Category Archives: Pakistan

Pakistani Christians in Thailand Need Help

Outrage is building over the treatment of Pakistani Christian refugees in Bangkok. I wrote about this issue last month, and now the BBC has also taken it up, in a documentary about their plight.

Over recent years the persecution of Christians in Pakistan has been intensifying, with the result that more than 10,000 have fled to Thailand seeking asylum. But in numerous cases they are arrested and jailed in Bangkok’s over-crowded immigration detention center. Using a hidden camera, a BBC journalist documented the oppressive conditions being endured by these Christians.

He was able to show some of the hundreds of asylum seekers being held in stifling heat. They include mothers, detained with their children. Many of the children are suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting, due to the poor sanitation and dirty drinking water

Those of the refugees who are not in prison must often live in cramped apartments and survive on hand-outs from churches and charities, or by engaging in illegal work activities.

Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is taking years to process their claims for refugee status. Some observers say that UNHCR officials do not even regard the Pakistanis as being at a real risk of persecution in their home country.

It raises the question of why these Christians feel impelled to make the leap from the Pakistani frying pan into the Thai fire. When they realize that their fate is long years in Bangkok, unable to work legally and relying on hand-outs, and possibly even months in a detention center, why do they not simply return home?

It is not difficult to find reasons. For example, three years ago in March 2013 a mob of 3,000 Muslims attacked Joseph Colony, a Christian neighbourhood in Lahore, setting fire to more than 170 homes and two churches. Also in Lahore, just one year ago, suicide bombers attacked two churches, killing 21 worshippers and injuring more than 70.

The BBC report provided further graphic examples. It featured a man named Sabir who fled Pakistan two years ago with his extended family. They now all live – 10 people – in a room with no kitchen or toilet. The UNHCR has said it will not investigate his case until 2018. Two months ago his wife was arrested.

Yet he proclaims that he does not regret leaving Pakistan, where his family was threatened with death if they did not convert to Islam. “Over here, the only fear we have is of the immigration police, nothing else,” he told the BBC.

The BBC journalist also met a pastor who says Islamists tried to cut off his arm and his sister was burned alive, as punishment for converting to Christianity.

But the online BBC report was able to end on a note of hope. It quoted a Pakistani Christian man named Daniel: “Jesus said to us, ‘if someone troubles you, don’t ask for curses for him, instead, you should ask for blessings for him.’ So, we ask for blessings for the UNHCR.”

We must pray that the same spirit of love and reconciliation might quickly touch the hearts of all officials in Thailand.

A Quiet Tragedy – Pakistani Christians Seeking Refuge in Thailand

The impact of the massive wave of Christian refugees from the Middle East has been so overwhelming that, sadly, we too often forget that Christian refugee groups are suffering in other parts of the world.

“Never have so many Christians been on the move as a result of war and persecution,” says the Open Doors organization, and it notes what it describes as some “quiet tragedies.” One of these is the exodus of Pakistani Christians to Thailand.

The suffering of Pakistan’s Christians – including physical attacks on Christians and their churches, the abduction, forced marriage and involuntary conversion to Islam of Christian girls, and blasphemy laws that can lead to arrests of Christians on fabricated charges – appears to be intensifying.

In the 2016 Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted for their faith Pakistan is ranked sixth – up from eighth a year earlier – with the designation “extreme persecution.”

One consequence has been a steady flow of Pakistani Christians escaping their country and seeking asylum in Thailand.

According to Open Doors, about 10,000 Pakistani Christians have fled to Thailand, many of them quite recently. And here, it says, is where the real tragedy begins: “ They are badly treated and are refused refugee status by the government, so they are not allowed to work and are subject to police intimidation and forced to rely on handouts and sporadic work. Unfortunately, even Thai churches are wearying of the burden of supporting them.”

One group that is working to assist is the British Pakistani Christian Association, which recently published a lengthy report titled “Education, Human Rights Violations in Pakistan and the Scandal Involving UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] and Christian Asylum Seekers in Thailand.” (The report is sold at the Association’s website, www.britishpakistanichristians.org.)

The report says that UNHCR is dragging its feet when it comes to processing Pakistani refugees, many of whom must wait years before their refugee status can be determined.

