Life for believers in Pakistan can be tough, but there are encouraging signs that Christians there have a growing heart for mission …
Given the reports of persecution of Christians in Pakistan that have surfaced in recent years, it may surprise some to learn that there are an estimated 2.4 million* Christians in Pakistan.
That only amounts to around 1.5% of the population though, so of course Pakistani Christians face several challenges.
Freda Carey, who has served in many roles in Pakistan over several years, says: “Christians are often afraid to identify themselves as Christians in front of non-Christians. Occasionally this is out of fear that false accusations of blasphemy may be made against them, as has happened to some.
“But even more, there is fear of being insulted and discriminated against on the grounds of the ‘untouchable’ background of most Pakistani Christians.”
Most Pakistani Christians are Punjabis, descendants of Hindu groups considered to be “low-caste”, who became Christians during mass movements that took place between 1881 and 1930. Because of their “dishonourable” heritage, most Christians in Pakistan are economically and socially disadvantaged.
Freda reports: “Sometimes Christians are refused service in restaurants because they would ‘pollute’ the dishes.” This is to say nothing of more violent Muslim-Christian clashes.
Despite the dangers presented by more militant factions of the Muslim majority in Pakistan, there is a keen desire among Pakistani Christians to share their faith. Yet, according to Freda: “Many fear that they will not be able to defend the Christian faith against common misunderstandings – that we worship three gods, that the Bible has been changed, that Mary was God’s wife and that is why we call Jesus God’s Son.”
One vital way to overcome this fear is through education. Since 1971, the Pakistan Committee for Theological Education by Extension has provided Christian Education materials for adults, including biblical and theological courses.
Now called the Open Theological Seminary (OTS), this programme currently has about 2,500 active students all over Pakistan, from Karachi in the south to Peshawar in the north, with almost 200 volunteer tutors.
Since May 2004, Freda has been Course Development Co-ordinator, responsible for training and supervising other staff in the work of writing, editing and testing OTS courses in Urdu, the national language of Pakistan.
As a result of these efforts, Pakistani Christians are growing in their faith and in their confidence to share it with others. Says one student: “I thank the Lord that I have gained much knowledge about the Holy Bible through OTS, which has changed my life.” Another student says: “OTS courses have given me the ability to discuss [my faith] with Muslims with greater confidence.”
The work is expanding among the Hindu population as well. In 1947, there was a mass exodus of Hindu people from Pakistan. Hindus now comprise less than 2% of the population of Pakistan, and almost all of them live in the semi-desert regions of the south-eastern province of Sindh or southern Punjab.
In recent years, many among these Hindu tribal groups and many have turned to Christ. Like their predecessors, they are in need of discipleship and education.
Because these tribal believers have a very different cultural and linguistic background from the Punjabi Christians and the majority Muslim Sindhis, OTS has been translating its discipleship courses into Hindi Sindhi.
The Rev Qaiser Julius, Principal of OTS, said: “I am excited at the progress in translating courses into Sindhi and the widespread demand for them.” CMS provided the start-up funding for this.
The courses are proving very popular with the tribal believers and evangelists working among them, helping them to build a solid foundation for their Christian faith.
* Estimates of numbers of Pakistani Christians vary from 1.5% to 3% of the total population.
For more information about CMS work in Pakistan, ring 0845 620 1799 or visit www.cms-uk.org
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