Christians in Pakistan are asking for urgent prayer after Muslim extremists attacked a Christian community, burning down several churches and homes. The violence took place in the city of Jaranwala in Punjab Province after two Christians were accused of blasphemy.

Hundreds of men stormed the community, attacking churches, setting homes on fire and even destroying a cemetery. Early media and human rights groups estimate that at least eight churches were burned – along with multiple homes belonging to Christians – and 17 churches were targeted. Christians in the community were forced to run for their lives. Thankfully, no-one was killed.

Accusations of blasphemy are often made to target and oppress minority groups in Pakistan, and even an accusation can result in mob violence. “The frequency and scale of such attacks – which are systematic, violent and often uncontainable – appear to have increased in the last several years,” the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has said.

Christians in Jaranwala are determined to keep following Jesus. A young Christian called Serena* summed it up well: she held broken pieces of a cross in her hands, and said, “They do not know our secret. His cross is actually here.” She pointed to her heart.

A local pastor said of the Pakistani church: “We are here because we never left; we will remain here with our people – serving God and washing their feet.”

Within 48 hours of the attack, three other blasphemy cases were initiated and threatened across Pakistan, two in Punjab and one in Sindh.

* Name changed for security reasons