St. Benedict Church continues to make friends across the world. As the St. Benedict Church website continued to expand, offering inspirational and spiritual devotions and website links, Imran Mustaq connected with Deacon Michael Russo. They chatted each day, sharing prayer and comparing life experiences about their respective countries. Imran expressed a desire to learn more about Sacred Scripture, so Deacon Michael began meeting with him online each Friday for 60-90 minutes to study the Bible.
Imran shared the horror of the persecutions taking place in his country. There is a systematic plan to eradicate all Christians, and many in his village have been killed to reduce the number of Christians.
According to the Open Doors World Watch List, Pakistan is ranked fifth on the list of countries where Christians are persecuted for their faith. Unfortunately, the intolerance, discrimination, and outright persecution documented by the ICC in the first six months of 2020 only support this ranking of Pakistan as the worst persecutors of Christians in the world.
In March 2020, Pakistan entered into a national lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19. The lockdown dramatically affected the countries poor and marginalized communities, including Christians. Jobs were lost, food supplies dwindled, and reports of infections and deaths escalated.
In Karachi, Christians and Hindus were refused access to food aid. In the village of the Kasur district, more than 100 Christian families were excluded from food aid distribution. Despite the national lockdown, sanitation workers, such as street sweepers and sewer workers, were required to continue with little or no safety equipment. Christians make up 80% to 90% of Pakistan’s sanitation workforce due to discriminatory hiring practices, and this led to many Pakistani Christians being exposed to unsafe work environments.
Christianity is the third largest religion in Pakistan. Most Christians, Catholics, and Protestants live in Punjab Province, where the vast majority is Muslim. Imran lives in Chichawatni, Punjab, Pakistan. After witnessing the persecutions and the suffering of the children and families, Imran decided to establish a school for the children to receive general knowledge and learn about God. Imran told Deacon Michael, "I just started school and Sunday school for the Christian children here in my area. I am teaching them in my home so they can receive religious education too." Deacon Michael sent him some Bible Study aides for children ages 4 to 7 and 8 to 12. The study material includes Bible stories, crafts, and various lessons and projects that are age-specific to make the classes fun and engaging for the specific ages. Imran added, “You can’t even imagine the discrimination, hate, and persecution the Christians have faced from non-Christian teachers and students. Christians cannot continue their studies in those schools, and that is why I started a free school so the children can study and get their religious education too."
Imran turned to Saint Teresa of Calcutta for his inspiration. He told Deacon Michael, "I started to serve the Christians as Mother Teresa started. In the beginning, she had nothing to serve the people, but she started to serve. I don't even have food and a place for them, but I started to work for the people. I don't have food for me sometimes, but I provide food, education, and shelter for them. I started school for poor students who cannot get their education, so now they can get it for free. Some of the children are orphans." As Deacon Michael has learned more, he has established a general mission fund for Imran's missionary efforts. Some of the Deacons, Deacon Candidates, and their wives have stepped forward with monetary assistance. Deacon Michael said, "Some of my Brothers and Sisters in Christ did not hesitate to offer assistance. It is wonderful to see the diaconate reach out in such a way to bring our ministry to parts of the world suffering under oppression and being denied religious freedom. I hope that we can spread the news of this missionary work and involve more people in supporting the efforts already begun."
The name of the school is "The Little Hearts of Faith Learning Center."
For more information on how you can help in this missionary outreach, please contact Deacon Michael.