Pakistan #1 - Lahore
by Rob Weingartner
Arriving at our temporary home in Lahore, Pakistan, at 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday, we departed at 5:30 a.m. for the Christian Hospital at Taxila. Rev. Richard Paddon, my traveling companion and a retired pastor and school chaplain, quickly discovered that this trip would not be for the faint of heart. Our two days here have been long and intense. Our host for this time is the Rev. Dr. Majid Abel, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan and pastor of the Naukala Church whose guest quarters we are occupying.
It was wonderful to visit historic Taxila Christian Hospital, a Christian ministry founded 98 years ago by a Presbyterian missionary. Imagine being missionary, or a pastor, or simply a follower of Jesus in a country that was only 2% Christian. 2% of 212 million people. That is the experience of Christians here in Pakistan, and it shapes their identity and their engagement with the society in profound ways. For one thing, Christians here are spared the easy option of triumphal thinking; the realities of each day invite them to think of practical, humble life-giving ways that they can demonstrate the love of Christ. All that is available to them is the option of serving their neighbors in the way of Jesus.
Taxila Christian Hospital, the setting where Dr. Norval Christy, Presbyterian medical missionary, pioneered new methods in cataract surgery, is no longer a mission hospital. Its staff are all Pakistani, mostly Christians (all the doctors), and they care for about 500 patients each day. The hospital’s focus is on the poor, people who cannot afford to get treatment or help elsewhere. Under the leadership of Dr. Ashchenaz Lall, Director, this community of care is changing lives. Even the hospital hasn’t been immune from violence perpetrated against Christians by radical elements of the majority population. A clock inside the chapel stands as a reminder of a terrorist attack that killed five persons and injured dozens more.
What is the public role of the church in a place like Pakistan? We were inspired by a visit to the Christian Study Centre in Rawalpindi and conversation with the director, Jennifer Jag Jivan. This autonomous, ecumenical study center works for peace and the dignity of all persons. How disarming was her call to return to Jesus’ injunction to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” Working from the local to the parliamentary level, and working with interfaith groups as well, CSC works to help Christians understand what it means to live as “salt” in a context with complicated social, political, economic and spiritual realities.
Jennifer is an amazing woman. She challenged our preconceptions by pointing out that those working with Muslim family law are doing more for the rights of women in Pakistan than the Christians are, and she inspired us by describing her innovative, risky work as “the least I can do for this land.” Did I mention that she is amazing?
Today, we drive a long way to join the leaders of four presbyteries who had gathered for fellowship and a program designed, in part, to welcome us. The first thing that struck us about this gathering was how genuinely thrilled the leaders seemed to be together. There were songs and speeches and prayers and future planning. And lots of good food. We were hosted by the Churmunda Parish of Pasrur Presbytery. The presbytery has 12 congregations, but most of the congregations are actually parishes where a “mother church” also has what we might describe as church plants. The Churmunda congregation has congregations in 10 villages.
Village living for Presbyterians is often a challenge where they are discriminated against when it comes to employment, often holding the most menial and lowest paying jobs. Many poor people wind up in a kind of indebted servitude to the men who own the brick kiln or other places that work may be found. And that makes it tough for pastors. With little financial support coming from the congregations, and very modest stipends from the denomination, pastors and their families face special challenges. Earlier this year The Outreach Foundation sought to invest in some of the rural pastors by sending funds for motorcycles. They’re a great help in their ministry and can also be used as a way of supplementing their income. How fun it was to meet some of these pastors and hear about the significance of this gift shared between partners.
We already feel humbled by the faith and faithfulness of those whom we have met, and our journey has just begun. We already know it; this place has holy ground. Thank you for your prayers!