News Pakistan | 01 October 2023

Devastation in Pakistan: The aftermath of mob violence


Show: true / Country: Pakistan / Pakistan
Weeks after the attack in Pakistan, Christians in Jaranwala are trying to find a new normal. But the reality is dark—and they need your prayers

“I did not have a lot to begin with,” Hadi* says. “My most precious possession is safe.” He holds close his daughter Reena* as he says this. His daughter has started rubbing her father’s forehead in an effort to massage away the furrows that seem to be permanently etched there.

Hadi is one of the thousands of Christians who were displaced on the morning of August 16, when violent mobs attacked the clusters of Christian communities that call Jaranwala “home.”

The morning of the attacks, mosques across the neighborhood broadcast announcements detailing accusations of blasphemy—telling people that a Quran ahd been desecrated. Every believer in the area knew what even an accusation could mean. So Hadi followed three neighbors out of his home and they followed others who had also left their homes. People were already talking to their relatives and friends in other towns.

Hadi’s nephew Shahid*, who lives in a nearby Christian ommunity, called him and told him that there were threats from the local imams—Muslim religious leaders—and they were looking for the Christians who had burned the Quran. “They will come and burn down everything if they do not find the men they are looking for,” Shahid told his uncle. “Take Reena and leave. I will meet you at the milk stand on the corner of the marketplace. I have [an older believer] with me, so please, take her on your bike.”

Hadi took his mobile phone, his watch, some money and a small photo of his wife and child, and got on his motorbike with Reena. They set off and found Shahid—he put an older woman from the town on Hadi’s motorbike and took her walking stick from her, promising that she would get her stick and her bag when she got home. “I did not know if we would ever come home; but I wanted to pacify her fears,” Shahid says. As they rode away, they saw a demolition truck driving into their neighborhood.

Hours later, hidden near the sugar cane fields of Jaranwala, the 85-year-old woman, 40-year-old man, and 8-year-old little girl sat together on the ground, next to other huddles of displaced Christians. They were hungry, thirsty, and frightened. They were hounded by the mosquitos in the thick, late summer air.
And all they could do was look at the horizon, lit up by the fires that were burning down their communities.

‘Bad times have fallen to us’
As they hid, the believers began to realize the extent of the damage. “[It’s] acid, for sure,” one of the elder Christians told another as they smelled the smoke and looked at the cloud that rose from their homes.
“Baba, what is acid?” Reena asked her father.

Hadi did not know what to tell his daughter. Even two weeks after the attacks, he still does not know what to say to his daughter. When they came home the night of August 17, it was to nothing. Their home was empty.

Hadi’s wife had disappeared many years ago. No one knows where and why. He kept their wedding photo on the wall. That was in ashes on the ground. All he has left to remember his wife is the photo he folded into his pocket as he fled.

The rest of their belongings are all destroyed.

“We do not know why his wife disappeared,” says Pastor Taj*, a local church leader. “He is extra cautious to ensure his daughter is safe and does not let people get close. This was a huge loss for them.

A few days after the attacks, Shahid convinced his uncle that it would be good for Reena to go to school, to keep her mind occupied even though she had no schoolbooks, bag or uniform, all of which had been burned.

But only an hour after she left for school, Reena came home. “Teacher says that bad times have fallen to us, so we should not come to school till times are better,” she said.

This has spread among the children. Reports of workers in the field and children across the area tell the same story. They’re all told: “When your houses are restored and times are better, then come back.”

Pastoral care workers remain present in Jaranwala to help provide restorative care and safeguarding. They also help with advocacy for believers with the education, healthcare, and municipal authorities, to ensure childcare, continued education of children, health and wellness, and family protection.

There are no easy answers for Hadi, Reena or the other Christians who have lost everything in the attacks. All they can do is pray—and ask for our prayers, as well. “Pray for us that soon our people will say goodbye to the bad times, and once again our children and our brothers and sisters will be welcomed back to their places of work, schools, and colleges,” a local believer says. “Pray that our bad times will end, our water will be clean again, our electricity will be restored, and that we will have locks to shut the doors of our homes, so we can sleep peacefully at night. Pray that our times would be good, for our churches to have crosses on them again and the sound of singing within them and the light of hope to extend from them.”

Open Doors raises prayer for those who work on the ground to strengthen the church in Pakistan.

*Name changed to protect identities


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