10/12/2023 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Much of the world was shocked by the nightmare that descended on a Christian community in Pakistan this August. The dust has long settled, and the world has all but moved on. Yet hundreds of Christian families and pastors are still picking up the pieces, trying to regain a foothold in the world that they lost. And we are there to help them.
The tranquility of the quiet, Christian suburb of Faisalabad, Pakistan was shattered when 5,000 radical Muslims descended upon Jaranwala in a rampage. They set 26 churches ablaze, along with 196 homes, and many businesses. The scale of destruction is difficult to fathom, and it was a stark reminder of the precarious situation faced by Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan.
The uproar began when a Muslim man, driven by malice, made a false blasphemy charge against a Christian teen. It was a petty dispute over a business transaction that spiraled into a nightmare. The allegation was the spark, but the dry tinder of communal tension had been growing far too long.
Word of the blasphemy charge quickly spread beyond the boundaries of Jaranwala.
Angry mobs from afar descended upon the community with a fervor that defied reason. Witnesses recounted the chilling sight of men on motorcycles, laden with flammable materials, setting homes, churches, and businesses ablaze. The streets that once echoed with hymns and prayers now bore witness to an inferno fueled by intolerance.
The attackers’ rage went beyond the false blasphemy charge; it was a collective belief by some that Christians were undermining Pakistan’s identity as a Muslim nation. Many among the mob were not even familiar with Jaranwala, but they came to destroy it. Others believed that Christians were undermining Pakistan’s identity as a Muslim nation.
The government has promised relief and began to distribute checks to Christians to offset their losses. It certainly won’t be enough to rebuild their homes. More than 100 attackers were arrested in a nod to justice.
We asked two members of our team to give their assessment of the destruction. Here were their responses:
WHAT WAS IT LIKE WHEN YOU FIRST ARRIVED ON THE SCENE?
Ginger: I arrived at the scene 22 hours after the unjust vandalism had taken place. My first stop was at Essa Nagri. What I encountered was a scene of profound devastation. Every item within the homes had been reduced to ashes or torn into unrecognizable pieces. From ceiling fans to toilet seats, no object had been spared from the relentless flames. The air still bore the scent of the chemicals that had been used in the destruction.
As I entered the churches, the extent of the damage became even more heart-wrenching. Bibles, symbols of faith, had been ruthlessly set ablaze. Carpets, chairs, fans, and even electrical sockets lay shattered and broken, a testament to the senseless destruction that had unfolded within these sacred places of worship.
In Christian Town, which incidentally is the hometown of the accused, the scene was different. The area was heavily fortified with a notable presence of police and rangers. Makeshift tents had been erected to block off access to the streets, effectively keeping the media and outsiders at bay. It was a considerable challenge to gain entry.
Once inside, I found that the houses were vacant. The inhabitants fled, seeking safety from the chaos that had descended on their lives. Only a handful of male residents remained. Their tears and expressions mirrored the sheer horror of seeing their cherished residences reduced to smoldering ruins.
Ironically, during my visit to Christian Town, I crossed paths with some Muslim individuals. The expressions on their faces spoke volumes about their emotions; they seemed unmistakably proud of their actions, wearing their perceived “achievement” as a badge of honor.
Oscar: When we went to the affected area, the place looked like burnt-out ruins. The voices of people screaming and shouting could be heard, and the view was no less than any hell.
WE’VE SEEN THE PHOTOS AND VIDEOS, BUT WHAT WERE YOU HEARING IN THE CROWD?
Ginger: They were simply grieving their profound losses, while those who had recently returned after fleeing were utterly stunned to see their once-familiar homes reduced to ashes.
Oscar: They were saying that no one comes for our help, they attack us, and we lose everything: our belongings, homes, and businesses. We have given our lives to build these houses and to build these things we live by doing small jobs and small businesses. We are poor, and they burnt everything in minutes.
A disabled man who was missing an arm and legs was telling us loudly, “They took away our water pumps we don’t have water for drinking and consumption anymore, they burnt our Bibles and churches, but they cannot remove the love of God from our hearts which will remain in our hearts until we die!”
WHAT DID THE SURVIVING FAMILIES AND PASTORS SAY TO YOU?
Ginger: Pastor Shahzaib recounted the events, saying, “It was like any other ordinary day. It was approximately 7 a.m. when I received a call from Christian Town, urgently advising us to evacuate our homes if we wished to stay alive. I was taken aback, bewildered by the lack of information. Without wasting a moment, I hurried to my church, gathered the youth, and rallied other pastors. Together, we began spreading the word, urging people to secure their houses and evacuate the town for the sake of their lives.”
Ayesha said, “As soon as I heard the news of the approaching mob, I grabbed my children. We were in such a frantic rush that we didn’t even have the presence of mind to put on shoes or grab a scarf. All that mattered to us was ensuring the safety of our kids, so we fled the town without looking back.”
