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ICC Note: Pakistani Christians from Nayya Sarabah, a Muslim-majority village located in the Punjab province, wait as negotiations remain deadlocked as to where their new church will be located. Six months ago, the only church in Nayyan Sarabah was shut down because Muslim villagers felt it was an affront to have a church in a Muslim-majority village. Since then, a new church location has been hard to find and Christians have been forced to worship within their own homes.

06/18/2018 Pakistan (UCAN) – Six months after villagers in Muslim-majority Nayya Sarabah (Chak 336) in Pakistan’s Punjab province colluded with police to shut down the only Christian church in the village, negotiations remain deadlocked pending a new land deal.

Christians claim they are being persecuted after the church, run by Pastor Samuel Masih, held its last service in December and has since been sealed, with orders in June to remove all religious symbols and traces of Christianity from the property.

The community of 40 Christian families in this village of 400 people in Toba Tek Singh district near Faisalabad has since been holding weekly prayers in their homes.

But they claim they are being treated unfairly in not being able to practice their religion freely and are now operating under almost impossible conditions.

“We paid to have this church built,” said 70-year-old Christian Rafaqat Masih, a retired army officer and union councilor for minorities who is at the vanguard of efforts to resolve the issue.

“You can still smell the fresh coat of paint. But the musical instruments that were once used by our church choir have now been removed,” Masih told His uncle Rafiq Masih owns the land on which the church was built.

“Our houses are blessed by God but worshippers are being forced to congregate on people’s verandas as there is no proper ventilation inside, and the humidity is getting worse,” added Rafaqat, who hosted the latest round of Friday prayers on June 8.

He was referring to the church belonging to the Full Gospel Assemblies (FGA), an evangelical group working in the country.

Rafaqat said the church, located just meters from his house, is at risk of being torn down as authorities sketch out plans to relocate it outside the village, where it is less likely to foment religious tension.

Muslim resident Hajji Muhammad Siddique was quoted by other media as suggesting the property was an affront to local sensibilities.

“Muslims are in the majority in this village so we can’t allow a church here,” said the 73-year-old, who runs a local dispensary.

“Now we are working with the civil administration to give a piece of land to Christians outside the village,” he added.

“We will make [them] write an agreement that they will sell this current church building or at least dismantle the church structure and crosses.”

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