by Jim Armstrong
Our Echoes International Operations Director, Jim Armstrong, recently visited churches in Pakistan with our Missions Director Rupert Abbott. Here he shares some of his observations about the difficulties faced by Pakistani Christians.
I said many times before we visited Pakistan that this country is a difficult place for Christians to live. Now that we have arrived here, I still think this is the case, but not for the reasons I thought before I came.
Pakistan is around the fifth most-populous country in the world, and according to Operation World, only 4.5 million are Christian out of an overall population of 209 million people.
There are requirements on churches to provide security for the Christians when meeting in the church, including building perimeter walls and even installing CCTV cameras. In some areas they have to make sure foreign nationals travel under armed police escorts. We have also heard of cases where people wanting to become Christians have been required to publish their conversion in the local newspaper for three weeks and then petition the local courts to make changes on their ID cards.
Many, including me, would look on from the West and declare Pakistan are persecuting Christians.
Now, I don’t think it’s just that simple.
Straight from the UK, we arrive in a Pakistani city airport. We wander into the baggage reclaim area and are met by an individual asking for our personal details, including our passport numbers. I don’t really think that much about the incident and look for our hosts who are organising the conference we are attending.
We arrive at the first meeting and there are hundreds there for the preaching. At the end of the meeting there is a lot of activity with the police who have just arrived. We are then informed that we are not allowed to stay at the conference centre, and they have booked us into a hotel in the main city.
We pack and head for our beds in the hotel. We are escorted by armed police on the way.
We get up in the morning and head out of town for the conference. We are due to speak over the three sessions. After the first session, the Intelligence Police insist we had to return to our hotel and are not to leave it.
It would seem our conference is ruined.
The conference organisers meet with the police in the afternoon and come back to our hotel with ‘good news’. The conference can go ahead but it must be moved into a church in the city centre, we would only be able to travel to and from the church with an armed police escort and at all other times, we have to stay in the hotel.
Up until this point, I’m guessing that, like me, that you would conclude that the police and government are discriminating against Christians.
However, it turns out that the city and surrounding area has elements that support the Taliban and Islamic State (IS). Over recent years, there have been a few high-profile killings or kidnappings of foreign nationals living in Pakistan. In a genuine bid to protect churches and Christians against these attacks, the government have brought in measures to minimise the risk.
The authorities could not guarantee our safety in moving around without protection. To protect us and allow the conference to go ahead in a different area, they had thought through the conditions to keep us safe.
The conference is a real success. All through the meetings the Intelligence Police sit through the messages. We actually get to speak to the guards and they even allow us to take their pictures.
So, after spending time with them, I realised that the government and authorities were not trying to be difficult or discriminate – they were trying to protect us. It may be a hassle and it may cause problems, but the folks here are used to it and just deal with it.
Is Pakistan making it difficult for Christians by insisting on this level of security? – yes. But the government is trying to protect Christians. It is difficult to live here because of all the threats they are dealing with and the proximity to some high-risk areas.
But here in Pakistan, the desire to hear God speak through his Word is tangible, and the churches are seeing real growth in numbers. God continues to build his church in this nation.
We have felt warmly welcomed on our visit to Pakistan… and we are never late for a meeting with our trusted armed escort by our sides.