Pakistan (OM) — [Editor’s Note: This Operation Mobilization first-person account is from an OM Pakistan team member, who was in Youhanabad during the church bombings and riots last month. It stands as a reminder that the trauma may have faded from the headlines, but it is still affecting many in Pakistan.]
The 15 March was a bright Sunday. I was listening to the pastor’s message during the worship service at a small house church, when suddenly we heard two bangs. We couldn’t decipher what it was, and I thought it was an exploding power transformer.
After a few minutes, the choir leader’s mobile rang, and he moved out of the church to take the call. Moments later, we heard him screaming outside. He rushed into the worship place and shouted, “Christ Church has been bombed–bomb blast in Youhanabad.”
Two suicide bombers–one at Christ Church and one at St. John’s Catholic Church–had approached the church gates to attack Christians as they left after Sunday Mass. In both cases, the courage of individuals to confront and stop the suicide bombers saved thousands of lives.
This news struck me like a hammer. Christ Church is my church. I was sent out into missions by this church, and my family attends there. I was troubled and asked the pastor to finish the service as soon as possible. I had to see my family.
In the same area at another church, over 14 team members, including our regional leader and the executive leadership of OM Pakistan, were sharing about OM’s work and challenging about mission.
We prayed for God’s hand upon the situation as the service closed. I quickly left my wife and son at our house and rushed to Youhanabad, a Christian-majority suburb of Lahore. As I jogged to the main road, the sound of sirens became louder. Youhanabad is two kilometers from my house. No rickshaw taxi driver would take me there, so I started running.
I entered the area to find people protesting. Women were screaming and beating themselves in mourning. Broken windowpanes, blood, and shoes were scattered across the blast sites. Rescue workers had already moved the dead and taken the injured to nearby hospitals. I found out through phone calls that my family and team members were safe. I was relieved.
But my heart sank as I returned home. I found out that a mob of protesters had beaten to death two people they suspected of being associated with the attackers. Christians clashed with the police as women mourned publically in the streets. In other cities like Karachi and Peshawar, Christians also took to the streets in protests that lasted two days.
That week, there were rumors of further attacks on Christians in Youhanabad, and families started to leave their homes. For the next four days, Youhanabad was deserted, as 80% of the families had left. Police and rangers, with the help of the political administration, helped calm the situation by promoting inter-faith dialogue. Youhanabad was closed off for a week to prevent any further attacks.
Police started investigating the deaths and the destruction of public and private property due to protesters. Over 300 Christian youth were arrested. The families who returned to their homes after a week sent their youth outside of Youhanabad, for fear they would also be arrested.
Again the church leadership and the local administration gathered to find a solution for the arrest of the culprits, and most of the destruction, rioting, and lynching was recorded by over 20 news channels.
As tensions continued, OM team members visited families affected by the blasts and prayed for restoration and encouragement. Some led short counseling sessions with the families of the two people who had tried to stop the suicide bombers.
Akash, 16, a security guard at St. John’s Catholic Church, and Mr. Zahid, a husband and father of three, both showed extraordinary courage and bravery to stop the bombers from entering the churches. Over 2,000 worshippers were sitting in both churches. If it had not been for their courage, many more would have been killed. In total, 20 people were killed and over 100 injured, including policemen and nearby Muslim shopkeepers.
In response to the events, the OM office remained closed for a week. Though all OM staff were safe, one team member’s uncle was killed in the attacks. Another leader lost everything when his house was looted during the time Christian families left Youhanabad. Others, though physically safe, continue to process the trauma of the events.
OM responds to Youhanabad’s grief
Now over a month later, the events in Youhanabad have faded from the world’s view. But for the families most affected, the wounds of loss are fresh. Some families lost a father or older brother–the main breadwinner in the family. Others lost a young sister or brother–the joy of their household.
Our OM team members are visiting families of those who were killed, and we have begun supporting several households, both Muslim and Christian. In the face of financial need, we want to provide opportunities to support children’s education and help with treatment for those injured.
The city of Youhanabad is now back to normal, at least by day. At night, women and elderly men guard the streets, crossings, roads, and houses. They fear being arrested as suspects of the lynching and of destruction of private and public property. Fear stalks the streets in light of this threat.
Church leaders are encouraging believers to be steadfast in faith and cooperate with local authorities. The church is also working for the release of those who have been arrested but are innocent.
Will these events affect the work of OM in Pakistan?
“We are suffering, but we will not be stopped and will continue to bring the love of Christ and the Gospel to the millions who have still never heard of Jesus Christ,” the OM Pakistan leader answered. “Pray for us and the Church to be bold and courageous and not to give into fear.”
• The families who lost loved ones in the attacks
• For physical and emotional healing
• For OM Pakistan and the Church to be bold and fearless as they evangelize