Pakistan (MNN) — On December 12, Birgitta Almeby finally succumbed to the injuries she sustained on the mission field in Pakistan.
The 72-year-old Swedish charity worker was flown to Stockholm for further treatment last week after she was shot just outside her home in Lahore, Pakistan on December 3. Police say she was returning from work when unknown gunmen fired on her, hitting her in the chest.
Almeby was well known in the Pakistani Christian community, having served there for 38 years. Assist News reports she was connected to the Full Gospel Assemblies as director of their Technical Training Institute, taught at the FGA Bible School, and ran the ministry's orphanages in Lahore.
The attack came after numerous death threats, according to the leadership of the FGA Church. Although there are suspicions as to who's behind the attack, investigators haven't named her attackers yet.
The Christian community is in shock and feels vulnerable. Paul Estabrooks, minister-at-large with Open Doors, says, "I don't think believers in Pakistan are especially surprised. I mean, they've been experiencing this kind of challenge for decades. They know that there's a price to be paid in this area for those who follow Jesus."
Estabrooks goes on to say he thinks the message this attack sends is not so much for the Pakistani Christians as it is for Christians in the West. "This is, I think, a wake-up call for us, in terms of our concern for brothers and sisters in countries like Pakistan, that we up hold them before the Lord because they face these kinds of pressures on a daily basis."
In fact, although the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has condemned the attack, Estabrooks notes, "These kinds of challenges face them regularly…everything from the blasphemy challenge to physical abuse, to the inability to get a decent job because they are a part of that Christian minority."
Infamous cases of Asia Bibi (a Christian woman facing the death sentence under the blasphemy law), the assassination of Cabinet Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, and the slaying of the Punjab Governor Salman Taseer reveal a country that is hostile to minority Christians. Death threats are routine for church leaders; beatings are common, and damage to church property occurs on a monthly basis.
Estabrooks says on one hand, "There seems to be a slight improvement in the situation overall, especially when you compare it to other countries," noting that the government had taken some steps to improve religious freedom, via the creation of a Ministry of National Harmony. On the other hand, he adds, "At the same time, this kind of bold, daylight action (Almeby's murder)… is really concerning."
Says Estabrooks says the upshot is that "it will just remind believers in Pakistan of their minority status and of how they are so dependent on the Lord for their lives." For Christian workers in Pakistan, news like this is unnerving, but there is a growing sense of "walking the way of the Cross." "Most believers really believe that security is from the Lord, and they're aware of the fact that our lives are not our own."