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My Take: Looking for faith amid persecution
An elderly Christian woman in Pakistan stands among the ruins of her home that was destroyed by mob violence.
December 22nd, 2011
08:21 AM ET

My Take: Looking for faith amid persecution

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.

View more of Gary S. Chapman’s photos from Pakistan.

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.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Asia • Belief • Christianity • My Take • Pakistan

soundoff (200 Responses)
  1. Luke

    Good article, this is only a glimpse of what Shar'ria law is, the Qur'an and Hadith spew hate and bigotry for anyone not willing to believe in Allah. The media has this twisted to make you think Islam is peaceful and loving. It's not, try reading "Unveiling Islam" written by two brothers who used to be muslim but are not practicing Christians. The truth will set you free.

    January 17, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Luke

      The brothers are now practicing Christians. Typo!!

      January 17, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • Falik Alfonse

      Imagine growing up as a christian in Pakistan...

      January 24, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  2. Christine Jeske

    Vivian and Gary, this is beautiful work. Thank you for watching, listening, and sharing.

    January 17, 2012 at 10:39 am |
  3. Falik Alfonse

    Well guys, I grew up in Pakistan as a Christian and believe it or not but talking about it is pretty easy, try living in a country with only 3% of the population is other minority religions with 97% muslim and out of that 3%, only 1.5% are christian population in Pakistan. Every single day people harash minorities in Pakistan especially Christians, because if you are christian you are automatically linked to the west since the christianitiy was spread by the west during crusades decades ago. It's sad how America or other westeren countries never put light on this matter, what about Human Rights?. what about Red Cross?, No one ever stood up for minorities living in Muslim countries. I spent my first 15 years of my life in Pakistan and it's not the same. You are always being targetted by extremist muslims. LIFE IS HELL LIVING IN PAKISTAN AS A CHRISTIAN YET WE NEVER/WON'T CHANGE OUR FAITH BECAUSE
    Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil, for You are with me;
    Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
    You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
    You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
    Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
    And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
    Amen.

    January 10, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • humanone

      Thank you for sharing your experience. Keep the faith.

      February 23, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • Serena

      @Falik, thanks for sharing this!

      The actual Christian population is around actually more like 10%, even though stats Pakistan reports it to be constant, around a liberal estimate of 2.5 to 3% since the creation of Pakistan in 1947. That's WELL over 17million people. 17 million people pushed to the side as irrelevant. Living as those considered to be less than human. For the Muslim world, they are seen as a disease – a joke. No reason to feel sorry for them or take them seriously because when you don't even treat them equally as living beings, why would you?

      BUT Don't say that no one knows, or no one cares. I care, many people care. We are trying and we'll continue to try. If nothing else, there are people out there praying for you. There really are.

      February 27, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  4. TimothyJ

    To compare the minor discrimination you faced as a child of the '60's with the persecution that Christians face in muslim lands is pretty much a joke. Nobody wanted to kill you. Nobody wanted to kidnap you, force your conversion, and then marry you. None of your neighbors said that you were speaking ill of their holy book and had you arrested and tortured. You know very little of the suffering that Christians go through daily in muslim dominated societies. Or in societies where muslims want to dominate the society. Better check out that suicide vest before you shake hands with the people around you.

    January 6, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • Falik Alfonse

      Well guys, I grew up in Pakistan as a Christian and believe it or not but talking about it is pretty easy, try living in a country with only 3% of the population is other minority religions with 97% muslim and out of that 3%, only 1.5% are christian population in Pakistan. Every single day people harash minorities in Pakistan especially Christians, because if you are christian you are automatically linked to the west since the christianitiy was spread by the west during crusades decades ago. It's sad how America or other westeren countries never put light on this matter, what about Human Rights?. what about Red Cross?, No one ever stood up for minorities living in Muslim countries. I spent my first 15 years of my life in Pakistan and it's not the same. You are always being targetted by extremist muslims. LIFE IS HELL LIVING IN PAKISTAN AS A CHRISTIAN YET WE NEVER/WON'T CHANGE OUR FAITH BECAUSE
      Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
      I will fear no evil, for You are with me;
      Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
      You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
      You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
      Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
      And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
      Amen.

      January 10, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  5. Nathan

    I am glad to see a story like this one come to light. What she describes here is a more or less normal occurrence in many countries around the world today – Nigeria, Egypt, Algeria, Indonesia, in fact most any majority-Muslim nation or region. Not to mention India, where Hindu radicals periodically launch brutal pogroms like this against Christians (Karnataka, in Orissa State, in 2008 for example). And of course there are the Communist countries like China, North Korea, and Vietnam, where any public expression of religion is illegal, and Christians are routinely beaten and jailed. Anytime this gets any attention in the mainstream press I rejoice.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
  6. Keith

    It is soooo telling when cnn(which is mostly never) does an article critical of islam that there is such a lack of posts. It's the truth of this evil religion. No one wants to talk about the real islam. Don't think this crap only happens in Pakistan, it happens in every predominatly islamic nation. You candy asses can't handle the truth. All you want is to see mosques built accross the US. All you want to do is tell everyone how much of a hateful bigot they are if they oppose the spread of islam. Well, open your damn eyes-is this what you want here in the US? Well, do you? I don't. When islam is dominant, the first casualty is freedom of speech and religion.

    December 23, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • Shhhhh ... they're watching you...

      I think you've tightened your tin foil hat too tight.

      December 23, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • Keith

      Then again Pakistan is a much nicer place than where Hitchens is at this very moment. What's it been, 8 days? Still burning.

      December 23, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
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About this blog

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.