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Persecuted Christian from Pakistan has debt erased

November 7, 2023 by Brian O. in Persecuted believer in Pakistan

I’m here to visit a few Christian families to find out just what it’s like to live and work in the kilns.

As I walk through the brick kiln factory, I see walls of bricks surrounding a kiln that reaches skyward, billowing with smoke. I see men at the top of the kiln stoking the hot fires with coal. They wear wooden shoes because the temperature in the summer would melt rubber soles. Beyond the kiln, there’s an assembly line of families on the flats. A few members make the mud and use a rickety wheelbarrow to bring it to the brickmakers, who crouch, knees fully bent. There’s a rhythm to their workflow that’s almost like music.

At one point, a young woman shows me how to make the bricks. I bend down and dig my hands in the clay, and she instructs me. Grab mud and place it in the mold. Pinch more mud from the pile and slap it on top. Flatten it. Pat it at the corners. Flip it. Pull the mold and start another. My brick is a mess. It comes out in more of an oblong shape than a well-cornered rectangle. The small crowd around us laughs and points.

This is clearly a skill I don’t have.

When they finish a line of bricks, row after row, with the insignia of the brick kiln owner, the bricks then lay in the sun until they’re ready to move—either to store or to bake.

For many brick kiln workers in Pakistan, this is part of everyday life. It often starts at 4 in the morning. The daily brick quota can range from 1,500 to 2,500 bricks per family.

But there’s more to the story.

Life in the brick kilns

Most brick kiln workers here are Christians, and they’re not free. They’re in bonded slavery, paying off insurmountable debts that will likely be carried to the next generation and the one after that.

As the minority, Christians in Pakistan comprise less than 2% of the population. And many believers in this small bracket are steeped in poverty and hold the most undesirable jobs: sewer cleaners, street sweepers, house cleaners and brick makers.

Back to the brick kilns. How does it all work? Well, brick kiln owners often entice those in poverty with loans to help them pay for urgent medical bills, their daughters’ weddings, food or rent in hard times. With no other forms of income or support, these offers are tempting to pass up. But these loans are snares that keep families, many of them Christians, trapped in the kilns. Once they accept the advance, their daily wages are severely garnished for interest, and the meager wages they receive will likely keep them in slavery for decades unless something breaks the cycle—some form of grace.

Until then, they’re essentially owned by the brick kilns. This is happening right now to Christians across the country.

People like Azeeb.

Azeeb, a longtime Christian, has been in bonded slavery for close to twenty-five years. He lives in a small home at the brick kiln factory. He has a large family—9 children and 3 grandchildren—and he proudly introduces me to all of them.

Then, Azeeb pulls out a plastic table and a few chairs and invites me to sit as his daughters prepare the tea. It feels like we’re old friends already as he slaps my back and smiles. I ask him how he ended up here in the kiln.

“When my daughters got married, I was forced to take a loan. It’s what the poor man must do again and again,” Azeeb says.

“We wake up at 4 in the morning and leave for work after having breakfast. We work until 4 in the afternoon. And after paying all our monthly expenses, our debt will still increase,” Azeeb says.

But Azeeb doesn’t dwell on his hardships long. He quickly turns the conversation to gratitude. “Still, we thank Jesus, our God, a thousand times because He gave us health and courage. We are living and eating—and now you’re here to meet with us!” he says.

One of his daughters sets a tray of small paper cups on the table. “The tea is here!” he says, with raised hands in celebration.

I enjoy tea with Azeeb, and he shares more about his family, his faith and what it’s like to be a Christian in Pakistan.

He accepted Jesus at a young age and fully committed his life to follow God. “Even today, I need to walk on God’s path. I have never worshiped shrines or idols,” he says. Throughout his life, he’s experienced discrimination for his faith. People in his community have tried to convert him to Islam—offering him money to convert as well. But he has always refused. And he says Christians often get the worst jobs no one else will take.

Finding gratitude in trials

In a hushed tone, he leans in and explains how hard it is to be in the Christian minority. “We receive the brunt of the anger when things don’t go well,” he says. “We still thank God for all our provisions, but the attitude of the majority religion has not been so good to us.”

In addition, the brick kilns are not a safe place for Christian women or young girls—who are vulnerable to the threat of sexual harassment and abuse with little to no justice for the perpetrators. The situation here can often look bleak, but Azeeb stays resilient.

My entire body believes in Jesus,” Azeeb says. “My hope is only in God. Jesus can help us.” Azeeb offers encouragement for Christians in the US who are praying for him. “Keep believing in God. Keep your hope in Him. Don’t get disappointed about your circumstances; trust that God is with you—and as believers, we are one.”

We finish our tea and Azeeb asks me to remember the many brick kiln workers in prayer. “Ask for God to protect them—and to provide their freedom,” he says. We pray together and after he gives me a warm embrace. My heart is heavy, but I say goodbye to his family and let them know we won’t forget them.

After leaving Azeeb and the kiln’s smoke behind, I kept thinking about his perseverance. Would I still be grateful after spending more than 20 years as a bonded slave? Would my hope remain? It’s hard to say. But I couldn’t shake Azeeb’s story. It stayed with me.

After my return to the US, I met with our Global Christian Relief team, and our partners, and we prayed about the idea of paying off the debt of Azeeb—and other believers in slavery in the brick kilns. Paying off the brick kiln owners is tricky business. In many ways the owners function as the mafia; there’s only one way out.

