Pakistani Christian Pastor, Family Fled Persecution

Christian pastor Saleem James

ALBANY, N.Y. ― The Pakistani police made a Christian pastor an offer he had to refuse.

Muslims nearby Pastor Saleem James’s home church in Lagore, Pakistan, had made death threats against him, told him they would kidnap his children, and tear down his house unless he stopped preaching about Jesus Christ and holding healing services that even some Muslims attended.

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Pakistani Christian pastor Saleem James in Pakistan with, from left, his wife, Agnes, and children, Abraham, 7; Christine, 17; and Joshua, 18, at their home here. Son Noel,13, is absent from photo. (Cincinnatus)

The police told him to reconcile with his neighbors or the neighbors could bring a blasphemy case. James, in good conscience, wouldn’t do that.

“Our healing meetings involved hymn singing and praying for the sick people,” James told this reporter.

“’Stop this meeting or we will beat you and demolish everything,’” the furious crowd told him.

“They grabbed my collar and slapped me and kicked me until church leaders stopped them.

“I was very much terrified.”

They accused him of trying to convert Muslims, but they weren’t appeased when he said he didn’t invite Muslims, they freely attended.

The Muslims threatened a blasphemy case against him, which means “the mob takes revenge first,” and the police arrive later.

On one occasion, the crowd had broken down the gate to the house and fired shots in the air. Mob revenge meant death.

Reminiscent of the way blacks were treated in the post-Reconstruction South, Christians get separate water, plates, cups and food. They aren’t allowed to drink from the same cups as Muslims.

Church members and an international human rights group urged the family to flee their homeland of Pakistan, which James said was a miracle in itself. This is how they finally arrived in Albany and became members of City Harvest Church on Central Avenue.

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It didn’t matter that at James’s church, Renewal Church of Pakistan, people reportedly were healed of many illnesses, such as cancer, depression, blindness and deafness, and delivered from demons. Muslims came to the church for help when their own mullahs’ prayers didn’t work, but very few converted. “It was like they were going to a different doctor,” James said.

James’s oldest, 18-year-old Joshua, said, “A lot of demon-possessed people, including children were delivered in the name of Jesus.”

He said a demon or demons made one “child act and sound like a frog.” Once the child was delivered, the youngster heard a whisper in his ear, “now you are free.”

Joshua and his siblings attended St. Anthony’s High School, a Catholic school in Lagore, in which the vast majority of students are Muslim. Christians are poor compared to Muslims because they face discrimination in employment, so the school aids them, Joshua said. But Muslims, even the current prime minister, attend or have attended the school because of its disciplined atmosphere, encouragement of good manners, and high-quality education.

Christians are treated as third-class citizens and are mocked, treated rudely and rarely befriended. “They always look down on you,” said Joshua, who is now a senior at Bishop Maginn High School in Albany.

“Christians are unholy. They’re considered as great sinners.”

Reminiscent of the way blacks were treated in the post-Reconstruction South, Christians get separate water, plates, cups and food. They aren’t allowed to drink from the same cups as Muslims, he said.

“I didn’t have a lot of friends because I was a Christian,” he said.

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“They used to bully me, saying Christ is this or Christ is that.”

His sister, Christine, 17, also now at Bishop Maginn, said prejudice runs so deep that as a 4-year-old, she pretended to be a Muslim so other children would play with her. When they found out she was Christian, they shunned her.

When Christians work as cleaners in Islamic households, the Muslims “treat them as slaves,” Pastor James said.

James claimed it was a miracle he and his family were able to get passports so easily and leave Pakistan because they are Christians and very poor. Other Christians helped them in Pakistan and in America in the spring, including City Harvest Church.

“God opened the doors, and we were provided everything,” he said.

“It seemed that everybody is our relative.”

James said Islamic extremists are increasing persecution of Christians in Pakistan with murders and bombings and attempts to push more stringent Islamic law.

Still he believes the government’s estimate of Christians as 1 to 2 percent of the population is low since some Muslims have become covert Christians. “When persecution and hate increase, the glory of God increases in abundance,” he believes.

Pakistani politicians who say “Christians are our sisters and brothers and everybody’s happy” are hiding the truth, James said.