Pakistan (MNN) – You’ve heard this threat before: “Convert, leave or die”.
It’s been the hallmark of Islamist extremist groups connected to ISIS as they march through the Middle East. However, this latest threat comes out of Pakistan, which has noted a growing base of ISIS fighters.
Although the group issuing the decree hasn’t officially declared themselves part of the Caliphate, their ideology seems to follow a similar path: clear out anyone who isn’t the right kind of Muslim.
It is the Christians in Chak 44, a village in Punjab, are bearing the brunt of religious fanaticism. Brother Nehemiah, the Forgotten Missionaries International-Pakistan national director, sounded the alert four days ago.
The community is made up of around 2,500 to 3,000 Muslims, of which a tenth are Shia Muslim or Christian, and the remainder are Sunnis. At the heart of this: the abuse of the blasphemy laws.
24-year old Imran Masih, a Christian resident, was accused of committing blasphemy over his cell phone content.
“The young man had recorded video clips of a wedding ceremony of one of his Muslim colleagues.” The phone got passed around and a shopkeeper eventually wound up with it and was supposedly watching a video of a Christian pastor on it when Masih returned to collect his phone. Heated words led to accusations. Allen suspects they had very little truth to them.
“Family and co-workers say that his illiteracy prevents him from knowing how to use many of the functions on his phone.” However, the accusations led to a fatwa for Masih’s death sentence and, says FMI’s Bruce Allen, a fatwa against the other 35 Christian families in the village.
Masih went into hiding. Imams used Friday prayers to incite local Muslims, who threatened to torch houses of all the Christians in the village. The mob also demanded that Masih be handed over to them, so that he could be executed.
Police were called in, and managed to restore order, but the tension is just below the surface. “Their Muslim neighbors are refusing to sell food to them, give them jobs. They’re demanding that the Christians leave the village, convert to Islam or be burned along with their homes.”
With a threat reminiscent of the 2013 Joseph Colony burnings, you’d think this would be a bigger story. Not so, says Allen.
“It’s not even making news in Pakistan. It’s only the other Christians who have been made aware of it, who live in Pakistan who are letting the international media know about this situation.”
There is fear, certainly. Yet, even though Christians around the country have been on the proverbial ‘knife’s edge’ since the Easter day bombings in Lahore, Allen says their group is excited about some great opportunities for evangelism and discipleship coming up. “I’ll be leading a team to Pakistan in the summer that’s working on the development on a new evangelism tool for the church planters and pastors, and not just them, but by their entire congregations.”
Why bother to equip a religious minority at a time when they might be safer going underground? Because it’s more than religion. In the search for hope, Allen says there is an understanding of what a change of heart could cost.
”Muslims are coming to Christ and looking to be baptized, which is an amazing thing because, for a Muslim to become baptized into the Christian faith means that they are subject to the death penalty if they are caught.”
Plus, FMI is wrapping up details on a major project. “Our supporters are funding the construction materials for four new churches in Pakistan.” They’re also hoping to provide building materials, as well as preparing for the distribution of printed New Testaments and Scripture on audio CDs.
Would you pray fervently, along with this team, for boldness, for wisdom, for the Holy Spirit to move? Allen concludes with this reminder: “The apostle Paul writes to Christians in the New Testament, ‘there’s a wide open door for us. Pray for us because there’s opposition.’ That’s what’s happening in Pakistan today.”