LAFAYETTE | Before the news broke locally in March, Carlton Potts was well aware of the religious conflict in Lahore, Pakistan. The Lafayette pastor preaches via Skype every week to a Christian congregation in that same town.
"I was devastated," he told the Journal & Courier. "I try to impart that emotion and knowledge to members of our church. So many people in the U.S. don't know what it's really like to be persecuted because of your religious beliefs."
Asif Masih, the founder and chairman of Fresh Fire Gospel Church Ministries based in Lahore, lives near the neighborhood where the homes of dozens of Christians were recently burned by a mob. The mob reacted to reports that a Christian man had committed blasphemy against Islam's Prophet Muhammad.
Christians represent a small minority in Pakistan, where the official religion is Islam. About 96 percent of the Pakistani population is Muslim; the other 4 percent includes Christians and Hindus, according to the CIA World Factbook.
Masih said Christians experience a variety of discrimination in employment and education, primarily because of the Pakistani perception that Christianity is associated with the United States.
"Now (the) majority of our Christians are less advantaged here," he wrote in an email. "We are (considered) lower or second or third class citizens here."
Sometimes the conflict becomes violent, he wrote.
"Last year, our 10 Christian nurses were forced to accept Islam and when they refused they were forced to drink poisonous juice," he wrote. "Many times our girls are raped, kidnapped and forced to accept Islam."
He also wrote that at times the church's prayer service is forbidden and Christians cannot openly express their religious views as Muslims do.
Potts and his church, Whole Truth Apostolic Faith Assembly, where he is the assistant pastor, sent Masih's church $700 to help with the crisis.
He said Masih reached out to him in January via Facebook. "They were desperately looking for someone to preach the word from outside the country," he said. "They feel isolated."
Masih wrote that members of his church feel "oppressed" and "ignored."
"When they hear from a foreigner a word of God, they feel that there are so many people around the world who are Christians too," he wrote. "Their ego comes up, faith (flourishes) and sense of being valued develops."
Potts said encouragement is especially important during these times of crisis.
"I think that encouragement helps gives us strength and we pray for everyone and there's comfort in that too," he said.