Christian leaders in the Pakistani city of Lahore are saying that they've received death threats over the past few months because of their involvement in the building of churches in the area.
In a Monday interview with AsiaNews, Javed David, a Pakistani Christian activist, explained that he and at least three of his Christian associates have been threatened by an unidentified group of Muslims in the midst of outrage stemming from the construction of Christian churches.
David, who is the president of Hope for the Light Ministries, and his associates have been helping poor Christian communities in Pakistan build places of worship since 2013.
He explained that one of the latest altercations occurred in April, where he was explicitly warned that if he continues his advocacy work for the construction of churches, he will be made an "example" of.
"I had been to church in Sheikhupura to attend a meeting with colleagues. It was 8 p.m. when we left to return to Lahore. We were about to reach the main road when a motorbike drove up and blocked the way," David said. "[I thought] maybe they were following us. The two bikers were wearing a helmet. One of them came up to my window and spoke to me. 'We know what you are doing here,' he said. 'Stop building churches. Convert to Islam, which is the true religion. Otherwise we will make a horrible example of you.'"
David added that he was also threatened by another man on a motorcycle upon his visit in February to another church that is under construction.
"On that occasion, too, I was going home when a motorcycle stopped in front of me," David described. "The driver knocked on the window and threw in a piece of paper. I did not open it before I got home. It said, 'This is an Islamic nation. We cannot allow church building. Either you convert to Islam or your leave this country! Stop building churches or you will pay the consequence."
Three of David's associates — Ata-ur-Rehman, Saman Joy Alexander and John Akram — have also reportedly received threats for their efforts in the erection of area churches.
"Right now we were shocked and frightened," Ata-ur-Rehman was quoted as saying.
The first church that David and his associates helped build was in the village of Sheikhupura, just about 20 miles outside of Lahore in 2013. The group also helped build another church in the Jaranwala district, which is about 70 miles outside of Lahore. The group is building another church in Jaranwala this year.
Ata-ur-Rehman explained that when they first built the church in Sheikhupura, Christians were able to live in peace even though some Muslims in the community opposed the church. He added that the Sheikhupura church even had the support of a local Muslim leader.
"Previously, when we bought land to build the church in Sheikhupura, we met resistance from some members of the local Muslim community, but then it all worked out," Ata-ur-Rehman said. "The head of the local madrassa [Islamic religious school] laid the first brick. Both communities live in peace there, although we have seen rising religious intolerance."
Religious tensions in the Lahore metropolitan area have risen considerably after a mob of Christians in the Youhanabad neighborhood of Lahore lynched two Muslim men in March who were thought to have participated in the March 15 Taliban bombings of two Lahore churches.
Following the Youhanabad incident, Christians in the Lahore area have been targeted and even killed for their faith, such as the 15-year-old Pakistani boy who was set on fire and later died because he admitted that he was a Christian to a couple of Muslim men. Also, two gunmen, believed to be Muslim, open fired on a Lahore Catholic school in mid-April, leaving one student and two security guards wounded.
"My family and I are scared and worried because I continue to receive threats," David asserted. "Where can we go to enjoy religious freedom? This is our country; we have lived here for generations. … After the tragedy in Youhanabad, circumstances have changed and now there is more fear. Still, I dedicated my life to Christ and I shall continue to serve His people, no matter what happens."