When I first became a mom in 2016, I used to have a recurring nightmare that my 3rd floor walkup apartment in New York City was on fire, and I had just minutes to not only get my babies to safety, but to also gather whatever we would need to survive out of the home. My nightmares always took place in the winter, so I had flashes of tossing warm clothes for everyone into bags and chucking them out the window onto the street. I always comforted myself with how unlikely that was to actually happen, but in the Fall of 2018, I found myself in exactly that situation. Though this time it wasn’t a fire rushing us out the door to safety, it was the threat of an angry mob in Pakistan coming for my family.
To rewind a little, my husband was born and raised Pakistan. His family have been Christians for the last three generations, in a nation that is 98% Muslim. In Pakistan, being a Christian means trouble being educated, finding work, and can even lead to enslavement in the country’s brick kilns and leather factories. There is even a law, The Blasphemy Law, which allows for a person to be put to death just for insulting the Muslim prophet Muhammad. A Christian can be accused of Blasphemy by their Muslim neighbors for nearly anything, even just drinking from the wrong cup of another caste. Exactly this happened to a poor Christian woman named Asia Bibi in 2009. She was accused and convicted of Blasphemy, leading to a death sentence. Asia is a mother of two, and she spent the next 9 years away from her children, imprisoned and hoping for an acquittal by Pakistan’s supreme court. As the Lord’s timing would have it, this acquittal came in October of 2018, exactly 18 hours after my family landed in Pakistan to work with RAM Foundation, the non-profit that my husband founded in an effort to support religious minorities and women’s empowerment in his home community.
At midnight on our first day in the country, all of the Pakistani news outlets released the story that Asia Bibi’s acquittal decision would be announced that day. Right away we woke up my sister in law, who was 8 months pregnant with her first child, and consulted her on what this would mean for us. She confirmed our fears, if Asia Bibi was to be acquitted, the more extreme Muslims in the city would lash out against the Christian community. As foreigners, we were especially at risk, and the entire community knew that we were there in our remote non-profit center in the suburbs of the city with very little protection.
My sister in-law told us to gather only what we needed, as all six of us would need to pile into a tiny car and escape the center as soon as possible. This was the moment that my nightmares became real. I had all of ten minutes to dress my two boys, just 4 months and nearly 2 years at the time, and to gather everything they would potentially need for the coming days. Would we be able to return? Was this for a day or forever? I had no way of knowing. I began to throw formula, bottles, two sizes of diapers, clothes for the boys, and a few things for myself and my husband into a rolling carry-on bag. There was no time to fold up the portable crib or anything else we had brought to survive international travel with little ones, but at this point it didn’t matter. At one point I looked up, completely frozen in fear and overwhelmed with making sure I had everything my babies would need, to see my sister-in-law watching me. She was so calm and collected, it occurred to me that she faces things like this on a regular basis. She is a Christian woman not only living in Pakistan but daring to operate a center that boldly stands up for the rights of the minorities that are so mistreated in her city.
To make a very long, very scary story short, our family made it out of Pakistan. We managed to sneak past the rioters in the street to make it to the airport safely. As soon as it was announced that Asia Bibi would in fact be freed, mobs of men took to the streets, blocking traffic, burning tires, and attacking vehicles. Any vehicles with women or foreigners (or God forbid both) in them, were especially targeted for the worst of the violence.
That day I learned what it really meant to be strong as a mom. I was terrified that my little ones would be hurt and that I had no way to prevent it. In my most selfish moments, before her acquittal was announced, I will admit that it occurred to me that if Asia Bibi were sentenced to death and not freed, our family would then be safe. There were hours of intense prayer in the early hours of that morning when I just cried out to the Lord to give me the strength to put Asia, another mother’s safety and freedom above my own fears. The image of her two children waiting for her for the last 9 years gave me the strength to fervently and honestly pray that justice would be served and that she would be freed. Thank the Lord, she was freed. She currently lives in Canada with her family. My family has not yet returned to Pakistan, but we intend to. We now have 4 children; our twin girls are just 6 weeks old. The work that our foundation is doing with women, mostly mothers, in Pakistan is the most important thing I can see any of us doing with our lives. I know that these women daily endure nightmares above and beyond what I experienced that one day in their country, so we will continue to stand up for the rights of these women and their children as long as the Lord gives us a voice to do so.
By Sarah Javed
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