Christian Pakistani man's 140-foot mission for God

Scaffolding covers a 140-foot cross being built next to the Gora Qabristan Christian cemetery in Karachi, Pakistan, May 23, 2015.

CBS

KARACHI, Pakistan -- A Pakistani businessman says he is determined to complete a task assigned to him by God.

Parvez Henry Gill, a member of Pakistan's small minority Christian community, wants to encourage his fellow Christians to stay in the country. Many have decided to abandon their home nation, where they simply don't feel safe.

Gill's response to the harassment and violence facing his community stands out prominently on the Karachi skyline, in the form of a still-under-construction, 140-foot-high cross.

Speaking to CBS News in his native Karachi, a southern coastal city with a population of 20 million, Gill described himself as a property developer and owner of farmland. He said he decided to build the giant cross in overwhelmingly-Muslim Pakistan four years ago, when God ordered him in a dream to do "something good" for the people.

The concrete cross has been under construction for two years.

With workers still climbing all over the scaffolding behind him, Gill told CBS News the cross was to be "a sign of God which leads people to believe that God is everywhere," and that there is "no reason to be scared."

"God will protect you. Stay in your country. Don't be afraid," added Gill.

And Christians in Pakistan do have legitimate cause for concern.

Members of the overwhelming Muslim majority in Karachi warned that the cross could provoke more violence by Islamic militants in a city where they are known to operate.

The Taliban and affiliated groups regularly target religious minorities in Pakistan. Earlier this month, gunmen massacred at least 43 people from the minority Ismaili Muslim community on a bus in Karachi.

Protests erupted in March after two bombs planted near churches in Pakistan's central city of Lahore left at least 14 people dead and scores more injured. Christian churches had been attacked before.

"The Cross itself is not just a symbol," argued Saeed Khan, a Karachi shopkeeper who stood with other spectators watching work on the cross continue. "It represents a provocation that will cause more bloodshed. Don't we have enough problems already?"

The cross has gone up immediately next to Karachi's Gora Qabristan, one of the oldest Christian cemeteries in the city.

Even within Karachi's Christian community, whose ancestors settled here during British colonial rule, there were mixed views of the project.

Christian visitors to the cemetery unanimously defended Gill's -- or any other Christian's -- right to build a cross in their city, but some worried the project could become a target for Islamic militants.

"This is a source of inspiration, no doubt. But the security threat which comes with it cannot be ignored," said Nadia Gill, a Christian school teacher of no relation to Gill, who was at the cemetery visiting her mother's grave. "We are a community under threat. If God spoke to Mr. Gill, then maybe this cross will survive. But I still have my fears."

Gill said he wouldn't be deterred, however, even if he was threatened himself.

"God will be my security. He will provide security," he told CBS News. "It is a symbol of God, nothing else."