But after much prayer and a lot of meticulous planning, we had the makings of a deal.

Support your Christian family in Pakistan impacted by religious violence today.

Returning to the kilns

Three months later, I’m back in Lahore and on my way to the brick kilns again. This time, with some incredible news for Azeeb—and three other families.

I have a check in hand to present to the brick kiln owner to completely pay off Azeeb’s bonded debt—and to release his entire family from decades of servitude. Through the generosity of Global Christian Relief supporters and the collaboration with our partners on the ground, we raised the funds to give them freedom.

Our partners in Pakistan have prepared the way for my visit—securing the permission of the brick kiln owners and setting up meetings at numerous locations for four families. I’m anxious, excited and praying it all goes smoothly. It’s a delicate process to honor the brick kiln owners and to provide freedom for these families.

I arrive at a familiar setting, with the giant kiln breaking the horizon in the distance, belching smoke, the lined walls of baking bricks and the flats off in the distance. It’s even hotter now, on the cusp of the summer months. When we get out of our car, I’m led to the brick kiln owner’s office. I sit and wait. Men dressed in the traditional shalwar kameez come in and out and write things down on paper and exit. Sometimes the men nod. Sometimes there’s no recognition I’m in the room. I’m served doodh Patti chai, a sweet, milky tea, and a plate of blonde cookies with white cream.

The owner of the kiln then enters, prompting everyone to stand. He is young, likely in his late twenties. He greets me and we have a seat. We drink tea and talk about his business. The current economy is hurting profits, he says. Although he’s proud of his success and the fact that he took over the business from his father. He seems somewhat uninterested in my presence, but he tolerates my questions.

I thank him for his hospitality, and we stand together for a photo—both of us holding the check that will free Azeeb’s family from decades of bonded slavery. Then we go to his account manager, and they write the amount in the ledger and we both sign it.

At that moment, Azeeb is free. After three months of planning, it’s complete.

I walk outside to find Azeeb waiting with an uncontained, exuberant smile. He fidgets with excitement and then we give each other a long hug. “I’m really grateful from the bottom of my heart,” Azeeb says. “You must come back to my house.” He leads me back to his home where his entire family—all 9 children and 3 grandchildren—are bustling in the courtyard with excitement.

What freedom brings

Azeeb’s wife, Shagufta, places a garland of flowers around my neck at the entrance to their home, and the children throw flower pedals at me—directly in my face, as is the custom, I guess—giddy with smiles. If I’m honest, it was embarrassing and humbling at the same time. I’m just a messenger, I thought, representing so many others who’ve given, prayed and worked to make this moment possible. Why should I get all the love? But soon I push back my reservations and embrace the moment—enjoying the smiles, the hugs, the laughs with the children and, of course, more tea.

Azeeb wraps his arm around my shoulder. “When we found out you were going to pay off our debt, we were thrilled. My wife said she’d put her hands on your head [a sign of honor that elders give to the younger], regardless of your age!” he laughs. “We stayed up until 1 a.m. last evening talking and discussing this day. We couldn’t sleep we were so excited,” he says.

It’s too hot to stand outside for long so we walk into his bedroom and crowd around the bed, sitting in white plastic chairs, sipping chai and talking. “My whole family, my sons and my daughters have all said that you are on their hearts,” Azeeb says.

At many points in our conversation, I’m speechless. How do you commemorate this moment? What words do you say to someone who has regained their freedom. Azeeb and his family have been at this brick kiln for almost 25 years and most of it has been in bonded slavery.

When I ask Azeeb how it feels, he says, “God sent us angels to bless us, and now we are free.”

“Your visit here reminds me of the story of Moses,” Azeeb adds. “God sent Moses to release His people from bondage. God is working for us, and He can save us. He can protect us. I prayed for freedom and God answered.”

It’s amazing to be a part of this answered prayer, nearly 25 years in the making. The cosmic plan of God is hard to wrap my mind around. Twenty-five years ago, I was in seminary studying theology in Phoenix, Arizona, while Azeeb was here in Lahore starting his time in the brick kilns. Neither of us would’ve ever known or imagined what God had in store for us in a quarter century right here, outside Lahore.

At one point, Azeeb becomes more serious. “I would like to thank all those who gave generously and prayed for us. Bless you all from the bottom of my heart,” Azeeb says.

It’s hard to leave Azeeb and his family. Shugufta gives me a big hug and the children pass along high-fives and more smiles.

“We are all deep friends in Jesus,” Azeeb says. And my heart is full.

On the way home to the US again, my mind wanders. How many other persecuted Christians have been praying for freedom across Pakistan’s brick kilns? How many other families are asking God to break the cycle and free the next generation?

That’s when I know our work here is just beginning.

Will you take a moment now and pray with us, reaching out to God on behalf of the other persecuted brick kiln workers?

Father God, You have a plan. You intertwine lives and bring opportunities. We’re grateful for the generous support of our donors, that we were able to free these families from bonded slavery. But we know others remain. Please encourage them and bring them peace. Let them feel Your presence and keep their hopes high. And if it be Your will, free them, like the Israelites from the Egyptians. Amen.


About the author
Brian O. is the Chief Global Story Officer for GCR and partners with the persecuted church around the world to make sure their stories are heard.  Get the latest stories and prayer requests at

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