Pakistan (MNN) — Many are calling Sunday's blast the "deadliest assault" against Pakistan's Christians.
A pair of suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the historic All Saints Church in Peshwar after Sunday's service was dismissed. Explosions rocked the area as hundreds of people, many of whom were women and children, left the church building.
Witnesses reportedly heard two blasts, the second more powerful than the first. Over 600 people were inside for Sunday's Mass, reports Reuters.
So far, the injured exceeded 120, and the death toll soared past 80. Voice of the Martyrs USA spokesman Todd Nettleton says it probably won't stop there.
"Our contacts in Pakistan are telling us by the time everything is said and done…the death toll will likely go over 100 for this attack," states Nettleton.
Two Islamic militant groups, both with past links to the Taliban, are claiming to be behind the attack, according to BBC News. Reuters says one of the groups, TTP Jundullah, claimed responsibility within hours.
Reuters quotes the group's spokesperson, Ahmed Marwat, as saying, "They are the enemies of Islam, therefore we target them. We will continue our attacks on non-Muslims on Pakistani land."
Following Sunday's assault, masses reportedly took to Peshwar's streets, burning tires and protesting the government's apparent inability to protect religious minorities.
"They knew it was a potential target. Peshawar is a city where there is a lot of radical Islamic activity, so that's one of the questions and one of the complaints from the Christian community there in Pakistan: how did this happen?" Nettleton says.
"I think underneath that question is the grief and the shock of so many people being killed so quickly in, really, a senseless attack."
While some are taking to the streets in protest, Nettleton says other believers are reacting with violence against Peshwar's Muslim community.
"We need to pray against that; we need to pray for peace; we need to pray for the Christian community to have a spirit of forgiveness and understanding and grace," he says.
Pakistan's Christians are the second-largest religious minority group behind Hindus, representing around 1.6% of the mostly-Muslim population. One lawmaker says about 200,000 believers live in the north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Islamic militants often target religious minorities in their campaigns for power, but sectarian violence in Pakistan has primarily involved two parties: Sunni and Shia Muslims. While sporadic bouts of violence do occur against Christ-followers, most persecution results from Pakistan's blasphemy law.
While the source and cause for Sunday's attack remain unclear, Nettleton says there may be a silver lining.
"Potentially, maybe there are some slivers of hope in this as we see the government, even Muslims within the government, respond to this attack and say, 'This is unacceptable,'" he states.
He adds that recent statements from Pakistani leaders–"This is not true Islam. This is not acceptable under any religion to attack women and children like this"–are an encouraging sign.
"Again, those are words," Nettleton says, "but we wait to see what actions will be taken and what will be done to practically provide protection for the Church there."
Your prayers are needed as Pakistani believers grapple with this tragedy. Please pray for those widowed or orphaned by Sunday's attack. Ask the Lord to meet each of His followers in a deeper way during this time.
"Pray for the pastors who are working in this situation and trying to minister hope and help and encouragement to the Christian community there," asks Nettleton. "One of our contacts there is a pastor. When we spoke with him, he had already done five funerals yesterday–five burials for those killed in the church."
Pray for supernatural grace to fall upon each heart impacted by this tragedy.
"In a situation where grace is completely NOT the natural response, we need to pray that God will provide supernaturally for them to respond with forgiveness," Nettleton says.