Pakistan (MNN) — Yesterday, MNN covered the arson of Gawahi TV, a Christian television ministry in the heart of Karachi, Pakistan.
Bruce Allen with Forgotten Missionaries International explained that despite evidence to the contrary, it seems investigators deemed the fire was accidental, caused by a short circuit.
What’s not in dispute is that the fire has alarmed the sizeable Christian community in the area. It came on the heels of a warning in September, notes Allen. “The national government and the military warned that there would be terrorist attacks against all Christians in Pakistan. They had the intelligence about specific threats.”
Specifically, Allen says, ”They were warning all Christians–whether it was a church, a Christian school or a Christian-run hospital–that ‘You’re in the terrorists’ cross hairs. We advise you to keep a low profile, limit your movement.’” What’s more, he says as 11/26 approached, “Authorities warned about Islamic State attacks in the Punjab province. The Christians are just on perpetual high alert against terrorism.” 11/26/2008 was when 10 Pakistani members of Lashkar e Taiba carried out a series of 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting four days across Mumbai, India.
According to the warnings, the planned attacks against Christian communities in Pakistan were expected to be carried out by some splinter groups that formerly belonged to the Pakistani Taliban, which forged an alliance with the ISIS cells that have already entered Pakistan. Given the history, the timing of the Gawahi arson attack is remarkable, although, not verifiable.
What it does establish is a pattern. The country suffers from chronic sectarian and religiously motivated violence. Pakistan has been designated a Country of Particular Concern by the USCIRF since 2002. Though the constitution guarantees religious freedom, Christians increasingly suffer under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. The law stipulates that any person who defiles the name of the prophet Muhammad or the Quran may be punished by life in prison or death.
Allen says, “In a situation like that, in an environment like that, individuals–even those who aren’t aligned with any terrorist group–feel like ‘we can just go to town against the Christians. We can persecute them. Nothing is really going to happen to us.’” Christians also face discrimination in employment and education, keeping them entrenched in the lower classes.
Still, the effect of terrorism on Pakistan’s Muslim population has been somewhat unanticipated. “The people of Pakistan, in general, are ambivalent regarding terrorism. They don’t know how they should feel,” explains Allen, adding, “They, themselves, are looking for hope and for answers. The Islamic State and other terrorist groups are not only targeting Christians: often, they will target other Muslims.” As they witness the violence, they are asking hard questions: “’Are we so driven by violence and bloodshed? Is there no other way?’”
Allen says this is where the work of FMI comes in. “The light shines brightest against a dark sky. When you hold forth the Word of light, you’re like a shining star in the dark universe.”
FMI comes alongside church planters and evangelists with resourcing and training. However, in a country like Pakistan, resistance, hostility, and persecution can be isolating and discouraging. Security issues notwithstanding, says Allen, “We have a conference coming up in early 2016 for all of the church planters and evangelists that we partner with in Pakistan. It will be a great time of encouragement. We lead specific sessions that will help fortify their ministries.”
Please be praying for wisdom, safety, and boldness in the wake of the conference. Pray that these Christian leaders would stay true to the Gospel and that the encouragement they get will be long lasting.