PESHAWAR, Pakistan (BP) — It was easy to spot a Christian in Pakistan on Monday (Sept. 23). Normally they tend to keep a low profile for fear of persecution. But this day, they wore black bands around their arms as a sign of mourning and solidarity following Sunday’s church bombing.
The Christian community declared three days of mourning after what is regarded as the deadliest attack on a minority religion in Pakistan to date, with 81 people killed and more than 130 injured.
The attack occurred at the historic All Saints Church in the northwestern city of Peshawar. As the Anglican congregation was leaving worship and gathering on the front lawn for a fellowship meal of rice, a pair of suicide bombers detonated explosives at the door of the church. More than half of the casualties and injured were women and children.
Christian worker Louis Claman* described Monday as a “very, very dark day” as the shock from Sunday’s tragedy finally wore off. Families began burying their dead. Mourners cried with grief in massive numbers. Some held vigil outside the hospital for those still listed in critical condition from the blasts. Thousands of others took to the streets in protest, carrying wooden crosses, chanting and burning tires.
“This is not the first attack on a church, or on other places of worship, but it is the highest casualty count to date,” Claman said. “The Christian response has been one of frustration and [it] adds to the sense that this is not a country where Christians or other minorities can survive.”
Christians make up less than 3 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million people, with less than 1 percent considered evangelical. The Asian nation is listed 14th on the World Watch List for persecuted countries.
The small and largely impoverished Christian community suffers discrimination in the overwhelmingly Muslim-majority nation but bombings against them are extremely rare. Christians worry more about being accused of blasphemy — a derogatory (and illegal) comment about Muhammad — than explosions that throw people to the floor. Suicide bombers don’t normally come to church.
Sunday’s blasts join the list of roughly 85 bomb and suicide attacks that have occurred throughout Pakistan this year, according to the Pakistani Interior Ministry. Claman said many Muslim clerics and government officials have condemned this act of terrorism as inhumane and against any religion.
Witnesses described a scene of dust, debris and devastation. Bloodstained walls were gouged with ball bearings used in the explosives. Pages of Bibles were scattered amid shattered benches.
As images from Sunday replayed on television, angry Pakistani Christians took to the streets to demonstrate in cities throughout the country. In a few places the protests turned violent, with police shooting overhead. But demonstrators continued protesting and chanting the same question minorities asked after Joseph Colony, a Christian colony in Lahore, was attacked and burned down March 10: “Who will protect us?”
Christian workers Clamans and Darren Cantwell* asked Christians worldwide to join in standing beside Pakistani Christians.
“We stand beside our brothers and sisters in Pakistan, mourning with them during this attack,” Cantwell said, “and asking with them for God’s comfort in these days. Our hearts break to see the suffering of God’s people.”
Prayer is requested specifically for:
— the Father to inspire a wave of prayer among the Christians and a response of forgiveness.
— Christians’ forgiveness to lead to an explanation of Christ’s sacrifice and the power of the Holy Spirit to evoke a response of steadfast love for one another and lost neighbors.
— God to melt the hearts of those hostile to Him so they worship the King of Kings.
*Names changed. Susie Rain writes for the International Mission Board from Southeast Asia. A prayer guide for Pakistan can be downloaded at http://southasianpeoples.imb.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Prayer4_SouthAsians_Pakistan.pdf.