacks.
“Today, I have nothing,” Asad continues. “I saw my house and my place of worship burn in front of my eyes. I was helpless. I saw my neighbours betray us. We have never done them any harm; we always respected them. Then why? Why did they become part of an agenda that was so anti-Christian? What about my daughter? What will become of her?”
"I saw my house and my place of worship burn in front of my eyes" Asad
As news emerged that Muslims had been called to look for Christians who had allegedly burnt the Quran, Hadi* received a call from his nephew, Shahid*.
“They will come and burn down everything if they do not find the men they are looking for,” Hadi was told. “Take Reena [his daughter] and leave. I will meet you at the milk stand on the corner of the marketplace. I have grandmother with me, so please take her on your bike.”
Hadi took his mobile, watch, some cash and a small photo of his wife and child, before getting on his motorbike with Reena. They met Shahid on the way, and he put an older woman from the town on his motorbike.
Hours later, hidden near the sugar cane fields of Jaranwala, an 85-year-old woman, a 40-year-old man, and an eight-year-old little girl sat together on the ground, next to many other huddles of displaced Christians. Hungry, thirsty and frightened, all they could do was look at the horizon over their homes, where fires were burning down their village.
Hadi and his daughter returned home the following night – but it was anything but home. Everything was destroyed – beds, the fridge, fans, chairs, tables, clothing and blankets. A picture of Hadi and his wife – who disappeared without trace many years ago – on their wedding day also lay in ashes. All he has left now is the photo he folded into his pocket when he was leaving.
“We do not know why his wife disappeared,” says Pastor Taj*. “He is extra cautious to ensure his daughter is safe and does not let people get close. This was a huge loss for them.”
“I did not have a lot to begin with,” says Hadi, holding Reena close to him. “My most precious possession is safe.”
*Names changed for security reasons
So many of you have given generously to the emergency appeal for victims of these devastating attacks. Thank you! There is still time to give, with your gifts contributing towards both the immediate and long-term needs of families.
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