December 22nd, 2011
08:21 AM ET
Editor's Note: Vivian Chapman is a writer and producer based in metro Atlanta. She often collaborates with her husband, photographer Gary S. Chapman. See more of Chapman's photos on CNN's Photo Blog here.
By Vivian Padilla-Chapman, Special to CNN
(CNN) - Imagine living in a country where being born into your family's faith could thwart your chances of learning to read, narrow your employment opportunities to jobs like trash collector, street sweeper, or brick maker, and restrict you to drinking from separate water fountains in your village.
In 2009 in Pakistan, I discovered that these issues as well as life-threatening circumstances are daily challenges for Pakistani Christians who live in segregated “colonies” and make up about 2% of the majority Muslim population.
I’m a Latina, born in Spanish Harlem and raised in Brooklyn during the 1960s. I know what it’s like to face discrimination as a minority, but how would I face this kind of persecution for my faith? What would daily life be like under that tension? Could I hold on to my faith?
These were the questions on my mind as I heard witnesses talk about the devastation of two Christian villages where homes had been looted and burned to the ground by extremist radical Muslims while local police stood unresponsive.
I was assisting my husband, photographer Gary S. Chapman, who often works with humanitarian nonprofits on relief and development projects overseas. We arrived with a relief team only a few days after the attacks.
Walking among still-smoldering piles of rubble in Gojra, villagers told of devastation by extremist throngs descending on the streets, raping, pillaging and setting homes ablaze.
Through an interpreter, we talked with a 32-year-old father of four young children who became a hero to 70 women and children. As a violent mob appeared on their street, young girls and women clutching their children began to run into his family’s three-story home.
Pleading with his father to give him the shotgun and shells that were in storage, he argued for protecting the women seeking refuge, “If we allow the mob to come into our house, what will they do? If they kill everyone in the house, then we will have to answer to God why we didn’t protect them. Give me the gun. God I put my life in your hands. I’m going to protect these lives. Help me.”
Incredulous, I wondered how I would have reacted. Would I have been brave? What would I have done? What could I have done?
The young father said he ran to the roof discharging rounds into the air for several hours. When the mob finally left, only two rounds remained.
Another family just blocks away had no such protector. Seven people, including several children, were locked into their house and burned alive. Villagers said they could hear their screams.
I’m a Christian and familiar with Jesus’ words, “Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you,” but at that moment, those words seemed impossible. Honestly, I don’t know that I could sincerely love my enemies. I’m not sure that I could even pray for them.
Although Pakistan’s constitution guarantees religious freedom, blasphemy laws call for the death sentence of anyone who insults the prophet Muhammad or Islam. These laws are often used against Christians by jealous or disgruntled coworkers or neighbors. The incident that sparked the violence in Gojra stemmed from a rumor that a Christian had committed blasphemy at a wedding. It was never proven.
As the relief team took assessments for supplies, our interpreter, also a Christian, turned to me and said, “We see the destruction of their homes, but not the destruction of their lives. Jesus will never leave us or forsake us.”
Under the same circumstances, would I draw strength from that promise? Could I endure those kinds of struggles and hardships? I hope so.
The strong faith that undergirds this community is the kind of faith that I want to sustain me.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Vivian Padilla-Chapman.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.