Pakistan #5 - Bathed in Prayer
by Rob Weingartner
Our final day in Pakistan (Wednesday) was a day of encouragement and rich experiences for Richard and me. We are deeply grateful for the hospitality and help that the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan Moderator, Rev. Dr. Majid Abel and his wife, Hina, provided to us during our entire stay.
Our first visit was to the new offices of the Presbyterian Education Board which is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the denationalization of primary and secondary schools. The church’s educational ministry had been very strong up until the time that the schools were nationalized. When the opportunity to build and run schools returned to the church, PEB stepped up to provide strong leadership. Currently, PEB educates about 6,000 children in 12 high schools and six village primary schools. PEB seeks to serve “the poorest of the poor,” and they serve both Muslim and Christian students. PEB also directs a number of Women’s Empowerment Projects.
Our host Majid Abel has been the catalyst for expanding and overlapping groups of interfaith leaders who meet together to explore mutual concerns, deepen relationships and address issues about peace and religious cooperation in Pakistani society. About 12 leaders (half Muslim and half Christian) met together with us. We were reminded that Christians in places like Pakistan pay a price for things that Christians in our country do (such as Terry Jones’ threat to burn copies of the Quran several years ago).
It was moving to hear the different leaders talk about how they came to be involved in this ongoing conversation. One senior Muslim cleric described how as he got to know more people of other faiths that he “was converted from the inside and discovered that humanity is bigger than these walls.” Sitting in a Presbyterian manse and hearing an Imam, a self-described former “extremist” make such a confession was not something we had anticipated. A Catholic participant affirmed that “friends don’t hesitate to stand with friends when they are threatened.” As the leaders work to involve more of their constituents in interfaith relationships, they are also preparing a book of essays and sermons for publication entitled, “This, too, is Pakistan.” It was encouraging to see these leaders addressing critical issues. Then, most of the group had pizza!
How to describe what we experienced that evening at the Gulberg Presbyterian Church pastored by Rev. Samuel Massey. . . . powerful, moving, transcendent. We were blessed by the singing of the 150 or so who gathered for their regular Wednesday evening service, the praise team, women’s choir and children’s choirs. We were literally bathed in prayer as the congregation encircled us and prayed and prayed for us. We were welcomed into ministry as we had the privilege of praying individually for many members of the church who approached us after the benediction, describing personal needs. They just kept coming, and we lifted them up to the Light.
The building in which the church meets is a house that was given to the church by a family that emigrated to the U.S. and then renovated. I cannot remember the last time I experienced such high praise-per-cubic meter.
Richard and I return to our homes richly blessed by the faith and faithfulness of the men and women and young people we met. In a country where Christians represent only 2% of the population, they face lots of challenges. Most of the Christians are poor; most trace their background to below-caste ancestors. Still, they continue reaching out to share God’s love with their neighbors. The Presbyterian Church faces some challenges with internal political turmoil, and we invite you to pray that all those who lead will find effective ways to serve. Thank you for your prayers for us as we traveled. We come back with a profound sense that God is at work in Pakistan, with a firmer resolve to come alongside these precious brothers and sisters, to encourage them and to learn from them.