Reza, an Iranian Christian man in his late-40s, fled to Pakistan and thought he was relatively safe from the Iranian intelligence service. On March 17, however, he had a frightening brush with death during the deadly grenade attack against the Protestant International Church in Islamabad.

Reza is not willing to give his full name. Iranian intelligence agents are active in Pakistan, and Reza is constantly on the run from the Pakistani police. He is a refugee with no passport.

At the time of the grenade attack, Reza sat near the exit. He had a good view of what happened.

"A bit before 11 a.m., a man in black clothes came in. He had four to six grenades in his belt. First he throws one, and then two, three, four grenades," Reza says.

"My friend sitting next to me shouted, 'Run out, fast! Run out!' After five minutes I returned to the church, and I saw arms and legs spread out, and I also saw a head with no body."

Reza was traumatized, and he was not able to stay in the church for more than 10 to 15 minutes.

"I cannot stand the sight of blood," he says quietly.

Reza did not want to tell his story to Pakistani police, but he visited the American embassy to talk to investigators there.

"I hope the Americans can catch those responsible for this attack," he says.

Eight years ago, Reza was a Muslim, but he became a Christian through the Catholic church in his Iranian hometown. After he became a Christian, his family turned against him, and his wife wanted to leave him. Although they are still married, his wife remains in Iran together with three Muslim children. One son is also Christian, and he lives in Sweden. "I love my wife and my children, and I don't want a divorce," Reza says.

"I had a job as an engineer, but after I became a Christian, they told me I had to quit," Reza says. He saw no options except to flee Iran. He had some relatives in Norway and applied for political asylum there.

In Norway, Reza started attending a local Pentecostal church, and he became stronger in his faith. He was baptized in the church two years ago. But Norwegian immigration authorities did not believe he was a genuine believer risking persecution in his homeland, and then sent him back to Iran in February 2001.

"When I arrived, the Iranian police took my passport, and after 36 days in Iran, the police arrested me. I spent six months in prison," Reza says.

Since he could not go back to Norway, Reza says his only alternative was to flee to Pakistan. Without a passport, he had to bribe a Pakistani police officer to enter the country.

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Reza was well received in the Protestant International Church, which serves many expatriates in the country's capital. He is trying to obtain refugee status with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The agency assists 1.3 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, as well as 2,400 asylum-seekers and refugees. These mainly are Somalis, Iraqis, and Iranians.

Torunn, one member of Reza's Norwegian church, does all she can to help. She sends documents he might need in his quest for freedom and encourages him by phone. She does not want to give her full name, thinking it could jeopardize Reza's attempt to get refugee status.

"I want Reza to come back to Norway, but it is all up to the UNHCR to decide where they want to send him if he gets refugee status. We are praying a lot for him here," she says.

Reza struggles both financially and mentally. The Islamabad attack, which killed five people, has left scars.

"I can't sleep now," Reza says. "I have nightmares, and I'm right back at the scene. I'm asking myself why this church was attacked. I have no answers."

Related Elsewhere

Previous Christianity Today coverage of the church attack includes:

Pakistan Grenade Attack Survivors Worship and Weep | On the Sunday after March 17 attack, church members regather in Islamabad. (March 25, 2002)
Weblog: Five Killed, Dozens Wounded in Pakistan Church Attack (March 18, 2002)

Related coverage includes:

No arrests made after church attackBusiness Day (March 25, 2002)
Faith unbending in bombed churchThe Washington Times (March 25, 2002)
A week after attack, congregation seeks solace — Associated Press (March 25, 2002)
Christians pray for killed in Pak churchTheTimes of India (March 24, 2002)
Christians Pray for Five Killed in Pakistan Church — ABC News (March 24, 2002)
Wounded marvel at survivalThe Boston Globe (March 21, 2002)
Church Attack In Pakistan Kills Two From U.S.The Washington Post (March 18, 2002)
Worshippers Dead in Pakistan Attack — Associated Press (March 17, 2002)

For more articles on the March 17 attack, see Yahoo's full coverage on Pakistan.

Christianity Today'sWorld Report has more coverage of religious tensions and violence in Pakistan.