September 23, 2013
Yesterday, after our first morning service here at Christ Church in La Crosse, Wisconsin I was teaching Psalm 79 to our adult Christian Education class. This psalm is about the national lament concerning the havoc brought by brutal violence on God’s people in Jerusalem. The psalmist articulates the deepest emotion of a human heart in these words:
O God, the nations have come into your inheritance;
they have defiled your holy temple;
they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.
They have given the bodies of your servants
to the birds of the air for food,
the flesh of your faithful to the wild animals of the earth.
They have poured out their blood like water
all around Jerusalem,
and there was no one to bury them.
We have come to taunt to our neighbors,
mocked and derided by those around us. (Psalm 79: 1-4)
As I was concluding the session, I was brought word of the horrific attack by Islamist militants at the historic All Saints Church in Peshawar, Church of Pakistan. The Church of Pakistan is a unified church of Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist and Scottish Presbyterian faiths. Some 600 people of God had gathered there for Sunday worship. They had sung songs to praise God. The preacher had given them the admonition to be kind and decent neighbors to their fellow-citizen Muslims in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. They offered intercessions for each other and peace in their troubled homeland. The service was over and they were coming out to have a joyful fellowship meal.
Then evil was rained upon them in a merciless crime against humanity. Two Islamic suicide intruders entered the church compound from the main gate and blew themselves up in the midst of the people. A total of 81 persons including 37 children and women were killed. Another 100 are seriously injured. It was a deadly day not only for the Christian community, but a dark day in the history of Pakistan.
An eye-witness, Nazir John, said, “There were blasts and there was hell for all of us. When I got my senses back, I found nothing but smoke, dust, blood and screaming people. I saw severed body parts.” The Right Rev. Humphrey S. Peter, Bishop of Peshawar, shared his total disappointment after the attack on his flock as "a total failure of official efforts to protect the Christian minority.”
This was not the first horrific attack on the Christians that comprise 3% of the population of Pakistan, but it was the deadliest. Attacks happen almost every day. Last March 9, while I was visiting Pakistan, hundreds of angry Muslim protestors turned into arsonists and attacked 160 Christian houses and 80 shops in Joseph Colony in the Badami Bagh area in Lahore. In 2009, 200 homes of Christians in Gojra were burnt down by Islamic mob. Some local imams gave invitations from the minarets of the mosques to join them to kill Christians. In one family, seven members were burnt alive in their home.
An innocent woman, Asia Bibi, while working on a fruit farm is accused of touching a water pitcher to quench her thirst. By her touch she was accused of making the water unclean. To punish her, she was falsely accused of insulting the Prophet of Islam. Under the Islamic law she was arrested. She is has languished for the last four years in a Pakistani jail. Under this law death is the mandatory punishment. This woman is a mother of five children, poorest of the poor, and illiterate. No Islamic leader in Pakistan has the courage to say that she has been falsely accused and should be released to take care of her young children. There are countless examples of innocent and poor Christians who are daily persecuted, girls raped and properties forcefully confiscated. The blasphemy law has caused untold grief for those people of Christian faith.
Many Christians in the West do not fully understand the situation in predominantly Muslim countries. We need to sincerely pray, to be the voice for the voiceless Christians in Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Palestine and Iran. Holy Scripture commends us to “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured” (Hebrews 13:3). My Bishop Jay Lambert of the Diocese of Eau Claire has felt the pain of the suffering people in the Diocese of Peshawar. He wrote to us:
Over the weekend I have been reflecting on the bombing of All Saints’ Anglican Church in Peshawar. 81 people were killed including children. In Pakistan as in other places such as Lebanon and Egypt, it is no longer safe to be a Christian. We frequently hear that the perpetrators are Muslim militants. As a Christian I prefer to think of these acts as the work of evil.
In America going to Church is considered a peaceful, personal activity. It is helpful to understand that we are actively participating in a way of life that evil forces despise. By our actions we practice a faith where our lives are on the line. There is a spiritual warfare that goes on in our world. Evil likes to go after various people in search of fertile ground. Those inclined to violence are evil’s priority.
Let us remember in our prayers and in our conversation the “81.” They are our newest martyrs. They didn’t seek it, but they ended up being witnesses for Jesus Christ. They are telling us to wake up and no longer be complacent about our faith. We know that the sacrifices of those who lived in past ages paid for our faith with their blood. Now the 81 martyrs of All Saints’ Anglican in Peshawar have provided a new testimony for why we take the name of Christian. Let us accept their witness and press forward more determined than ever to share the Good News of Jesus who came into the world to save sinners.
I agree with Bishop Lambert these acts are the work of the evil. I know there are people of good will and peace among Muslim community. I am writing them separately an appeal to have the courage to stand with those who are oppressed and suffer injustice and death at the hands of Muslim militants. Bishop Mano Rumalshah, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Peshawar was our guest in the Diocese of Eau Clare in Wisconsin last May. He shared his pain that “the Church in the West does not care about the church today under the oppression of Islamic militancy. We are being killed, in pain and suffering, but we are a church above the ground not under the ground. Our church serves in our hospitals the wounded militants of Al-Qaida and Taliban’s who come to kill us. We show them the love of Jesus Christ.” I saw on the television images of Christians holding crosses after horrible attack on people of All Saints Church in Peshawar. The Cross has become a living sign of the triumphant faith of Pakistani Christians in the face of tyranny and death. In spite of fierce opposition, contempt, abuse and physical persecution, the living faith of the persecuted church has grown from the Cross.
I serve in the Diocese of Peshawar as Honorary Canon. I humbly appeal to you all to observe next Sunday September 29 in your churches as a day of remembrance of the martyrs of Pakistan. Please show compassion and solidarity by dedicating special offering to support the church in the Diocese of Peshawar in Pakistan. You can direct your tax deductable donations to:
Christ Episcopal Church
111 North 9th St
La Crosse, WI 54601
With sincere prayers and good will for the persecuted church in Pakistan and God’s peace and a spirit of reconciliation between Christians and Muslims communities in our world.
The Very Rev. Canon Patrick Pervez Augustine, D.Min. D.D.
Rector and Dean
Honorary Canon in the Diocese of Peshawar