|Christians continue work in Pakistan, despite hostility|
The Church of Pakistan's Diocese of Peshawar runs economic
development programs that include 24 sewing centers. The church is an
official partner of The United Methodist Church. A UMNS photo courtesy
of the Diocese of Peshawar.
A UMNS Report
By Rebecca C. Asedillo *
May 30, 2007
What does it mean to be a Christian minority in a post 9/11 Islamic society?
Christians in Pakistan "live and move and have their being" in a
context of increasing uncertainty. Sometimes that environment turns
On Oct. 28, 2001, in Bahawalpur, Multan province, a congregation
sharing worship space at a Roman Catholic Church was attacked by armed
men. Sixteen people died, including several children.
On Aug. 5, 2002, armed gunmen attacked the Murree Christian School
in the Himalayan foothills, about 30 miles north of Islamabad, the
capital of Pakistan, killing six adults but leaving the students
On Nov. 12, 2005, a mob, angry at a perceived insult against the
Qur'an (later found to be baseless), set on fire three churches, two
houses of priests, a convent, one high school and the houses of three
Christian families in a place called Sangla Hill, not far from the city
of Lahore. Almost 400 Christian families had to evacuate their homes
before the situation could be put under control.
On Feb. 6, 2006, following the publication of the Danish cartoon
that many Muslims saw as ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad, mobs with
sticks, chains and stones attacked institutions run by the church,
including Edwardes College, Elizabeth Girls School and College, St.
Pauls Church and School, the Mission Hospital and the Pennell High
School and College in the Northwest Frontier Province.
On May 16, 2007, BBC News reported that the small Christian
community in a place called Charsadda, also in the northwest province,
was threatened with violence if its members did not become Muslims.
Despite the conditions, the church's work continues.
The Northwest Frontier Province is an area where Christian
communities experience an extraordinary level of tension and sense of
The Diocese of Peshawar, whose territory coincides with the province,
is one of the eight dioceses that make up the Church of Pakistan. This
diocese originally belonged to the Anglican tradition, but with the
merger of the Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans (Norwegian) and Scottish
Presbyterians in 1970, it is now a part of the united Church of
Pakistan, an official partner with The United Methodist Church.
The catastrophic earthquake of Oct. 8, 2005, in Pakistan killed an
estimated 86,000 people. The diocese responded to the emergency by
adopting a cluster of six villages in an area known as Pateka. Besides
the immediate response to provide food, clothing, shelter and medical
aid right after the earthquake, the diocese is now involved in the
rehabilitation and reconstruction of the villages. It facilitated the
creation of a community-based organization to address livelihood
recovery, health, education, water and sanitation, house repair and
other communal needs.
Trust among Christians and Muslims in these communities has been
developing, according to Ashar Dean, the diocesan staff overseeing
communications and evaluation of the program. "If we give them respect,
they will give us respect," he said.
In the northwest province, the majority of the people are Pashtuns
(or Pathans), while most Christians are Punjabi descendants of the camp
followers of the British Army during the late 19th century. In a society
that has traditionally looked down on Christians not only for their
adherence to what is perceived as a "foreign/western religion" but also
for the fact that a majority of them come from the lower castes, the
development of trust is a significant achievement.
Seventy-five-year-old Mohammad Ayub, a respected elder of Pateka
testified, "During the relief and recovery phase, the diocesan staff
maintained our self-respect, dignity and honor. At no point did they let
us feel we were dependent on them…"
"In interfaith dialogue, we try to make our Muslim neighbors
understand that we too are Pakistanis," Dean said. In the past, he
explained, Pakistani Christians had followed the isolationist model of
the British, who did not interact with the majority community. This is
now changing. "I want the two societies - Muslims and Christians - to
Some of the women of the diocese discussed the low social status
accorded to women in Pakistan where, according to Human Rights Watch,
victims of sexual assault are deemed guilty of illegal sex rather than
victims of unlawful violence or abuse. For this so-called "honor" crime,
many women are imprisoned, and some are even killed.
"We are living in a country where the role of women is not up to the
mark," said Reena Patrick of the diocesan women's desk. "Women are
degraded and are deprived of many things in life."
However, "women now have more courage to speak," asserted a member of
the diocesan women's group, which gathered for a reception with a guest
from the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. The women's
association holds seminars on women's health, legal rights and HIV/AIDS.
It ministers among women prisoners who, cultural norms dictate, could
not be visited by men.
While often facing obstacles in their pursuit for education and jobs
within their society, the youth of the diocese are reaching out in a
program for interfaith dialogue called "Youth Faith Friends." The young
people are also very much aware of how suspicion of Christians has
increased since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United
States. "Because of Bush's war on Iraq, our churches have been
attacked," one of the young people said.
The youth of the diocese are active in the Pateka villages,
organizing sports and creative activities for the children there. They
also continue to serve and strengthen their own networks through youth
sports festivals, career counseling programs and participating in
regional ecumenical youth events. They dream of building a center with a
gymnasium and a library where they could organize discussion groups,
sports events and other activities.
The first school in the Northwest Frontier Province was established
by the church in 1853 - Edwardes School in Kohati Gate, Peshawar. Since
then, the diocese has opened 12 more schools, three colleges, two
hostels, a computer center and a Vocational Training Center.
The schools are highly regarded by the majority Muslim community for
the quality education they provide at nominal charges, but sometimes
they become targets of extremist elements. In February, reports that
female suicide bombers might target schools sent officials scurrying
around to beef up security arrangements.
Health needs are great in this part of Pakistan, but the resources
are few. The mission hospital run by the diocese in Peshawar has
obviously seen better days, with its antiquated equipment and decaying
infrastructure, but its outpatient department continues to serve
children with tuberculosis.
Another hospital is in a place called Bannu, a breeding ground for
Islamic fundamentalists. "Why are we there, where every minute of your
life could be your last?" asked the bishop of the diocese, Bishop
Munawar "Mano" Rumalshah. The answer is obvious: the hospital is there
to serve the needs of the people in the community. The bishop has put
out a call for volunteer doctors and other health professionals to serve
in this ministry.
The diocese also runs literacy and economic development programs,
such as job apprenticeships training in tailoring, carpentry, computer
repair and welding, and has sewing sites in 24 centers.
More information is available on the Diocese of Peshawar's Web site, at www.peshawardiocese.org.
*Asedillo is an executive with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.
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