Here in Colorado Springs, the tragedy at Ft. Hood last week seems all too close and real. That's because Ft. Carson here sends the second largest number of soldiers in the country to Iraq and Afghanistan. Second only to Ft. Hood.
In sharp contrast to the events of Ft. Hood is the story of an illiterate Catholic janitor in Pakistan who saved the lives of hundreds of Muslim young women when he stopped a terrorist bomber at the door of the women's cafeteria at the International Islamic University in Islamabad. There were over 400 women students inside the cafeteria when the bomber approached. Pervaiz Masih saved their lives by giving his own.
It happened on October 20 but the story just made the international news yesterday. CNN is carrying a moving video here.
Although the news accounts all call Masih a "Christian", notice that his widow is making the sign of the cross. His last name, common among Pakistani Christians, means "Messiah". Pervaiz Masih was 40 years old and had only been on the job for a week. He earned $60 month and lived with 7 other family members in a single room apartment in Rawalpindi. He is now being described as a "national hero".
"The sweeper who was cleaning up here saw someone outside and went towards him," said Nasreen Siddique, a cafeteria worker who was wounded in the head, leg and arm by the blast. "[Masih] told him that he could not come inside because there were girls inside. And then they started arguing. And then we heard a loud blast and all the glass broke."
"Between 300 to 400 girls were sitting in there," said Professor Fateh Muhammad Malik, the rector of the university. "[Pervez Masih] rose above the barriers of caste, creed and sectarian terrorism. Despite being a Christian, he sacrificed his life to save the Muslim girls."
Despite being a Christian? Or because he was a Christian? I don't think Professor Malik meant to demean Masih's faith. As rector of an Islamic university in an intensely Islamic country, his words are high praise.
But in an intensely anti-Christian climate like that of contemporary Pakistan, it is unexpected. Christians do not die for Muslims. Muslims do not die for Christians. A decent, just man whose faith called him to stand up for the innocent, regardless of their faith, stands out. A Christian protecting Muslims from Muslims.
By the standards of the Pakistani janitor, the wealthy, highly educated American Muslim doctor at Fr. Hood was unimaginably privileged. The doctor was trained to save life and yet felt that his faith permitted him - urged him even- to take life.
No one expected anything from the poor janitor and yet he proved himself to be the stuff of martyrs. His life and death glorified God. May the same be said of us.
The good news is that Islamic University has offered to give Masih's 3 year old daughter a free education (I presume that would be an Islamic education?) and has offered his widow a job. The Pakistani government has also promised to award his family 1 million rupees (about $12,000). Which, if delivered, will be a tremendous help because they are reported to be behind in their rent.
To get a sense of the lives of Christians in Islamabad, take a look at this harrowing video by France 24's English language news service.
Let's pray for Masih's and his grief-striken family and the three young women whom he could not save. May God use this obscure Christian's heroic death to give the Christians of Pakistan new honor in the eyes of their Muslim neighbors and a new breath of freedom from persecution.