Sana expressed his anguish, saying, “My son worked for his entire life, 18-hour shifts to build this home. In seconds, this house was reduced to ashes by these individuals’ hands. What was our fault in all of this? How can we possibly rebuild our homes from scratch? They left nothing behind, not a single possession in our houses.”
Farhan expressed, “We’ve called this area home for three long decades, painstakingly building our houses brick by brick. Even if the government assists in rebuilding our houses, how can we ever erase the memory of our beloved homes reduced to ashes? Our lives in this area will never be the same again; the scars from this ordeal will remain with us forever.”
Mahnoor recounted, “Among the individuals in the mob, a few were riding motorcycles with drums of chemicals strapped to the front. These chemicals were of such potent nature that they could be easily tossed, igniting fires almost instantly.”
Amina said the mob was armed with a variety of weapons, including rods, batons, pistols, axes, and hammers.
Oscar: One pastor said, “They disrespected us, the Bible, and churches which is not a good thing at all. If there was such a thing or accusation of blasphemy, that could have been solved legally. The government has to control that type of fake things; people use it against Christian like a weapon.”
Families were crying, and they said that when they burnt our houses and churches no one came for our help. “We must flee for our lives when we leave our homes, our girls didn’t even have proper clothes. The government gives us relief checks, but we didn’t cash.”
WHERE DID YOU SEE THE LORD WORKING; WHAT GAVE YOU HOPE?
Ginger: I saw the resilience of faith when I visited the site on Sunday, the very first Sunday following the tragic incident. Despite the churches being vandalized and houses reduced to ashes, the enduring love of God remained firmly rooted in the hearts of the Christians in Jaranwala. In a remarkable display of unwavering faith, they organized a large church gathering right amidst those charred streets. There, they worshipped, prayed, and conducted their Sunday service, undeterred by fear or adversity.
Oscar: When God helps you, he makes your enemy your friends. We saw there that some people from other communities were helping our Christian community, and it gave us hope that God never abandons his believer if we step forward to help them. God is with us.
WHAT IS SOMETHING FROM THIS INCIDENT THAT WILL STICK WITH YOU FOR A LONG TIME?
Ginger: Their resilience and unwavering faith. Despite the persecution and the fact that they continue to live amidst the very community that targeted them for their beliefs, they stand firm in their faith. Instead of succumbing to adversity, they praise their God with even greater enthusiasm.
Oscar: The burning of the Churches and holy Bibles, the helpless faces of the survivors whose eyes were looking for help; and they were unable to do anything even if they wanted to. Their cries that they were crying and say no one came to help us.
BRIEFLY DESCRIBE ICC’S ROLE IN THE RECOVERY; WHAT DO YOU WANT OUR SUPPORTERS TO KNOW?
Ginger: We met people on a personal level and gave them words of encouragement. We also listened to the stories of how they survived, and this helps us better understand their needs. By building relationships with survivors, we effectively distributed resources where they were needed most.
By connecting directly with those affected by the violent act, ICC gains deeper understanding about their individual contexts which helps inform how best to meet their needs.
ICC improved and strengthened relationships with the survivors through words of encouragement and our staff together with the pastors and Catholic fathers sang psalms and prayed in front of the burnt church. Meeting as a person was also beneficial for us. We could visit those areas which were burnt, but no one had access there and this gave us the advantage that we could know all their needs in a better way, and we could channel all our resources to them.
We took visited and distributed food aid to 75 families—that was what they needed at that time.
IN WHAT WAYS ARE CHRISTIANS IN JARANWALA STILL UNDERGOING PERSECUTION AND HARDSHIPS?
Ginger: Our supporters should know about the current situation as blasphemy is a very complicated matter in Pakistan. Following the incident of Jaranwala, there have been many occurrences of blasphemy against minorities. The Christian community is still under pressure from the majority as the Muslims have started to hold a grudge against minorities and accuse them of being involved with humiliating the Islamic religion. Our supporters should condemn the incident and request the state to take serious action.
Oscar: In Jaranwala, some pastors and many people are still receiving threats. The two brothers who were accused are in police custody and their family are still facing threats from the Majority.
To spread fear, some people are picked up for investigation and allegedly connected with this family without evidence. No one knows where they are kept. Some people are suffering from various diseases, diabetes, heart disease, and asthma.
Recently some unknown persons shot and injured a pastor.
In the aftermath of the horrific incident, relief efforts have been in full swing. ICC’s dedicated staff swiftly arrived on the scene to assess the damage. So many families, many with young kids, were left homeless. We continue to distribute essential supplies like food, cooking utensils, soap, tents, beds, and blankets.
This is just the first phase of an extensive undertaking. The long-term plans to rebuild homes, churches, and small businesses are staggering. ICC is seeking to raise $500,000 in this effort.
If you’d like to join our efforts, please visit: www.persecution.org/peril-in-pakistan.