A Christmas service of prayer, worship and fellowship was organised by British Asian Christian Association, to heal the emotional scars dealt to the Christian community at Youhanabad, Lahore, since a terror attack on Sunday 15th March 2015. The community here has struggled to come to terms with the attack as events in the aftermath made them targets for more persecution.
During the twin church attack 15 people were killed instantly and 77 were injured via incendiary explosion during services at Roman Catholic Church and Christchurch in Lahore.
In the wake of the attack a hysterical mob beat and set alight to Muslim men who police had handed to them as perpetrators of the brutal attack. The back lash from the Muslim majority was severe at their offence of two Muslims being killed by lowly Christians and despite the many deaths from the infamous twin church attack, a mass mob of over 10,000 Muslims threatened to kill and burn down the Youhanabad Christian community the next Friday (20th March) until police and the army intervened (click here).
A large scale police raid then took place after an initial curfew had restricted the movement of Christians from Youhanabad and over 100 young men were arrested and then tortured by local police. Those arrested have complained about being ridiculed, beaten, burned, having their nails ripped off and much more (click here). The severe brutality of these arrests and the huge numbers of those detained by the police is said to have been an opportunity for police to quell the mass hatred towards Christians, generated by media groups who called for retribution for the death of Muslims at the hands of Christians.
The majority of the men were freed after having spent close to two years in prison – albeit 47 on lesser charges for rioting who are on bail – but 42 men have been convicted despite lawyers stating that over 30 of those convicted are completely innocent. In a despicable attempted conversion under duress the state prosecutor Mr Syed Anees Shah gave a guarantee to the 42 convicted men, that they would be forgiven and set free if they adopted Islam (read express tribune article here). These men face life in prison with a looming death sentence and we continue to pray for them and Mehwish has visiting them and sharing gospel readings and prayers with them. BACA does not condone the attack on the two Muslim men we are aware that all those involved are repentant and have sought forgiveness from God. The few who were have expressed how they would never have conceived the idea of retribution if police had not delivered the men to them and that they regret their response at a time of mass hysteria.
Mehwish encourages survivors of the terrorist attack
On 24th December 2019, in response to a conversation with Pastor Naseer of New Covenant Church, Youhanabad, Lahore, BACA agreed to hold a Christmas worship and prayer service at his church where only families related to the 42 men convicted were invited. Pastor Naseer, expressed the difficulties some families were facing with their main bread-winner in prison and asked if we could help provide some food bags.
Bags of food gave temporary relief to impoverished families affected by the terrorist attack and mass hysteria.
Pastor Naseer presided over the whole program and a sermon was given by Pastor Younas the assistant pastor. The lesson taught was on Christ’s birth and how he came into the world to relive us from all hardship. Pastor Younas asked the families present to be strong in the face of adversity and to cling to their salvation. Mehwish Bhatti of the BACA spoke to the assembled families and shared words of comfort and prayed with them. She also re-offered support by the way of access to counselling and assistance with help with solicitors though most families declined at this point as they have already sourced help. 23 families attended and BACA provided food supplies to 20 of them at the request of Pastor Naseer.
The church celebrated Jesus’ birth by sharing a Christmas cake.
During the service during a Sunday school lesson children drew and Christmas cards and sent messages to loved ones in prison and inmates without family members present at the service. The cards will be delivered to every prison at which one of the 42 prisoners is jailed and will provide some encouragement and a scripture.
Mehiwsh Bhatti spoke to Edward Naseer (33 yrs) who was originally arrested and is currently out on bail, he said:
“I lost my job because of this case because of the year and a half I spent in prison.
“Since then no Muslim will employ me and I work menial tasks occasionally when I can find them but I struggle now to support my family.
“I have been allowed bail because I am one of the 47 men who were convicted under lesser charges of rioting and was not involved in the murder – I regret my actions but in the aftermath of the attack I became senseless.
“I I have now had to appear at court once a week for the last 2.5 years and this will continue for many years yet.
Edward has two children who are studying in Christ Church School, Yohannabad, His son Alex (11 yrs) is in 6th grade and his daughter Angel (8 yrs) is in 2nd grade. He added:
“My elder brother supports me a little for my son’s education and thanks to Christ Church School for providing scholarship to my daughter Angel.
“I am not sure what will happen in my future, I am just trusting God in Him I place my hope.”
BACA is aware of attempts to release the convicts and is praying for success.
Juliet Chowdhry, said:
“The Pakistan justice system failed to convict any of the rioters involved in the attack in Gojra and Shanti Nagar despite the mass devastation of Christian homes, churches and several deaths.
“Despite hundreds of arrests they failed to gain any convictions, however in Youhannabad, they have been able to convict 89 Christians of which 42 are now awaiting death sentences.
“No mitigation was accepted under diminished responsibility with regard to the hysteria that surviving a terrorist attack induced.
“Moreover, police neglect in handing the believed terrorists to mourning Christians is a crime that seems purposely overlooked.
“Nevertheless a Christian community has been left beleaguered not only by a terrorist attack but their unwitting response.
“Christians involved in riots after the terrorist attack and those involved in the murder of two Muslims have repented and sought forgiveness and we continue to pray with them and for their salvation.
“If anything this debacle has muted the desire of Christians to retaliate to attacks in future and created a generation more inclined to peaceful protest rather than riot.
“What good might adequate arrests of Muslims after attacks on Christians have done for Pak-society – your guess is as good as mine.”
We would like to support families affected by these arrests as they struggle in the face of severe poverty induced by the arrest of so many young Christian men. If you would like to donate to our fund to help them please donate by clicking (here)