Since becoming independent in 1948, Pakistan has suffered from an unstable government system with three prolonged phases of military rule, the latest ending in 2013 with elections, and the handing over of power to a democratically elected civilian government. Although in elections the (Muslim)-extremist parties never gained much popular support, extremist views are deeply-rooted in society, giving rise to issues that led up to Sunday’s massacre.
According to Reuters, a pair of suicide bombers blew themselves up outside a 130-year-old Anglican Church after Mass, killing at least 78 people in the deadliest attack on Christians in the predominantly Muslim country of Pakistan. Reuters’ report said explosions struck the historic All Saints Church as hundreds of parishioners, many of them women and children, streamed out of the building. An estimated 100 people were wounded. The Taliban-linked militant group, TTP Jundullah, claimed responsibility within hours of the attack, according to the news service.
Pakistan`s population is strongly growing. The poverty line is high, leaving millions with no other choice than to work for little money, not even enough for the daily needs. This especially affects ethnic and religious minorities. Christians have greatly suffered under these conditions. Most of them are day-laborers, and are dependent on their employer`s treatment, which is frequently abusive.
In addition, the state’s low investment in education over recent decades has led to a growth of madrasahs (Islamic theology school). With the number of madrasahs exceeding 20,000, the exact number of students is unknown. As a result, the Christian community in Pakistan suffers from being uneducated, poor, and dependent on Muslim employers, and faces a widely ignorant and intolerant madrasah-educated youth.
Pakistan is No. 14 on the Open Doors World Watch List. Pakistan’s Christians are “caught between Islamic militant organizations, an Islamizing culture and a weak government with a military complicity in fuelling Islamic militants,” according to the list. Pakistan, a country of 179 million, is 96 percent Muslim and 2.5 percent Christian.
Kenya, has been often viewed as a “safe-haven” throughout Africa; a place where the government is moderate and tourism, with its famous wildlife parks and reserves, has brought stability to the economy. But in one quick and swift stroke, all of this crumbled over the weekend when tragedy stuck Nairobi on a horrific scale.
The attack at the Westgate shopping center in Nairobi that left at least 62 dead and over 175 injured has left the nation shattered. At writing, an unknown number of people remain hostage, and the death toll is expected to rise as more bodies are found.
The Somali based al-Qaeda linked al-Shabab militant group has claimed responsibility, saying the attack came out of revenge for Kenya’s military operations in Somalia, which began nearly two years ago.
“We ask supporters around the world to join us in praying for Kenya as the country comes to terms with this horrific attack,” commented an Open Doors worker closely involved with operations in Kenya. “Our thoughts go out to all those who have lost loved ones. We pray for God’s healing for the injured. There is a very prominent Christian presence in Nairobi, and we pray that the church will have the opportunity and the courage to reveal the character of Christ in the midst of these circumstances. We pray that what the attackers meant for evil, God will use for good.”
Kenya is listed as No. 40 on Open Doors 2013 World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians. According to the list, “Islamic extremism is an important source of hostility against Christians in Kenya. Tribal antagonism is an upcoming persecution dynamic. Kenya (as a complete country) is new on the World Watch List. The high level of violence against Christians or churches is remarkable, and much of it has to with al-Shabab or al-Shabab-inspired extremist groups.”
Dr. David Curry, Open Doors USA President/CEO, stated; “Tragically, these two attacks are examples of how dangerous it is to be a Christian or associated with the West in Pakistan, Kenya and many other countries around the world. There is no doubt these attacks are increasing in intensity and frequency. We ask every Christian to pray for the innocent victims of these violent attacks, their families and communities. We need to stand in the gap.”
Father, we know You hear the cries of Your people. Hear, then, our prayers on behalf of those who are suffering in both Pakistan and Kenya. Today, we pray for the friends and families of loved ones who were so brutally murdered. Father, comfort them with the knowledge and promise of eternal life for those who believed in Your Son. As the conflict swirls around brothers and sisters in Pakistan and Kenya, let them feel Your guiding presence and Your peace during their time of sorrow. Father, fill each member of Your flock with grace and forgiveness, so that those who do not know You will be drawn to You through them. And as they continue in the midst of their own suffering to reach out to their neighbors, both Christian and Muslim, refresh them with courage and strength and wisdom. May the saving grace of Your gospel go out in power that Your name might be lifted high. In the name of Jesus who sustains us in the midst of trials. Amen.
*Representative photo used to protect identity.