Christians United in Pakistan and Seeking Friends
A Pakistani police guard at the All Saints church in Peshawar.
by Christie R. House, editor of New World Outlook, Global Ministries’ mission magazine
|"The Gospel of Christ is either true for all or not true at all." —The Rt. Rev. Frederick Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, at the Second World Mission Conference held in Jerusalem, 1928.
“I am a product, good or bad, of missionary sacrifices and enterprises,” the Rt. Rev. Mano K. Rumalshah, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Peshawar, told a group of Global Ministries’ staff who had gathered to hear him speak and for discussion.
The Church of Pakistan (united) has Methodist as well as Anglican, Lutheran, and Scottish Presbyterian ancestry, though Bishop Mano, as his church family calls him, came from the Anglican tradition. The union of the Protestant churches in Pakistan, forming the Church of Pakistan, took place in 1970. Bishop Mano called this kind of union “the next step of being the church of God. Denominationalism is a luxury that only a majority religion can afford,” he added.
The Diocese of Peshawar covers the area of Pakistan’s Khyber Paktunkhwa Province, including the Federally Administrated Tribal Area (FATA), the Provincially Administrated Tribal Area (PATA), and the Northern Area of Pakistan. This area on the northwest side of Pakistan borders Afghanistan, Tajikistan, the northwestern part of China, and Iran to its south. With a total population of about 17 million, around 12 million are ethnically Pashtun and Muslim. Another 8 million + Pashtuns live across the border in Afghanistan, making this a porous and flexible border. Christians number about 100,000 and are spread throughout the province. They are mostly ethnic Punjabis, arriving with the British regiments of the last century. They are the poorest of the poor in Pakistan, and 80% are engaged in menial work.
Today, the area around Peshawar is widely identified as an area of terrorist activity. “They have not necessarily been bad people,” Bishop Mano explained, “but they have become victims of the powers that be, ever since the Soviet invasion.” Both Al Qaeda and the Taliban have bases in the area, across the Khyber Pass.
“And yet,” the bishop continued, “we live there as a church. Today, the territory is so dangerous, no one dare even fly over it. It is a miracle of God that the church of God is there. We have been serving the people of this area for more than 100 years. We are an ‘over-ground’ church, not an underground church. We are there.”
According to the bishop, the only way, and perhaps the correct way, to live a Christian witness—whether you are a minority or a majority—is to express your faith in tangible terms to the people of God. That service is to all the people of God, not just the Christians, or those within the fold.
A Faithful Witness
In Pakistan, Christians serve through hospitals and schools—one of the best ways for Christian evangelism in a country where evangelization is almost illegal and conversion from Islam has nearly become a death wish. “We are deemed guilty by religion,” said Bishop Mano. The “Diakonia Centers” are open to all people, regardless of their race, religion, tribal affiliation, or creed. The Peshawar Diocese maintains three major general hospitals—in Peshawar, Bannu, and Tank (the last two close to tribal areas). “We deem it a privilege to serve the people,” explained the bishop. “We re-enact God’s love as we have experienced it in Jesus Christ for all these people. They are as much a part of God’s Kingdom as we are. Our job is to embrace them as an expression of divine-human reconciliation.”
“The ultimate purpose of God is to engage with humanity through Jesus Christ,” the bishop continued. “Our job as Christians, as people of God, is to continue to embrace them, to smell the sweat of the enemy. That is the ultimate relationship—not to shake hands, or say hello on the phone. In a very small, humble, and insignificant way, that’s what we are about. It is a privilege that God has placed us in this situation. The suffering is there, but that is also a challenge and a privilege.
“We are not an institutional church—we are a Gospel community,” he said. “Our community is rich in spirit, and we live it out, in spite of all the odds. Our faithfulness is infectious.”
Support and Relationship
“The Western World needs to inculcate a respect for all sacred faiths,” said Bishop Mano. He did not see ridicule of other religions or religious icons as free speech. “It is an insult of free speech to ridicule Mohammed or other religious figures or traditions.” Actions in the West cause harm to Christians in Pakistan because they are associated with the “Western” religion, Christianity. “But that is not the main reason Western Christians should refrain,” he explained. “You should refrain from insulting other religions because that denies the credibility of your own faith.”
However, Bishop Mano stated that Christians in Islamic majority lands, including Pakistan, are almost on the verge of extermination. “And yet, sadly, our faith siblings in the West would send $1000 and ask later, ‘How many Christians have you made? I can only respond, ‘I’ve had 10 Christians slaughtered. Will you still support us?’”
Bishop Mano asked what the international Christian community was doing to prevent the decimation of Christianity in majority Islamic lands. “This must become the priority issue of the Church in the West,” he stated. The bishop reminded the gathering that United Methodists are part of the Church of Pakistan’s founding parents. He suggested that US Christians should cross their own political boundaries to build a relationship with Pakistani Christians. “You complete us,” he said, “and we complete you. We cannot be the body of Christ without one another.”