Lessons from the Church in Pakistan: Persecution and Progress
*Editor’s Note: I was recently able to talk with Pakistani pastor Sam Gill about the church in Pakistan. In this second article in this series on Pakistan (2 of 3), Sam talks about the persecution against Christians in Pakistan, yet how the church continues to grow.
Q: Just how Muslim is Pakistan, and do the blasphemy laws affect you?
Well, you’re not supposed to speak against Muhammad. And as long as the conservative Muslims don’t feel threatened, then you’re fine. But when you’re trying to explain the differences between Islam and Christianity, sometimes you can get in trouble. But it’s very unexpected. You can go for a long time without any trouble, and then sometime you might get a knock on your door: “We heard that you said…”
I’m living in a country where there have been blasphemy laws for 40 years, and I’ve been fine. But you hear about things like people getting burned alive because of speaking against Islam. Sometimes there is mob violence, especially outside the big cities. Cities are a good place to be, because if you make a big difference in the major cities, you can make a big difference all over the whole country.
Q: How would you describe what God is doing in Pakistan?
God is doing wonderful things. There is so much thirst, even among the Muslim people, interested to learn about the Bible. In some areas which are very conservative, there is the hunger for learning about Jesus. There are a lot of people who may not tell you they are Christians. But if you get to know them well, they can be very open and tell you that they have nothing to do with Islam and that they are very drawn to Jesus.
I don’t think we’ve ever seen Christianity shrink in Pakistan. It’s always been growing, even in the midst of persecution. I have never known Christians to drift to Islam.
We feel very intense times of spiritual warfare over here. Especially when something really good is about to happen, when God is about to do something—usually right before, or the night before—we just really feel like the enemy is trying to cause problems to derail the process. We just pray through it, and God brings us through. And the next day, something amazing usually happens. We experience that quite a bit. We know that when good things are happening in the Lord, the enemy doesn’t like that.
Q: Does persecution come in waves?
Nowadays, we have a Prime Minister who wants to go more the direction of religious freedom. It was he who helped Asia Bibi get released from death row. Christians are very complimentary to him. It’s rare for a prime minister to stand up against the radical Muslims, but he did. Even with the protests for releasing Asia Bibi. He said she would be released, and now she’s in France.
We’ve never felt more at peace than under the current prime minister. I hope American people will talk about how good of a job he is doing; I think that will encourage him to do more.
There is a problem with the Taliban too. They will threaten to target a particular building, and sometimes something will happen. But we don’t have as many suicide bombings anymore. We still try to stay out of crowded places, and churches still need security.
There have been tragedies in our city. A few years ago, seventy Christians were killed in a bomb blast in Easter. A nephew of one of our elders died in that tragedy. But we live in faith. We always know that deep down inside, there is the possibility you could die for being a Christian in Pakistan.
Q: How does the potential for violence affect what doing church looks like in Pakistan?
We have pretty prominent church buildings here. In order to run them, you need to have security. You need to let the police know, and either they will provide the security or will tell you to hire security. That means one or two gunmen outside your building.
In the big city, it’s a lot easier to have a church building. In some of the villages, they might not let you. Most of the time, it’s in the villages that there are crackdowns because of blasphemy laws. The radical Muslims control the rural areas. They are very narrow-minded. It’s easy for the imam to get on the loudspeaker, announce that there are Christians trying to plant a church, and then get a mob stirred up to put an end to the church. In the cities, if something happens, the government will take the initiative faster to intervene.