Every morning, before Meeral goes to school, her mother prays with her. At age 6, she is vivacious and full of ideas and opinions. She is fearless, with a child’s unshakable faith in her Heavenly Father’s protection. Her father is involved in Christian pastoral care, and years of threats and danger have toughened his faith.
His children have never seen him waver when challenged about his faith.
But times have changed. Pakistan is no longer a land where you can have a free opinion about your faith. Ten years ago, one could mumble one’s way out of a casual remark in everyday conversation, says a young Pakistani Christian. Now, one must guard one’s tongue and think ahead.
Meeral has never shown fear. At age 5, she claimed she would give her life for her Jesus if she had to.
“After all, He did the same for me!” she exclaims.
But as the last semester drew to an end, Meeral came home from school with a couple of bruises and cuts. She tried to hide them, but her older brother Shazi told their parents that there had been a scuffle in school, and said he had gone to intervene and stop it.
Shazi had found Meeral on the floor, with a classmate hurling nasty comments at her for being a Christian. Knowing his sister, and being just as strong in his faith but a little more careful, he cautioned Meeral, “Jesus will take care of your leg, but you need to keep very quiet and come with me.”
“He did not let me tell that boy about the power of my Jesus,” Meeral sobbed. The six-year-old was wounded more for not having been able to proclaim Jesus’ protection over her than from her leg wounds.
A month later, in the cold of the northern Pakistani city where she lives, Meeral was limping as she played. The injury seemed to have lingered, and she may have hurt her joint. When asked about the pain in her leg, her response was swift. “It’s okay—a boy hit me because I am a Christian. He does not like Christians, but…
Papa reminded me Jesus was also hit and wounded, and even killed—so it’s okay.”
Young Shazi looks almost like a miniature version of a man, matured by all he has faced and seen. He has already decided he will be a soldier for Jesus when he grows up. Meeral wants to be a doctor, saying, “When Shazi comes home wounded, I want to fix him and all the dying people in the world!”
These children are the future of Pakistan’s church.
“I wanted to be a soldier in the Pakistani army, but I do not want to pray to the Muslim Allah,” Shazi said. “I do not want to agree that Mohammad is the last prophet. But then I could be arrested for blasphemy!” Mature words, from the mouth of just an eight-year-old.
“That’s why I was afraid for Meeral that day,” the boy continued. “She is quick-tempered when it comes to Jesus and her faith. It is good to have such a strong faith, but we must be cautious. These days, anyone can turn our words around, and take us and our parents to prison for saying something about the Prophet Mohammad. There are so few Christians in Pakistan that I am sure some of us are needed outside the prisons.”
“That means the best churches must be inside prison!” Meeral quipped on cue, never short of something to say.