ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – They came wounded but walking, bandaged but resolute in faith.
Survivors of last weekend's grenade attack on a Protestant church that killed five people gathered on Palm Sunday for the first time since the assault, taking strength in their tears and turning to prayer in their time of need.
"Lord we hurt. We weep. We cry. We get angry," said James L. Killgore, the church's former pastor, who flew to Pakistan from Atlanta for the service. "And we need Your spirit to help us sort these things through."
About 50 members of the Protestant International Church sat close to each other and turned to the Bible to make sense of March 17, when at least one man hurled grenades into their congregation, sending shrapnel through the crowd comprised largely of foreigners.
The dead included U.S. Embassy employee Barbara Green, and her 17-year-old daughter Kristen Wormsley. More than 45 people were injured.
Members of the congregation appeared to move about in shock even a week later, saddened that anyone would choose a church as a target for attack — particularly one in the guarded diplomatic quarter in the heart of Pakistan's capital, about 400 yards from the U.S. Embassy compound.
"Just like the World Trade Center was considered invincible, the church was considered very safe," Killgore said before the service that occurred on Palm Sunday. "It wasn't an easy place to get to."
No group claimed responsibility, but suspicion fell on Islamic extremists who are angry that Pakistan has chosen to cooperate with the United States in its war on terrorism. President George W. Bush condemned the attack. Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf promised to relentlessly hunt for those responsible.
Just days afterward, the State Department ordered all dependents and nonessential U.S Embassy staff to leave Pakistan in the first mandatory departure since the Sept. 11 attacks and the launch of the U.S.-led war in neighboring Afghanistan heightened security risks.
Even after all they had been through, though, this community just didn't want to spend Sunday alone. They wanted to start putting their church — and their lives — back together.
So, they borrowed the palm-festooned sanctuary at St. Thomas' Church, unable to meet in their own because it was still being cleaned and combed for evidence. They printed new programs. They talked about Easter.
And they began anew. Some stood up one at a time to offer prayers, many beginning with the words, "Thank you Lord." They thanked other people, too, like a special Pakistani police unit investigating the case who, together with investigators from the U.S. Embassy, sat in the back of the church.
And in the end, what began as a very somber service became less so, lifted by the hope that something more would come of the tragedy.
"Your tears are not in vain," Killgore said. "They will become tomorrow's seeds of hope."
Some in the congregation wiped their eyes. Mark Robinson, 32, of San Clemente, California, who was wounded in the leg and buttocks, decided to come with his family even though the attack was fresh in his mind.
"I'm not going to say it didn't cross my mind," he said as his two little girls in crisp white party dresses grabbed his fingers and looked up at him in adoration.
But Robinson, who works for a non-governmental organization, said he would not leave Pakistan, even though Americans were advised to go. Instead, he walked over to a table where investigators had laid out personnel items left over from the attack, took a look — and just kept on going with his life.
"I still believe," he said. "My life is in God's hands."