By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
LAHORE (Worthy News) - A pastor in Pakistan’s second-largest city says his evangelical congregation is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and he wants to expand despite the persecution faced by Christians in the Islamic nation.
In an interview with Worthy News, Pastor Shakeel Manzoor, 30, explained that his Jesus Grace and Gospel Church grew from “just our family to some 100 members.” They include former Muslims and others impacted by the Christian faith, he said.
He is “praying and raising support” for a larger church building where he wants to “preach the Gospel in the Urdu and sometimes English language.”
Additionally, his congregation started a sewing center for impoverished youngsters. “We want to teach boys and girls from 18 years and older how to make their clothing and even sell it. This project is needed because there is a lot of unemployment and poverty. But this way, we can ensure that Christians stay focused both physically and spiritually,” he told Worthy News.
Manzoor realizes that many Christians have fled Pakistan in recent years amid deadly attacks by angry Muslim mobs that also impacted parts of Lahore.
In 2015, two explosions rocked the Roman Catholic Church and Christ Church during Sunday services in Lahore’s Youhanabad area, killing at least 15 people and injuring 70 others.
Besides ongoing attacks, Christian women and girls have suffered kidnappings, forced marriages, and forced conversion in Pakistan, several rights groups say.
“However, this is a big city. And I see it as my task to win souls for Christ. I want to stay in Pakistan. Here is my ministry,” the pastor stressed.
Recently, Christian songs and celebrated throughout Lahore streets as his congregation celebrated a Resurrection Service remembering the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday.
Starting a church hasn’t been easy. The pastor had to overcome personal struggles, including losing a newborn baby last year.
But he made clear that he and his wife focus on Christ.
Manzoor also holds regular healing services where people pray for spiritual and physical healing.
He spoke with Worthy News a day after Pakistan's ousted prime minister, Imran Khan, demanded fresh elections amid political turmoil.
A new government took over and warned it faces an enormous challenge to revive a battered economy.
Pastor Manzoor isn’t a politician. He believes the Gospel is needed at a time when “people have become greedy” amid spiritual and social hardships such as poverty.
Yet the growth of his congregation underscores openness for the Gospel, he said.
There are 4.1 million Christians in Pakistan – which is 1.9 percent of the country’s population of more than 212 million people, according to estimates by the advocacy group Open Doors.
Open Doors has ranked the country 8th on its annual World Watch List of 50 nations where it says it is most challenging to be a Christian. However, Pastor Manzoor made clear he has hope for the future of Pakistan. “What the people of Pakistan needs is Eternal Life,” the young preacher said.