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.