Another advocacy group for Pakistani Christians, the Farrukh Saif Foundation, is actually preparing a lawsuit against UNHCR, asking: “Why does UNHCR keep the Pakistani Christian asylum seekers on hold for four to five years, making them hostages, and not resolving their cases at the earliest according to their own guidelines, so that these people won´t be living in a limbo for years with false hopes and illusion of being protected and resettled?”

Fortunately, not all Thai churches are weary of the Pakistani influx. A local pastor known as Papa Thongchai runs the Urdu Church in Hands of God, which provides a special ministry to Pakistanis in Bangkok.

But this is just one small stream into an ocean of rising despair. Such recent headlines as “Bangkok, the Silent Graveyard of Pakistani Christians” and “Asylum-Seeking Christian Mom Dies in Thailand Police Detention on Christmas Eve” foreshadow a growing tragedy that must no longer be kept quiet.

Anger and Confusion – the New Normal

Our Christian brothers and sisters in many countries find themselves under increasingly violent attack. I feel sure that I am not the only Western Christian who is unsure about the best response.

Should they fight back? I have written already that I believe they have no choice. But this must be measured.

Earlier this year suicide bombers targeted two churches in Pakistan, killing 15 worshippers. Anguished Pakistani Christians subsequently went on a rampage through the streets of Lahore. They blocked roads, attacked police and then seized two innocent suspects who were being held in police custody, and beat them both to death.

I wrote what I thought was a highly sympathetic column, stressing that the Pakistani authorities were notorious for not helping persecuted Christians.

But I also said: “It may be difficult to condemn…the spontaneous retaliation in Pakistan, but condemn [it] we must. We might argue about when it is permissible for Christians to fight back, but we can surely agree that mob violence is never the answer.”

Now I have heard from a Christian who was upset by my words. Here is an excerpt from her email:

“I am curious – are you a martyr, have you suffered or watched your family suffer for generations? You so easily write. If you condemn these then condemn David in the Bible who went and fought to get his wife back with his whole army…do you think people died that day? Heck yes!

“I do not encourage people killing the Muslims but neither do I condemn them. Are you a martyr? I have met several martyrs – each will tell you of weaknesses they struggle with. Imagine the guilt of the Christians who actually did the killing…Here you condemn and they need forgiveness just as much as the Muslims they killed.”

No, I am not a martyr. Not even close. I cannot begin to imagine what it is like to live as a Christian in a strictly Muslim country, suffering for generations. So perhaps she is right. Perhaps I should not have condemned the actions of the men who went on a rampage and ended up killing two innocent suspects.

But I feel I am correct. We cannot condone Christians who form unruly mobs, leading to out-of-control violence. We can understand it, and we might even know that under similar circumstances we could have done the same. But still we must condemn it, for the sake of our civilization.

And yes, it is true – I sit comfortably at home, writing so easily about persecution. The woman who emailed me is, apparently, nearer the front lines, dealing directly with the persecuted. In further correspondence she said that she too did not condone mob violence. But she had become upset when she witnessed my column somehow being used – I don’t know how – to condemn Christians.

We live in tumultuous times, with violence against Christians on a scale not seen in many centuries, and with a global media that beams the atrocities into our living rooms.

No wonder Christians are angry and confused about how to respond. I am too. I am beginning to think that anger and confusion are the new normal for our age.

Giant Cross a Symbol of Hope and Defiance in Pakistan

This is one way to fight back.

In Pakistan, where the persecution of Christians appears to be intensifying, a businessman is building one of the world’s largest crosses – in Karachi, the Muslim world’s largest city – as a symbol of pride and defiance.

cross-91290_1280The Washington Post tells the story:

Pakistani businessman Parvez Henry Gill says he was sleeping when God crashed into one of his dreams and gave him a job: find a way to protect Christians in Pakistan from violence and abuse. “I want you to do something different,” God told him.

That was four years ago, and Gill, a lifelong devout Christian, struggled for months with how to respond. Eventually, after more restless nights and more prayers, he awoke one morning with his answer: He would build one of the world’s largest crosses in one of the world’s most unlikely places.

