In the midst of the dirty and dangerous life of work in the brick kilns of Pakistan, hope is rising. Amongst the weakest and the most forgotten of society, hope is taking root and rising up. Hope of a better future, hope of freedom from servitude, and the hope that comes from truly knowing the creator God.
In Pakistan, the price for being a Christian can be steep – blasphemy laws increase the likelihood of arrest and imprisonment, as in the well-known case of Asia Bibi; communities can respond with deadly force to rumours of blasphemy; churches are under threat of violence as they meet together. For many Christians there is the double trauma of not truly understanding the faith that they follow – being identified as Christians more because of community tradition than because they know Jesus personally – combined with the social oppressions of poverty, lack of education, gender imbalance, and modern-day slavery, which means that life continues to be an often brutal struggle for survival, particularly in the brick kilns. Here men, women and children are kept in bondage, owing a debt to the owner of the kiln, and forced to work to pay off the debt. Often they don’t know how much they owe or whether they have paid it off, nor do they earn enough to support their families.
But out of this earthly misery, hope is rising. For more than five years Release Women, a part of Release International (an organisation that serves persecuted Christians around the world), has been planning, preparing, and praying for a Self Help Group project and in 2014 the project got under way.
Group facilitators are Christians from the local community who have been identified as having a heart to bring change; they spend some time being trained and volunteering before going back to the brick kiln communities where they are employed to establish and facilitate groups of women to come together to help and empower one another. They begin to save their meagre income and to lend to others what is needed. They begin to understand the power of education and seek to ensure that their children are getting to school. They share their emotional and mental burdens, learning together and supporting one another to seek changes firstly in their homes, then on their streets, and then in their wider community.
But most importantly, many women are coming to know for the first time what it is to be in relationship with Jesus – not only are they experiencing a social empowerment but they are also becoming spiritually empowered. One trained facilitator said: “Many women who were far from God are now growing Christian faith day by day, and regularly pray with their families. They cannot read and write but they love to hear and know about the word of God. For me it is very encouraging that now these women know their value in God’s eyes”.
These groups need your continued prayer support. Ask God to hold these groups together, that they would not crumble under pressure but that these women would continue to meet together. Pray that they would be encouraged by sustainable change, that as they grow in faith they would identify with Jesus, that they would be encouraged and supported by other local Christians visiting their communities. Pray that when oppression comes they would continue to be a help and support to one another.
Hope is rising in Pakistan.
Find out more about Release International’s work amongst persecuted Christians at www.releaseinternational.org, or get in touch via [email protected] or 01689 823491. You can also find us on Facebook or follow @ReleaseInt on Twitter.