The Struggle Continues….
I woke abruptly at the loud sound of “Allah Akbar….”. I checked my phone and it was 4:30 in the morning. Like a big blow to the head, it registered that what I just heard was the Muslim Prayer, and I was right here in Pakistan.
I have not heard that sound for four years because CFI, being very gracious to me, brought me out of Pakistan and fully sponsored my education and living expenses in Thailand– for which I am so very grateful. After graduation, I was offered a job with CFI. To obtain a work visa I was required to visit Pakistan. I sadly felt alien in my mother country; unappreciated and unheeded starting from the Immigration Office at International Islamabad Airport. A barrage of questions hit me from the customs official when he saw my religious status in the passport: Why did you leave Pakistan to study? What do your parents do? Are you sure you are not seeking asylum thin Thailand?… because many from your nation do. How long is your stay going to be this time? For Christians in Pakistan, it is a whole life of interrogation like this moment I had. A lifetime in which they may futilely plead to be acknowledged worthy – a harsh reality many Pakistani Christians face on a daily basis. It is a good enough reason for many to prefer an asylum seeker’s life than a perfectly insulting freedom.
While in Pakistan waiting for my visa, I sensed an air of dismay and misery on the faces of my relatives I got a chance to visit. They say the country is collapsing. Scarcity of clean water, shortage of sui gas and electricity, intense air pollution, and price inflation makes the already tough life unbearable. More so, the Asia Bibi case has raised red flags for the security of all the Christians. The pastor of the local church said, “First they keep postponing Asia Bibi’s final hearing and now the Government has stopped our Christian Channels. I don’t send my boys out to work in the city… I fear someday someone will put blasphemy charges against my boys…. they used to be very out-spoken when young. Ever since Asia Bibi’s case we don’t let them go out in cities. I pray that God bless and open these extremists’ hearts and minds….” I got to also meet our CFI representative in Lahore, who gave me the good news saying the brickyard community is very appreciate of CFI monthly relief program with brickyard children books, stationary, clothes, and food supplies for their whole family. That lightened my heart and put a smile on my face.
I was saddened to find that still many Pakistani citizens, including taxi drivers, call the Christian neighborhoods “Residence of ‘Chooras’ (low class cheapster citizens), despite the fact that some of the highest level University Professors reside there. I was also saddened to learn that the Pakistan Ministry Environmental Protection Agency, Pak-EPA as well Lahore Waste Management Company, have done little to clean and cover up the sewerage systems at the famous Christian Colony. It was distressing to find text-books teaching caste differences are still under publication and are available at local bookstores. And it absolutely broke my heart that many of our high school history books have deliberately omitted accounts of Christian war heroes. I became especially upset after learning that newly graduated Christians college students I used to go to high school with are considering becoming waiters at a small restaurant, as they see no better salary prospects even after a college or university degree.
It is depressing that a nation which demands– and gets – the most religious tolerance from around the world, does not respect and tolerate the rights of those inside our country who follow different faiths.
Articles 18 and 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the ICCPR) decree all individuals have the rights and freedom to practice their religion, and have the right to freely express themselves. The assassinations of Shabaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Federal Minister of Minorities Affairs & of Salman Taseer, the Muslim governor of Punjab province, are the epitome of what happens to those who voice their opposition against Pakistan’s blasphemy law; why many Christians opt to sell off their land, property and businesses to seek asylum in Thailand. There are thousands of oppressed Pakistani Christians surviving in Bangkok with the hope of resettlement abroad. It is these asylum-seeking families who CFI is committed to continue to help with food supplies, financial aid and, medical needs.
I was thankful to God for helping me get the visa; it was not easy. I said a prayer in my heart for my Christian brothers and sisters, for their protection and their safety, for God to give them strength to go through this everyday struggle and fear. I wish I could do more for them. I am blessed by God and grateful for the faithful support I receive from Christian Freedom International and the difference CFI is making in the lives of so many Christians.
By: Nehemiah Akhtar