“I said, ‘I am going to build a big cross, higher than any in the world, in a Muslim country,’ ” said Gill, 58. “It will be a symbol of God, and everybody who sees this will be worry-free.”

Now, in this overwhelmingly Muslim country, in the heart of a city where Islamist extremists control pockets of some neighborhoods, the 14-story cross is nearly complete.

It is being built at the entrance to Karachi’s largest Christian cemetery, towering over thousands of tombstones that are often vandalized. Once his cross looms over such acts of disrespect, Gill said, he hopes it can convince the members of Pakistan’s persecuted Christian minority that someday their lives will get better.

“I want Christian people to see it and decide to stay here,” said Gill, who started the project about a year ago.

Go to the article to see photos of the cross under construction. And pray for Parvez Henry Gill, as Pakistan is a particularly harsh country in which to be a Christian.

Just two months ago suicide bombers attacked two churches in Lahore, murdering 15 worshippers. In 2013 more than 100 people were killed in a suicide bombing at a church in Peshawar. Christians are routinely persecuted on trumped-up blasphemy charges.

Some might suggest that a giant cross will simply serve as a provocation for further attacks, though it would seem that Pakistan’s Muslims do not need much excuse to feel provoked. Please pray.

When It Is Hard to Turn the Other Cheek

I suspect we are going to see more of this. After suicide bombers attacked two churches this month during Sunday worship, leaving 15 worshippers dead and scores injured, Pakistani Christians went on a rampage through the streets of Lahore.

They blocked roads, attacked police and then seized two suspects who were being held in police custody, and beat them both to death.

It is hard to condemn them. When your churches are being bombed and the authorities do nothing, it is difficult to turn the other cheek.

In the words of American scholar Michael Kugelman, who writes regularly for Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper:

This is not how victims usually respond to terror attacks in Pakistan. Typically they grieve quietly, even if defiantly….

[But] many Pakistanis embrace the underlying views of sectarian extremists….In essence, sectarian militants benefit from nationwide reach, ample public support for their views and some support from the state.

The Christians that killed those two men did not commit premeditated murder. They were retaliating, and for a simple reason: like so many other religious minorities in Pakistan, they have been terrified, traumatised and terrorised for too long, and they know the state will not protect them.

So on Sunday, they decided to take matters into their own hands. Out of desperation, they became vigilantes.

We saw something even worse over a year ago, when Muslims seized power in the Central African Republic and began persecuting the Christian majority. In response, groups of Christian vigilantes formed militia groups and launched a wave of murderous attacks on Muslims, forcing thousands to flee.

It may be difficult to condemn such actions – especially the spontaneous retaliation in Pakistan – but condemn them we must. We might argue about when it is permissible for Christians to fight back, but we can surely agree that mob violence is never the answer.

Look at Egypt. Despite continuing attacks on their churches, and a general reluctance by the police to help, Coptic Christians there do not often seek revenge.

I feel they might be a special case. The Coptic church dates back to the earliest days of Christianity, and the Copts have endured many centuries of attack and martyrdom. They have become living proof of the truth of Tertullian’s famous statement, that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.

Christians in other countries do not have that experience. So when suicide bombers attack it is natural to think about reprisals.

And sadly, as violence against Christians escalates, particularly in the Muslim world, I believe that we can almost certainly expect more such retaliation.

 

Pursuing Peace in Pakistan

Less than two weeks after suicide bombers murdered 18 worshippers at two churches in Lahore, Pakistan (I wrote about it here), the country’s Ecumenical Commission for Human Development has released its initial report on the atrocity.

According to the report:

Recent years, however, have witnessed an environment of growing intolerance, vigilantism and impunity against various groups, endorsed by the state and sanctioned by the society. As a result, these divisions have developed into fault lines, threatening the very existence of the country. And within this atmosphere rife with violent extremism, the religious minorities in the country continue to be on the frontline of persecution. 

It has made a series of recommendations:

The Government of Pakistan should take strict action against the splinter group of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, who owned the responsibility of twin terrorist attacks on Churches and all suspected person who are involved in these deadly blasts. 

The Government of Pakistan should take strict action against the stone-hearted persons who lynched the two suspected militants by conducting fair and effective investigation to ensure the justice. 

