Speaking out against persecution could paint target on believers

By April 19, 2011

Pakistan (MNN) — Since the murders of two prominent government figures and a Qur'an burning in Florida, persecution has taken a turn for the worse in Pakistan.

A week ago Saturday, a bomb went off in Sarhadi Lutheran Church in Mardan, Khyberpakhtunkhwa province. No one was killed or injured, but the explosion caused significant damage to the building.

Christian Today reported that just one day before the bombing–apparently caused by Islamic radicals, a Muslim man walked into a church in Lahore and tore a Bible to retaliate for Florida pastor Terry Jones burning a Qur'an last month.

Joseph Francis, director of the Center for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) offers free legal support to Pakistani Christians and has strongly opposed the country's blasphemy law. Francis has recently been receiving a steady flow of death threats.

The life of Asia Bibi–a woman sentenced to death for allegedly blaspheming the Muslim prophet Muhammad while sharing her faith–is still at risk. She likely remains in prison, and many fear that she will be murdered while in custody, or even if released. There is a candlelight vigil being held on April 20 for Christians to pray and fast on Bibi's behalf.

Greg Musselman with Voice of the Martyrs, Canada says Pakistan has always been a difficult place for believers to live, but as the blasphemy law (in which anyone can be sentenced to death for negatively portraying the prophet Muhammad or Islam) has come to international attention, tension has dramatically increased.

Bibi's case has created particular outrage among Muslim and Christian communities alike, albeit often for opposing reasons. Believers are so perturbed by the injustice that they are willing to hold a vigil, but Musselman says this could be asking for trouble. "You could be painting a target on yourself, and that could give the militant Islamists an opportunity–especially when they know that this event is coming."

It would seem that believers in Pakistan are in the midst of a catch-22. If no one speaks out against their persecution, attacks will continue unchecked. Musselman anticipates many more church bombings in the future. But if Pakistani believers do speak out against the injustice being done to them, they will also be persecuted further. This was the case for both Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti and Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who were assisinated for their positions on the blasphemy law.

As a result, some believers have already started to flee the country or go into hiding. Musselman says new converts live in extreme caution. "Those that come to Christ from Muslim backgrounds have to be very careful. They come late to the [church] service and leave early."

Pakistani Christians have always had to live under the radar, but now it seems as though "anybody that comes out against the blasphemy law or speaks out against Muslims and the treatment of Christians–they will find themselves in difficulty," explains Musselman.

Pray for our brothers and sisters in Pakistan. On an immediate basis, pray for the vigil taking place tomorrow, that it would not incite more violence but would be an effective time of prayer and peaceful protest. Long term, pray that the Lord would guide each believer as to whether he should stay in the country or flee, and as to when he should speak up or be silent. Pray that our fellow kingdom workers would courageously continue to live out Christ's love, reaching out even to those who persecute them the most.

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