Pakistan (CAM) — A suicide bomber in Lahore, Pakistan, took aim at Christian children at a park in a horrific attack on Easter Sunday that killed 74 people. Indigenous ministries are reaching out to the bereaved and wounded survivors.
With 67 acres, Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park is one of Lahore’s largest parks. It’s a place where people with differences in class and religion can mingle comfortably. On the evening of March 27, it drew both low-income earners and those with greater means. It drew Christians celebrating Easter and Muslims enjoying the crisp evening air, in a country where 96% of the population is Muslim.
At a section of the park for children’s rides, the suicide bomber’s explosion did not discriminate, tearing apart bodies and leaving survivors devastated beyond words. At least 362 people were injured. Many of those released from local hospitals are still nursing broken bones and internal injuries.
“There are people in the hospitals who are still in critical condition,” the director of a ministry based in Lahore said. “We were told that the attack was targeting Christians, but the majority who were affected were Muslims.”
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP), took responsibility for the bombing. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said in a press statement that the suicide bomber deliberately targeted the Christian community.
“We claim responsibility for the attack on Christians as they were celebrating Easter,” Ehsan said, adding that the attack had been carried out under an operation code-named Saut Ul Raad (Sound of Lightning) that:
“will continue throughout this year…. It was part of our annual martyrdom attacks we have started this year…. We had been waiting for this occasion…. We want to convey to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz [PML-N] and the prime minister that we have arrived in Punjab, and we will reach you.”
More than 150 Muslims are still receiving hospital care, along with about 50 Christians, including 23 who are under 20 years old, the ministry director said. About 50 of the Muslims are in critical condition, as well as 18 of the Christians–mostly children, he added.
Is anyone helping?
Punjab Province officials have said they provided financial assistance to the injured at one hospital–300,000 rupees (US$2,835) to the seriously injured and half that amount to those with lesser injuries–and that assistance will be provided to the injured at other hospitals and to families of those who were killed. Promises of such aid have gone unfulfilled in the past, however, and reports have already surfaced that the financial assistance is being withdrawn.
In any event, the indigenous ministry director said hospital care is expensive in Pakistan, and that medical costs of many go beyond what the government has promised.
“There are three hospitals, and one of them is a government hospital,” he said. “At the government hospital, there are costs involved for food and special medical tests, and the other costs are covered by the hospital. The other two are private hospitals, and the families have to cover their own costs.”
Indigenous ministries lend a hand
Indigenous ministries that Christian Aid Mission assists are reaching out to injured Muslims and Muslim families who have lost loved ones. They seek to console them and help cover medical costs for victims, regardless of religion.
“We are praying that we will have an opportunity through this to build further relationships, and through this very practical expression of the love of our Lord for others, the ministry will be encouraged to love their neighbors, that many would come to know their Savior,” the director said.
The ministries are listening to survivors as they process their grief. A Christian father of four, identified only as Daniel, told one ministry director that his 15-year-old son asked him for some money to go to the park after their Easter church service.
“His son took his three friends…to Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, and at around 6 p.m. the terrorist attacked, and his son was hurt in his leg, back, and stomach,” the director said.
“His three friends were together during the attack. One died at the park right after the attack took place, while the other died as they reached the hospital, and the third friend is battling for his life at the hospital.”
Visiting victims in hospitals or in their homes, ministry members are counseling and praying with survivors–both Muslim and Christian, he said. They are also helping them with practical needs such as meals.
“Several people are daily wage workers, and right now they are going to work while dealing with the trauma. They need a one-time meal or meals for a month, and then we’re providing counseling to overcome the loss and trauma,” he said. “We are working with both Muslim and Christian communities. We are praying for everyone; each day we take a different pastor from a different denomination, Catholics included.”
The suicide bombing was the deadliest attack in Pakistan since the December 2014 massacre of 134 schoolchildren at a military-run academy in Peshawar.
A history of terror
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has carried out other large attacks, and investigators have reportedly found evidence at the blast site that matches evidence from three other attacks over the past 18 months. In March of last year, two suicide attacks hit churches in Lahore’s Youhanabad area — just eight miles from the park crime scene — that left at least 17 people dead, including two policemen.
The gun-and-bomb attacks on March 15, 2015 targeted Christ Church Youhanabad and St. John’s Catholic Church. At least two young suicide attackers blew themselves up — one at each church building — just when services were ending. Both attacks were foiled by Christian security volunteers, who laid down their lives to protect the 2,000 people worshiping at the two churches.
The attacks, which took place almost five minutes apart, killed 16 people, including two policemen deployed for church security, and the next day a wounded Christian died at a hospital, raising the number of dead to 17. Immediately claiming responsibility for the attacks was Jamaat-ul-Ahrar.
The director of the Lahore-based ministry said his team is assessing needs following the park attack.
“If we are able to have access to enough resources, then we would like to expand this help to Muslim and Christian families,” he said.