We are blessed with freedoms

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, March 31, 2016

As I sat Easter Sunday morning in the Grove at Ole Miss gathered with other like-minded Christians listening to a Christian youth band sing modern-day songs of praise and witnessed about a dozen young people be baptized, I couldn’t help but think of the liberties we enjoy in this country and take for granted our religious right to freely worship, while thousands of miles away there was a park full of minority Christians … many of them women and children … who were also celebrating the resurrection of Christ when a bomb blast ripped through the songs of praise and worship, killing dozens of them who just gathered to sing and praise the name of Jesus, thanking Him for the gift of eternal life.

It caused me to pause and thank God for the blessings in my life and the religious hope and faith that we all are able to enjoy as Christians in this nation.

Unfortunately, while our nation has religious toleration of all faiths, that is not the case in many Middle Eastern countries — especially those dominated by Islamic extremism.

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Christians such as those in Lahore, Pakistan, where the attack took place, killing 70 and wounding more than 300, are a minority and persecutions take place on a regular basis by the extremists who fear minority Christians are attempting to change their way of life or are simply easy targets in retaliation for what extremists believe are a means to attack those in the United States.

There are barely 2.5 million Christians in the mostly Muslim country of 180 million, and they say they worry about sending their children out and rarely feel safe even in church.

“It is very fearful living in your own country … when you are attacked by fanatics in your own home,” the Rev. Riaz Arif of Lahore told The Associated Press, adding that radical Muslim groups seek revenge for perceived aggression against them by predominantly Christian nations in the West.

But these attacks on Christians are not new. According to The Associated Press, since 2002, Muslim extremists have carried out the following attacks in Pakistan:

— Islamabad, 2002: An American woman and her daughter were killed along with three other people when multiple assailants breached security and attacked a multidenominational church inside the diplomatic enclave where the foreign missions are located.

— Islamabad, 2002: Attackers with grenades hit a Christian-run hospital, killing four people.

— Eastern Punjab, 2005: three churches were destroyed, but no deaths were reported.

— Gorja, eastern Punjab, 2009: A mob burned an estimated 60 homes, killing six Christians.

— Eastern Punjab, 2010: mobs of militant Muslims attacked four churches after controversial U.S. pastor Terry Jones called for people to burn the Quran.

— Islamabad, 2011: Gunmen killed prominent Christian politician Shahbaz Bhatti, who served as a minister in the government of Asif Zardari, husband of the late Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto.

— Peshawar, 2013: multiple attackers, some in suicide vests, killed 85 Christians.

— Eastern Lahore, 2013: Mobs of Muslims burned nearly 200 homes belonging to Christians in the Joseph Colony.

— Eastern Lahore, 2015: Two suicide bombers attacked two churches, killing 15 worshippers.

So when you go to your house of worship this Sunday, enjoy the fellowship with those around you, but also thank God for the opportunity to freely worship and say a little prayer for those Christians around the globe who do not have that same freedom.

Rob Sigler is managing editor of The Oxford EAGLE. Contact him at rob.sigler@oxfordeagle.com.