“I praise God and am so proud that I am the daughter of a martyr and the wife of a martyr too.” – daughter of William Siraj and widow of another martyr
“I praise and thank God that I belong to a family of martyrs.” – Wilson Saraj, who has lost five relatives as martyrs including his brother William
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15)
The well-known verse seems to have an extra depth of meaning for the tragic death of William Siraj on Sunday 30 January. Not only had William been a faithful follower of the Lord Jesus all his life but also his death came in the midst of serving his beloved Lord and, furthermore, he was singled out for death because of that service.
William’s tragic death has rocked the Barnabas Fund family, because he was the eldest brother of Wilson Saraj, known and loved by many as the Barnabas Regional Coordinator for Pakistan and several other South Asian countries.
Gunned down after church service
On the day of his martyrdom William, a lay pastor, had been preaching at the Sunday service at a church in Gulbahar district, near Peshawar. William had gone to this church every Sunday since it was started, more than ten years ago. At first he led the services single-handed, and then, as the congregation grew, in collaboration with an ordained pastor from the Church of Pakistan.
“Everybody loved him,” said a relative to Barnabas Fund. “He worked so hard and was so gentle and caring. He had no enemies.”
After the service was over the two pastors were driving home together, when gunmen on a motorcycle fired through the car window at them. William was killed, but Rev. Patrick Naeem was unharmed, a bullet merely passing through his clothes.
The Pakistani authorities have leapt into action to try to arrest the perpetrators. A possibility, raised by Human Rights Focus Pakistan, is that the gunmen were from an Islamist group and had come over the border from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, which is only a few dozen kilometres from Peshawar.
Passionately serving the Lord
William Siraj had always been energetic and passionate in Christian ministry. He took every opportunity to share the Word of God. Indeed, his favourite song was Anjeel ko Phelana Ye Kam Humara (Spreading the Word of God is our work).
An excellent sprinter and cricketer, he earned his living first working for Pakistan Railways and then as a physical education instructor at the University Public School, Peshawar. But every evening he would be out preaching and teaching in the Christian bustees (slums), on his own initiative.
Then came the call from his church, All Saints, Peshawar, to start a church for a community of poor and uneducated Christians, mostly doing low-paid, dirty jobs for the municipality. They had been re-settled by the municipality in what is called in Pakistan a “Christian colony” when their former homes were demolished to make room for a new road.
From the very beginning, William was there to give pastoral care, teach, encourage, lead and guide the vulnerable Christians. He was there to care for them when seven of their members died in a suicide bombing at All Saints Church that killed over 120 people on 22 September 2013. William’s son-in-law was also one of those who died that day. Since then the church at the Christian Colony by Peshawar’s ring road has been called Shaheedan-E-All Saints Church, meaning “Martyrs and All Saints Church”.
“Please don’t stop me”
“He was so committed,” says Wilson about William. “He would often say to his wife: ‘Please do not ask me to stop going out to preach and pray with people.’” In fact, his wife had asked him not to go to church the very Sunday of his martyrdom. William had had a slight accident the day before and was not fully well. But he replied to her, “Please don’t stop me from going, because I have prepared and I have to preach a sermon.”
At his funeral on Monday 31 January, three bishops spoke and many clergy participated. There was a big media presence too. The church was so full that people were even sitting on the ground around the coffin and others were outside trying to listen. Patrick Naeem was there, so thankful to the Lord for his miraculous deliverance the day before.
While one faithful pastor was saved from death, the other, sitting beside him in the car, was taken to glory as a martyr. But William’s family do not question the Lord’s purposes. His daughter, widowed by the 2013 attack at All Saints Church, said this morning, “I praise God and am so proud that I am the daughter of a martyr and the wife of a martyr too.”
Wilson, who lost his nephew, cousin and her husband and daughter in the 2013 attack and now his brother, echoed the same thought: “I am very humbled and I praise and thank God that I belong to a family of martyrs.”