May 21, 2014

The hardest place on earth to be a Christian

by Jesse Johnson

While there are many terrible places on earth to be a Christian (Sudan, North Korea, Afghanistan, Bhutan, etc.), Pakistan is arguably the worst. Other nations persecute believers, but in Pakistan the entire country has spent generations forming a world view that values the torturing of those that claim the name of Christ.

Pakistan used to have a noticeable Christian presence. Presbyterians had a sizeable school system, and those schools were largely responsible for the country’s relatively high literacy. But in 1973 Islam become the nation’s religion and the government seized those schools and replaced their teachers and curriculum. Now the Koran is required to be read and recited in all classes at all levels. When little kids learn science, they memorize passages about how Mohammad prophesied modern inventions. When they learn English, they learn it through the Koran. Meanwhile, it is illegal for Christians to touch or own the Koran.

Now, 40 years later, this plan was successful. Literacy in Pakistan is around 50%, but literacy for Christians is less than 10%. Universities require Koran memorization for entrance, so Christians are unable to hold any jobs which require an education. There are only a handful of believers who work for the government at any level. Christians are reduced to living in slums, where they are routinely robbed, and their houses frequently burned.

But that is not the worst of what happens to Christians there. The worst is that their children—particularly their young daughters—are the targets of violence. It is estimated by the few Christian organizations that track these things that around 3,000 Christian girls between the ages of 10-12 are kidnapped every year. Schools make Christians wear different uniforms than the other students, making them easy targets. They are forced to “convert” to Islam and marry Muslims (often becoming a man’s third or fourth wife), and their children are by law considered Muslim. Young kidnapped girls that refuse to convert and marry are beaten, physically tortured, and either killed or simply raped and left to die naked in the wilderness.

Christians do not have access to the legal system in Pakistan. By law, a Christian’s testimony carries only half credibility in court. Police must arrest Christians for any crime they are accused of, and they are really only accused of one crime: blasphemy, which carries an automatic death sentence. In perhaps the most perverse aspect of the legal system there, the government can say that they have never officially executed anyone for blasphemy because it is the lawyers who often carry out the execution before the trial.

Judges in Pakistan have been thoroughly intimidated by Al Qaeda.  They know that if they ever find a Christian innocent of blasphemy that the judge’s family will be murdered. A few years ago (when there were still lawyers who would defend Christians) a Christian was convicted of writing blasphemy against Mohamed, and her case was appealed to the Supreme Court. There it was shown that the accused was actually illiterate, and obviously incapable of writing. The judge acquitted her, and he was murdered the next day. Since then there have been no cases of Christians found “not guilty.” They usually don’t even survive to their trial.

This is an important point because in the last few years blasphemy charges against Christians have become more common. Two particular cases are well known by most Pakistanis, and they served as the model for the current wave of persecution. In 2009 two neighbors were having a property dispute—it essentially boiled down to who was responsible for a hole in the fence. One neighbor was Muslim, and the other was a Christian. The Muslim fabricated a charge of blasphemy, the police incited a crowd, and the Christian family was beaten. Eventually the police arrested the Christian woman (Asia Bibi), who was convicted of blasphemy. The mob seized her house and turned it over to her Muslim neighbors.

In 2011 a wedding was being hosted in the house of a Christian family. A group of Muslims wadded up pages of the Koran and threw them over the fence into the yard, and then summoned the authorities who arrested the bride. She was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Those two cases have made a pattern for the rest of the nation to follow. Christians are frequently falsely accused of blasphemy, arrested, and their houses are seized. If they lived in the slums (where most Christians live) it is likely that their entire neighborhood will be burned and turned into a mosque.

Because judges don’t want to hear these cases, and lawyers are afraid for their lives that they will not be seen as sufficiently hard against blasphemy, the most common outcome of these cases is that the accused are murdered by their lawyers.

In one of the most infamous cases, in 2012 a group of Muslims handed an 11-year-old Christian girl a bag with burned pages from a school book. The girl would have simply been kidnapped and forced to convert, but because she had Down’s Syndrome, they did not want to marry her to a Muslim. Instead, she was asked her to bring the bag home with her, and a mob then surrounded her house. She was arrested and charged with blasphemy, because the school book contained passages from the Koran. Because this story was picked up by international news, she was not immediately killed. Eventually she was given asylum in Canada.