The Government of Pakistan should ensure the implementation of Article 36 of Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan regarding the protection and security of religious minorities in the country. 

The Government of Pakistan should ban the misuse of speakers to religious places that is done to incite the religious sentiments of one religion against other religion and sects. The concerned governments should ban the utterance of hatred speech against any other religion and sects. 

The Government of Pakistan should prohibit the increasing trend of mob violence undertaken to violate the rule of law and harm the religious minorities and other weaker groups in the country. 

The Government of Pakistan should ensure the protection and security of religious minorities, their places of worship and associated institutions and also compensate the families of martyrs and injured according to the rules. 

The Government of Pakistan should take an initiative for peace and interfaith harmony between the majority and minority communities in the country.

The Ecumenical Commission for Human Development is an independent Christian agency committed to the development of marginalized communities in Pakistan.

Persecution and Prayer in Pakistan – How a Simple Calendar Helps Me See God’s Hand in the Midst of Suffering

I have just received a surprising gift from some returning missionaries. It is a small 2015 calendar, with each month’s page depicting a color photograph of a church. An accompanying card tells me that these are all vibrant churches, full of joyful worshippers who love to sing the praises of Jesus.

Nothing surprising about that. Except that the country involved is Pakistan, which is supposed to be one of the places most hostile to Christians.

According to the 2015 World Watch List from Open Doors, listing the 50 countries where persecution of Christians is worst, Pakistan is ranked at Number Eight, with “severe persecution.”

Open Doors comments: “Pakistan’s Christians are caught in the crossfire between Islamic militant organizations and mobs that violently target Christians, and an Islamizing culture on the other hand that results in Christians being isolated from the rest of the population.

“The notorious blasphemy laws continue to have devastating consequences for minorities, including Christians. A Pakistani mob beat and burned to death a Christian couple in November for alleged blasphemy charges. Women and girls are experiencing violence every day; especially those from minority groups who are vulnerable and easy targets for rape, sexual abuse and kidnapping.”

Yet when I look at that calendar, which I now have on the wall beside my desk, I really do see a joyful expression of Christian witness.

On one page I see a baptism at a large, red-clay church in Islamabad. Another month shows a simple village congregation, with worshippers sitting outside on brightly colored carpets. Then there is the image of worship at a busy, big-city church, with expectant men, women and children seated on carpets on the floor. The picture for December shows Pakistani Christians celebrating Christmas outside a house of worship in Punjab province

I remember when the head of a Pakistani Bible college came and spoke to our church. He told us of a thriving community of inspired young Christians, future church leaders, eager to hear more about the gospel.

We learned that Pakistan actually has a special visa category just for Christian missionaries. “So the missionaries that you send to us in Pakistan really must engage in Christian mission work,” he said with a smile. “If they don’t, then they are breaking the law.”

When you are passionate about the plight of persecuted Christians, as I believe I am, it is easy to fall into despair.

Such is the ease of communications nowadays that almost every day I receive an email from a Christian organisation telling me about an appalling new incident of persecution somewhere in the world. Pakistan seems to feature prominently.

So that simple calendar is important. It reminds me that, in the midst of the trials and the suffering and the oppression, God is powerfully at work, building his church.

Pakistan – Not Too Many People Here Optimistic

A Christian friend in Pakistan emails a simple message: “Not too many people here optimistic.”

Another email arrives, from International Christian Concern, with the subject line: “EMERGENCY RESPONSE: 200 Christian Homes Burned Down In Pakistan.”

A Pakistani newspaper, The News, carries a lengthy and horrifying history of the persecution of Christians in the country.

The history of persecution of Christians in Pakistan is not very old. Just 15 years ago, a Christian Ayub Masih was the first to be convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death. Ayub was accused by a neighbour of stating that he supported British writer Salman Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses.”

Though the lower court had upheld Ayub’s conviction, his lawyer was able to prove before the Pakistan Supreme Court that the accuser had used the conviction to force Masih’s family off their land and then acquired control of the property. Masih was resultantly released.

And then everything gets worse. The report details an appalling catalog of crimes against Christians.

It is difficult to be optimistic about Pakistan.