Praise in the midst of pain: By Nasir Saeed, Coordinator CLAAS UK
20 Nov 2009
I recently had the opportunity to visit Gojra and Korian, two towns attacked in the summer by Muslim extremists over the alleged desecration of the Koran by Christians. Four months on and the pain and sense of injustice over those horrific events is still etched on the faces of the Christians who live there. They know the attacks were baseless. This was just another deadly example of Muslim extremists misusing the blasphemy law to settle personal vendettas.
I travelled to Pakistan with Sally and Hamad Bailey from one of our supporting churches, St Paul’s in Slough, and there to meet us at the other end was Joseph Francis, head of CLAAS in Pakistan. The difficulties facing the Christians of Gojra and Korian were apparent. They are still living in tents, their homes having been destroyed in the attacks; some of the children are unable to go to school; many of the adults have been sacked from their jobs by their Muslim employers.
The readiness with which they spoke of their hardship was testimony to how much these people long for justice. Investigations and trials are always a frustratingly long and drawn out process in Pakistan and justice rarely swings in favour of the voiceless Christians. They appeared grateful simply to have their stories heard as they greeted us outside their tents. One of those we met was Nouman Masih, who has just been released from prison following CLAAS’ successful bail application.
We were shown to the ruin of a house where six Christians were burnt to death by the attackers. The house is normally locked but they opened it up so that we could go inside and see the full awfulness of its scorched interior. The heat of the flames had been so intense that even metal objects and utensils had melted.
It’s hard to see how any person could have survived that fire, fuelled by the hatred of their Muslim neighbours. We prayed for the martyrs, whose faces stare out from a banner placed outside the front of the house in their memory. This is a place that embodies hatred, anger and intense tragedy, yet their relatives do not want it torn down. They want it to remain standing as a memorial so that their plight is never forgotten.
In spite of the obvious difficulties they face, their gentleness and kindness were evident as they served us drinks, shared their stories and joined with us in a time of worship for the God they have never stopped believing in. We did our best to comfort them through our words and Sally and Hamad Bailey performed some Christian songs for them in the Pakistani language. It was a modest gathering but one that allowed everyone – young and old, men, women and children - to forget their suffering for a while at least. As we sang to God I couldn’t help but notice the slogans scrawled across several wall banners in the church – “Is it a crime to be a Christian in Pakistan?”; “Stop the massacre of Christians in Pakistan”. In the midst of such a violent reality, they still praise.
In Korian, new houses are being built but the majority of victims are still living in tents and it’s unlikely they will be able to move into their new homes by Christmas. Adding to their degradation is the fact that the tents have been erected in the local graveyard – unthinkable in Pakistani culture. Many of the Christians we met were grieved by half measures from the Pakistani government, particularly in relation to housing. In Pakistan it is not uncommon for as many as four families to be living together in one house, divided into several rooms according to their needs. Yet the houses the government is constructing can support only one family, causing considerable anxiety among the Christians about how they will be able to live in such unsuitable housing. I have promised to take this issue up with the Pakistani High Commissioner in the UK.
By the time we left Lahore that day darkness had already fallen and as I went over in my mind the misery so visible in their expressions, I couldn’t help but ask God why they were suffering so much. The answer I received was that they are heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven. For a Christian living in a majority-Muslim country like Pakistan, life is inevitably full of trials but there are things that we can do to help them. Firstly, we should pray for them that such attacks will never happen again and, secondly, we should offer them financial assistance. Pakistani Christians in particular must be ready to respond when our brothers and sisters in Pakistan and elsewhere need us.