Christians all over the world commemorate Easter Sunday every year as both a holiday and a festival commemorating the resurrection of Christ on the third day after his burial by the Romans. It is preceded by a week regarded as holy and is the summation of a forty-day period of worship, abstinence, and, fasting known as ‘Lent’ – not unlike the Islamic Eid-ul-Fitr being both a conclusion and celebration of the month of Ramzan.
Easter Sunday in April 2019 was a hot day in Lahore marking the definitive end of Spring and situating Lahore and its citizens in the baking dry heat of a May yet to arrive. Preceding this day, two Muslim women from Lahore, heading the charitable organisation ‘Be the Change,’ had been working hard collecting donations to aid Lahore’s Christian community on Easter.
Be the Change is a private non-profit initiative to raise funds for causes close to the organisers’ hearts, primarily targeting the alleviation of adverse circumstances for low income families and marginalised groups. For Easter 2019, they worked with a church in Lahore’s Mariam Colony – a markedly low-income Christian commune – and raised funds to provide 120 impoverished Christian families with a bicycle as well as a month’s worth of rations.
In the late morning on Easter Sunday, several trucks were loaded with bicycles as well as sacks of rations and embarked on a long and traﬃc-clogged route to Mariam Colony. In the meanwhile, worshippers gathered at the central church in Mariam colony and listened quietly to a special sermon to commemorate the holy day.
Ayra Indrias Patras, a volunteer with the church and Be the Change’s liaison, announced the charitable gesture to all gathered and stressed the importance of inter-faith fraternal relations, thanking Be the Change – her ‘Muslim sisters’ – for enlivening Easter for the families present.
Celebratory hymns began in the church with the worshipers joining in; some singing along, clapping in slow rhythm, and, many gently rocking to and fro in quiet worship.
In conclusion, a prayer was said, not just for the Christian worshippers present but for the well being and prosperity of all of Pakistan.
It was a tranquil and hopeful moment as all those present – the older and the younger – gathered together in quietude, connection, and, prayer.
Outside the church, preparations began for the distribution of bicycles and rations to many of those present, selected by the church.
The church is situated just oﬀ one of many narrow, arterial alleys which make their way through Mariam Colony. With great diﬃculty, the trucks arrived one by one and unloaded the many bicycles and large sacks of rations into the church’s courtyard.
Amidst the heat and the crowd, the distributions began one-by-one, with several volunteers present to aid the process.
The following are testimonials and portraits of some of those present on the occasion.
Ayra Indrias Patras
“This is my volunteer work. I work with the church here and I also teach Women’s Studies at an institution. Though I do not live in this community, we have several such Christian communities or colonies in Lahore where there is a church serving them.
We are very thankful for people who remember us during celebrations such as Christmas or Easter, particularly in terms of helping our communities. The majority of the Christian community in Lahore lives in little colonies like these or in slums. And, a majority of them work either as labourers or cleaners. They tend to work in professions which people do not attribute importance to and these poor people face a series of diﬃculties. They often do not have dignity of labour and often their conditions are so adverse that if they do not work every day they may not even be able to eat a solid two meals a day. So, support such as this gives them a sort of cushion and they can celebrate their holiday with joy. What is being distributed today such as bicycles or rations go a long way in helping them with their everyday lives.
I began volunteering because I felt a burden upon my heart that God put me in a relatively privileged position, especially in that I could pursue my education till the university level. So, I felt a burden to give back to Pakistan. All of Pakistan’s citizens whether they are Christian, Muslim or Hindu are equal and if someone like myself can pool together resources to distribute to my people then why shouldn’t I do so? I feel it is our shared responsibility, applicable to every one of us.
Where challenges facing our Christian community are concerned, I try to take an intersectional approach. There are multiple challenges: there are class issues, caste issues, gender issues especially in terms of women from minorities, and, the prevalence of socio-religious discrimination. If you look at the figures, a lot of people who are cleaning our roads and gutters are Christians. A lot of the cleaners keeping our beautiful city of Lahore so are Christian workers. However, if you look into the locales they live in, they are not thought well of, and, even thought to be unclean by some. People separate dishes for them to use. Their challenges have not just to do with the socio-religious but also in terms of equal citizenship. So, as much as people like us can help, we try to help.
They say that Pakistan’s flag has both green and white and the communities those colours represent are equal. What we need to do is to manifest this equality practically. My Muslim friends who have come here today to help – gestures like these lead to interfaith harmony and we are able to tell everyone here that they are, indeed, equals.”
“I drive a gharry – a horse-drawn cart. I feel great now that I have a bicycle. I will use it to care for my family, taking my children to and from school, going to buy groceries etc. My children are very young right now, they will benefit from going to school regularly on this.
