In September I was privileged to travel to Pakistan with Rev. Richard Paddon, a retired pastor and member of my presbytery. Our host was the Rev. Dr. Majid Abel, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan and pastor of the Naukala Church whose guest quarters we occupied.
I remember, years ago, watching with amazement a 16mm film that told the story of how Dr. Norval Christy, a Presbyterian medical missionary at the historic Taxila Christian Hospital, pioneered a new surgical procedure for removing cataracts. Imagine being a missionary, or a pastor, or simply a follower of Jesus in a country of 212 million people where 2% are Christian. Dr. Christy and others found ways to serve their neighbors in the way of Jesus. Today, Taxila Christian Hospital 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 this community of care is changing lives.
We drove a long distance one day 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 indentured servitude to the men who own the brick kilns 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 also drove to Sialkot, now a thriving city and a long-time center for the production of surgical instruments and sports equipment. We were there to see Memorial Christian Hospital, established in 1886 by Maria White, M.D., a young American sent by the United Presbyterian Church of North America. She was the first of scores of medical missionaries called by the Lord to Pakistan. A small dispensary for women and children, constructed in Sialkot on land deeded by a Muslim gentleman, soon grew to a 55-bed hospital. Today, MCH is a 350-bed general hospital with medical services in seven specialties; last year 8,000 babies were born there! Hospital administrator Dr. Zeno Naeem and three colleagues met us, served us tea and took us for a fascinating tour of the hospital.
Richard and I each had the opportunity to preach in Lahore on a Sunday. I think that we were more deeply moved by the Pakistanis’ singing than they were by our preaching. In any case, we know that the sermons were improved with the help of our translators. And the Pakistani practice of removing one’s shoes before entering the chancel properly framed the task for those leading God’s people in worship.
The next morning we witnessed a trial program as the Presbyterian Church leadership invited youth, especially from more isolated rural areas, to come together for a day of worship, encouraging and helpful teaching, a meal and fellowship. The theme of the day was the authority of the Bible. Using some seed money from The Outreach Foundation, hoping that 400 youth might come together on a work day for this first-time event, the plans were made. The minivans kept rolling in and the crowd numbered about 550 before it was all over. Moderator Majid Abel noted that some “seniors” came too, also clearly longing for this kind of event.
We enjoyed a wonderful visit at Forman Christian College which was founded in 1864 by American Presbyterian missionary Dr. Charles William Forman. Initially named Mission College, the name was changed to Forman Christian College in 1894 in honor of the founder. In 1902, the college was the first college in the Punjab to admit women. The college was nationalized in 1972 until 2003 when control was returned to the Presbyterian Church.
Cheryl Burke, chief student affairs officer at Forman and friend from Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, made the arrangements for our visit which began with a tour of the campus led by a delightful group of students. Next, we met with a group of the Christian students and heard about their lives, their hopes and their time at Forman. Many of them, Cheryl reported, were the first ones in their family to study at a university. The students were bright, hopeful and grateful for a place to study where they could both practice their faith and develop relationships with Muslim students. They expressed great appreciation for the staff of the Christian Life Program.
We met with Rev. Babar Iqbal, his wife Shagufta and Mr. Amer who are staff with the Christian Life Program on campus, supported in part with gifts that come through Outreach. It was exciting to learn more about how God led them to campus ministry at Forman, especially after hearing from the students about how they have been blessed by Babar and the others. They are an amazing team!
Our visit and day ended with FCC Rector Dr. Jim and Beth Tebbe, who invited us to join them for a delicious meal and lovely time of fellowship at sunset, sitting in a rooftop restaurant overlooking the Lahore Fort and Badshahi Mosque. They are dedicated, winsome servants in a challenging context. FCC is thriving.
Two ministries which have been long-time partners of Outreach are the Pakistan Bible Correspondence School and the Pakistan Christian Recording Ministry. These ministries are committed to sharing the good news of Jesus with the majority population. About 30% of the current 3,500 PBCS students are Muslim.
In March 2018 Mr. Muzaffar Nazish was installed as the new Principal of PBCS Faisalabad Centre. It was our joy to be at the centre for the ordination of Muzaffar to the ministry. I was privileged to preach the sermon for the service. Muzaffar returns to the work of PBCS after having served as vice-principal of the Faisalabad Center from 1993-1998. Of course, he works in concert with Mr. Rufan William, executive secretary for PBCS. Muzaffar has been working to strengthen the ministry’s relationship with churches there through PBCS Sundays that are helping to provide a stable network of prayer and financial support. He visited the States briefly late summer and hopes to return to strengthen PBCS’s network here.
The work of the Pakistan Christian Recording Ministry continues to flourish after forty years, still producing programs for radio but also now utilizing social media. A recent effort has resulted in 28 volumes of Christian music, and now four volumes of worship songs. AND, they have recorded the entire Bible in Urdu! Some of the PCRM programs that reach the majority population are of a more social nature, engaging listeners around everyday issues from their lives. The follow up work is very important, and as listeners grow in their openness to the Lord they are carefully connected to mature believers.
About two hours north of Lahore we visited the much smaller city of Gujranwala, the location since 1912 of the Presbyterian Seminary that was established by missionaries of the United Presbyterian Church of North America in 1877. Students come from Presbyterian and several more denominations with 88 enrolled this fall, including 20 women and the largest entering class ever. It was good to see the improvements made on the men’s hostel with funds that Outreach sent after our visit in May 2017. And two married student apartments that were simply unusable have been reclaimed and restored with funds from First Presbyterian Church, Houston.
We had a roundtable conversation with a number of the students, and they expressed appreciation for the faculty and the opportunity to study. Although the Presbyterians have been ordaining women as elders and pastors, there are still not opportunities for women in pastoral ministry. We concluded our seminary visit with dinner with the faculty at Vice-Principal Maqsood Kamil and his wife Ruby’s home on the seminary compound. The faculty are clearly dedicated, even though the financial challenges that the school faces means that they don’t get paid some months. We welcome gifts in support of the critical ministry of the seminary.
Pakistan is not an easy place to visit, but we were warmly welcomed at every step of our journey. We saw the fruit of gifts that many Outreach supporters have given – for scholarships and the Christian Life program at Forman Christian College, for the operating budgets of the Pakistan Christian Recording Ministry and Pakistan Bible Correspondence School, for support of the seminary at Gujranwala and for the purchase of motorbikes for rural pastors. Each of these ministries needs our prayers and financial support.
It is not an easy thing to follow Christ in Pakistan. Please remember to pray for these dear friends and for the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan.
Read more about:
Pakistan Bible Correspondence School HERE
Pakistan Christian Recording Ministries HERE
Gujranwala Theological Seminary HERE
Forman Christian College HERE
Motorbikes for Rural Pastors in Pakistan HERE
This year Outreach is seeking $15,000 for PBCS, $10,000 for PCRM, $20,000 for Gujranwala Theological Seminary, $27,000 for Forman Christian College and at least twenty gifts of $700 for a total of $14,000 to purchase motorcycles for use by twenty PCP pastors.