Christians in Pakistan Welcome New Year Only to Have Church Damaged in Arson Attack
By ICC’s Pakistan Correspondent
1/14/2016 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that unidentified assailants have set fire to a temporary structure used by a church in Pakistan for an annual New Year’s prayer service. According to ICC’s findings, the church’s tent, two sofas, carpets, and many pieces of Christian literature set up and secured on church property were damaged or destroyed in the fire.
Members of the New Apostolic Church in Bath village told ICC that their prayer service took place as scheduled on January 6. According to Niyamat Soroya, Dildar Bhatti, Niyamat Masih and Shareef Soroya, members of the New Apostolic Church, the prayer service was attended by some 200 Christians from the church and the surrounding area.
The prayer service started at 7:00 p.m. and ended peacefully at 10:30 p.m. Worshippers left the temporary structure set up by the church around 11:30 p.m. after a dinner was served. Since it was a cold night, the organizing team decided to deconstruct and return the structure to the rental company on the following day. According to the members of the organizing team, the church property was securely locked around 12:30 a.m.
In the early morning hours, neighbors discovered a fire had started at the church compound and quickly informed the police and church leaders. The fire damaged a tent, two sofas, carpets, and many pieces of Christian literature. Electric wires and the front wall of the church building were also damaged.
Bhatti, a member of the New Apostolic Church, said, “This incident could be the beginning of religious intolerance in the village and should be stopped today. Otherwise, authorities will not be able to control the trend of religious intolerance. Every individual should be given freedom to express his faith and the government must take serious steps to insure this.”
Police have yet to register a First Information Report (FIR) at the time of this report. However, an investigation is under way according to Tahir Maqbool, the head constable sent to the church.
The local Christian community is tense and worried following the fire and hopes that a peaceful existence between the local Christian and Muslim communities can continue to exist. However, leaders of the Christian community have urged the government to provide proper protection to their places of worship and ensure that religious freedom as it is guaranteed to all Pakistan’s citizens.
Talking with ICC, Niyamat Soroya, a member of the church’s pastoral team, said, “Christians and Muslims have been living together in this village for decades and have never experienced such incident. Both communities believe in interfaith harmony and would love keep it up for a safer future.”
There are 48 Christian families living among 800 Muslim families in Bath village. A meeting between the heads of the Christian and Muslim communities has taken place to look into the fire and to plan further action, if necessary, to maintain peaceful relations between the two communities. Please keep the Christians of Bath village in your thoughts and prayers as they face the aftermath of this attack on their church.