Imagine being told that if you go to church, you could die. Would you dare to go?
This was the situation facing a group of Christians one Easter in Pakistan. The Taliban, the self-proclaimed Islamic State and other Islamic extremist groups had sent out warnings that Christians would suffer during Easter. The Christians knew they were serious – church bombings have become horrifically frequent in Pakistan, particularly around Christian celebrations such as Easter and Christmas.
But despite the very real danger, this group of Christians decided to gather in their church the night before Easter – the threats of extremists would not stop them from meeting to worship Jesus.
Each person held a candle, but the church leader had forgotten to tell people to come and light them from a candle at the front. Then a little girl, just six years old, went forward to light her candle, and began to walk around the room and use her candle to light others.
An Open Doors partner asked the little girl why she thought the candles needed to be lit. Thinking of the frequent power cuts her family experienced, the little girl replied, “Because the candles remind us that even in the darkness of the tomb, there was the hope of Jesus’ promise. When Jesus makes a promise it is like a candle given to us when the lights go out. It is a promise that the lights will come back on again.”
It was a promise the Christians needed to hold on to. The next day, on Easter Sunday, a bomb attack in Lahore killed 75 Christians, and injured hundreds of others.
Pakistan is number five on the 2018 World Watch List, Open Doors’ ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution. In many ways, Pakistan can seem like a land of great darkness. Christians are a tiny minority: the official figure is just 3.9 million in a country of 197 million, and they face daily discrimination and frequent violent attacks. The nation’s infamous blasphemy laws are abused to target Christians, with accusations leading to Christians being imprisoned or killed. An estimated 700 Christian women and girls are abducted and forced to marry every year.
And yet, the light of the gospel does continue to shine through the faith and courage of our Pakistani brothers and sisters, and your prayers and support are helping to keep that light shining.
‘THE CHURCH HAS TO COME TO THEM’
While going to church in Pakistan can be dangerous, recent research by Open Doors experts suggests that there are up to five million Christians in Pakistan with no church to go to, even if they wanted to. These are extremely poor Christians living in rural Pakistan, too far from the nearest church to reach by foot, or prevented from attending by their employers. Most are also illiterate, meaning that they can’t even read the Bible for themselves. An Open Doors partner in Pakistan says, “The greatest tragedy is when people say they are Christians but they don’t know Christ.”
Those who know a little hold on to what they have. “There are those among these isolated persecuted Christians who have memorised the scriptures,” says an Open Doors partner involved in outreach to brick kiln workers. “They teach it to those around them on the brick making fields as they are not able to go to church or attend gatherings, which are seen as a threat to their employers.”
Others know virtually nothing about their faith. One of these isolated Christians is Shahzad. He can’t read and doesn’t know what the Bible says. But he does know about persecution. He says, “Some of the business men who hire day labourers won’t hire me if they know I am a Christian. Everybody has access to the village’s water pump, but my son and daughter are not allowed to drink there.”
Shahzad and his family must endure all this – yet they are unable to read the Bible for encouragement, and they don’t have a good understanding of the gospel to give them hope. When asked where he looks for hope, Shahzad says, “If I can give money to the locals, or if I perform rituals at the grave of a pir (a ‘holy person’) my life will improve.”
An Open Doors partner says, “These people cannot go to a church. What can you do? There’s only one solution. The church has to come to them. That’s why this year we will send out mobile church teams to these isolated Christian communities. See them as a church on wheels. The trucks are managed by people trained by us. We will bring music, films about the Bible and Jesus, and also literature for those who can read. We will meet the people where they are and teach them basic Christianity. We’ll tell them about Jesus and show them His love.”
One of those reaching out to rural Christians is 83-year-old Pastor Samuel*. He left his village 26 years ago, tired of the isolation and persecution he faced in rural Pakistan, and went to the city. But now, even at this late stage of life, he feels called to return to his village.
He says, “We want to be there for the Christians and we teach people from the Bible. They have to discover that there’s not only false hope in this world; true hope can be found in Jesus. If they knew Him and how He has suffered for them to make things right with God, that would give true meaning to their lives.”
In John 8:12, Jesus said “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Your prayers and support are helping to bring the light of life to our brothers and sisters in rural Pakistan, so they no longer have to walk in darkness.
ADDING COLOUR TO GOD’S PAINTING
Just 49 per cent of people in rural Pakistan can read, according to the 2017 the Economic Survey of Pakistan. But over the past 30 years, your prayers and support have enabled Open Doors local church partners in Pakistan to teach an incredible 100,000 men and women to read and write!
One of them is Aroona*. She stopped going to school when she was six, so she could help to take care of her younger siblings while her mother went out to work as a cleaner. But ten years later, when she was 16, your prayers and support enabled her to learn to read and write and now she’s passing on that skill to others.
Aroona says, “The day I learned to read was the best day of my life. When I teach my students to read I feel like I have added colours to God’s painting before He comes back. I can tell them about Jesus and show them the stories in the Bible. There are all kinds of myths about Jesus. If we cannot read, we cannot tell the difference between myth and truth.”
Psalm 119:105 tells us, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” By enabling our partners to teach people to read, you are not only giving a skill for life – by enabling them to read the Bible, you are lighting their way in the darkness.
SHOW PAKISTAN’S RURAL PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS THAT THEY ARE NOT FORGOTTEN
Isolated from other Christians and unable to reach a church or read the Bible, it could be easy for our brothers and sisters in rural Pakistan to feel that no one even knows they exist. But your prayers and support can help bring the true hope of the gospel to them, as well as practical support, and show them that they aren’t forgotten, by God or by us, the worldwide family of God.
There are three ways you can support your persecuted church family in Pakistan today:
- Give a gift. Every £20 could support a mobile church team as they travel to rural Christian communities, bringing the hope of the gospel to those who may never have heard it before. Open Doors partners want to reach thousands of isolated Christians using mobile church vans in 2018.
- Tell your church. Many Christians in the UK and Ireland have no idea about the persecution facing our church family around the world – but our persecuted brothers and sisters need their support more than ever. Why not introduce your church to their persecuted church family using our free World Watch List 2018 Church Pack?
- Pray. Use the prayer points below. For regular prayer updates, sign up to the Open Doors weekly email, which will help you to pray through the 50 countries on the World Watch List throughout the year.
- For protection for our church family in Pakistan from attacks or false accusations
- For comfort for those who continue to mourn after attacks on churches, and healing for those who are recovering
- That courageous workers in Open Doors local church network would reach thousands of families like Shahzad’s, bringing the true hope of the gospel and practical support
- That God would give strength and wisdom to those like Samuel who are working to reach isolated Christians
- That God would continue to work through Aroona and other Open Doors partners, bringing the gift of literacy and the Word of God to others.
*name changed for security reasons