We are Pakistani and I feel good being a Pakistani but I do face diﬃculties as a Christian in this country. However, the problems surface and then eventually go away. Nothing as such that causes me great trouble. We see Muslims as family members and we try to work with them in our struggles.”
“I am a labourer. I will use this bicycle for work, transporting whatever in work that needs to be transported. I used to have an old bicycle to do so but am grateful for this new one.
These people have really helped us today. It is a great thing they have done. I have three daughters and four sons. It is very diﬃcult to provide for them. People in our society should help each other. That’s what should be done.”
“I work as a seamstress. These gifts have been given to us today with love and happiness and we must appreciate them. My sons will use the bicycle; they will use it for their work and oﬀer prayers to those who have given them this. I thank God that we have been able to live peacefully here as Christians. We wish the best for Muslims – they too are our brothers and sisters we must wish them well. A very Happy Easter to everyone.”
“I cannot work any more but I used to be a day labourer. Today, I am happy. I will use this bicycle to create a business…I will use it to sell vegetables and fruits.
I have faced many problems as a Christian living in Pakistan but I don’t wish to have such a long discussion. We Masih’s [Christians] are treated as if by a stepmother. And, all I want to say to the Masihs is that if you are Masih, just pray before your Lord. That is all.”
“I am a widow and I work in someone’s house. It feels great to receive a bicycle and rations today – we always have a good time celebrating Easter.
I do face diﬃculties as a Christian. What could I tell you? I can tell you that my children are young, that it is diﬃcult to provide for them and I worry greatly trying to do so. Still, I try to be grateful.
May God keep us in His graces. I like being Pakistani…what else could I say?”
Sohail Emmanuel James
“I am a volunteer and I am helping this organisation on behalf of the church. In this distribution of bicycles and rations I am doing my part as a volunteer – however I can I help I am trying to do so. I volunteer because perhaps by God will appreciate it, some part of my character or good deeds, and, perhaps if I go through a turbulent time, He will end my suﬀering. God can appreciate anything about a human being’s doings from the smallest gesture of kindness to the greatest good deed. This is why I do what I do. I have personally helped in distributing more than sixty bicycles today.
I believe that Christians in Pakistan should be given their complete rights. We need an improvement in job opportunities at various levels. This is because the people, especially in the underprivileged class, for whom we are working today, are suﬀering and they should not have to face such diﬃculties. They should be able to stand on their own two feet and not have to rely on anyone for charity.
I want to tell the Pakistani people that Christians are your brothers and sisters, they stand with you in all things. So, consider them your equals; give them equal rights, equal respect, consider their problems and a very Happy Easter from myself to everyone.”
“I do not not work so I really appreciate being given a bicycle and rations. The priest at this church told us about this. I came here so I could use the rations for our everyday needs and to get a bicycle for my sons who support me. I never learnt to ride a bicycle. I have three sons and one daughter.
I live in this colony and as yet I have not encountered any issues stemming from my being a Christian. We have often lived amongst Muslims and they’ve always been good to us. They’ve given us love and compassion for the most part. I am proud to be a Pakistani and we should all live with love and put an end to terrorism and violence.”
“I work at a petrol pump. It feels great to receive these donations – may God bless those who have done this for us. I will use the bicycle for work and home errands to provide for my family. I used to have to pay for a ticket to go work at the pump every day but now I will go on this bicycle. It’s a great relief.
This is a great country. It is an Islamic Republic and we are Christians but in my experience it has been good to us. They have not wronged us and we have not wronged them. We live by our faith and principles and life passes by. I want to thank such people who do good deeds for us, I wish for them to feel appreciated so they can continue to help us.”
“I live in the colony here. I am a Christian and I come to Church every day. It’s fun…I like praying and singing hymns. When I grow up I wish to be a doctor. How much fun would it be to have a bicycle!”
“I work as a guard for a house. I have deep gratitude for those who have made this Easter a blessing for us; our time will be spent well with rations at our disposal. Our prayers are with you. I will use the rations for my home and with the bicycle I will do my duty at work every day. Our Muslim brothers and sisters do help us…whenever we have a celebration like today they do come and give their support and assistance.
We are all together as family, living in this country. To be Muslim is to love and I have received that love. I would like to ask the people of this country to live together peacefully, we all want what is best for this country and to always remember this country in our prayers. We are family.”
Be the Change is currently providing rations on a weekly basis to low-income families during the current Coronavirus crisis and can be contacted at @bethechangepakistan on Instagram and https://www.facebook.com/BeTheChangeCharityPk/ on Facebook for donations