A mob last year in Lahore, Pakistan, burns an entire neighborhood after a false accusation of blasphemy was brought against a Christian man. The police captain acknowledged the charge was fabricated, but justified the violence as a warning to others.

This kind of extremism has essentially succeeded. Today in Pakistan, Christians cannot read. Their daughters are kidnapped. It is nearly impossible for Christians to get an education, and there are no jobs for them. Their houses are attacked, they have no access to the police, and parents are afraid to teach their children the basics of the gospel—out of fear that their children may say something that will get them killed.

I spoke with a Pakistani pastor this week, and asked him how its possible that so much of the population in Pakistan goes along with something that is so barbarically evil. He pointed out that Christians grow up talking about love, singing about love, and esteeming love. Thus their world view is formed by love. Pakistanis grow up in a school system that talks about Jihad, hates Christians, and from an early age everyone is taught that Christians are deserving of death. It forms their world view.

That observation has been backed by outsiders. In 2011 the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom completed a study of the educational structure in Pakistan. They reported that “all” of the public school teachers they interviewed taught their students that Jihad was the violent struggle against infidels and that it is “compulsory” for Muslims to be violent toward Christians (see pg. 16 of that report). Pakistan is a nation where nearly all—if not all—of the teachers, at every level of education, teach their children to kill Christians.

If you ever meet a Pakistani Christian, ask for his story. Ask how persecution affected his family. Strive to encourage them in anyway possible. There is really no way to give to the church there. They need audio Bibles (because of illiteracy), but other than that, this is not really a problem that money can fix. Instead, please be faithful to pray for the few believers that remain in that dark country.

To read more about the persecution of Christians around the world, or for a partial listing of sources for this post, read Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, by Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Nina Shea.


Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • This post challenges me to ask myself the question, would I sacrifice everything for my Lord, like the few Christians living in Pakistan. Very convicting. I will add Pakistan to my ever-growing prayer list. Thanks Jesse.

  • Matthew Reed

    I agree with Matt Chandler on this one, America is the most dangerous place for a Christian to live. It’s easy to say you’re a believer when it costs you nothing.

  • KR

    I have appreciated this mini series on the persecuted church. Our family spent ten years in a moderately repressive country, and have been grieved by the lack of concern for the suffering of other Christians. Once in a while, a high profile case grabs people’s interest, but we’ve rarely seen a church that makes prayer for the persecuted a regular emphasis.

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  • Hadsa Mona

    bro i live in pakistan and i am christian these things are going on but you wont ever find these things in news ….. many people are just trapped in false blasphemy cases but our churches were burned when there was no blasphemy case upon the people who burned them because there is no law for other religions but yes these things are not done by every person …. people are good until the force to convert us

  • Skegeeaces

    Jesus, have mercy! The cost is so high; help them to know and believe You’re worth paying it. I can’t even imagine such horror.

  • tovlogos

    Revelation 13:15-17 is by no means a stretch of the imagination; such “that the image of the beast might even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed…and he provides that no one should be able to buy and sell, except the one who has the mark.”
    Imagine the distress of parents who cannot feed their toddlers. Agony.
    The Lord’s burden is light, because the Spirit carries the weight. How else could we survive this hell?

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  • Phil

    And yet the U.S. gives $1.6 BILLION dollars in aid to Pakistan. Millions of American Christians are forced to pay rapacious taxes so the U.S. government can keep funding these animals.

    Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.

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  • Disciple

    One effective way to spread the hope of the Gospel in this country is by supporting Christian missionary radio. Trans World Radio just built a transmitter that now covers Pakistan and Afghanistan with an AM radio signal in a multitude of languages to preach the Good News of Jesus.

    Consider partnering with them as they spread the gospel, encourage believers and train local pastors through radio broadcasts.

    I won’t post my name because my wife and I are missionaries with this organization and, due to security sensitivities, a low profile is helpful. 🙂

  • Joseph

    Hello guys, I am from Pakistan and I’m very shocked to see lots of false info on this blog! This is true that Christians are facing lots of difficulties and persecution BUT the literacy rate among Christian children is higher than others, especially in the Urban areas. There are millions of Christians in this country and there are thousands of Christian based educational institutions where non Christians also go and study.

    • Thanks for sharing this correction. I realize you situation is still very difficult, and will pray. I can add, from my experience, that our Bible-believing church supports faithful ministries in Pakistan that are extremely careful to follow the rules, and they are doing well under the circumstances..

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