U-C: What I See

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Youth Rally in Pakistan

This one is short.

On Saturday the 21rst, I was invited to spend the day at a Youth Rally organized by the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan (PCP) and the PCP Education Board that manages dozens of schools across the country. The even was held in Lahore, on the campus of Foreman Christian College, and the theme was “Challenges facing the Christian Youth of Pakistan.” Their focus was on what it means to be a minority church, how to live harmoniously in a multicultural society, living peacefully together, responding to natural disasters, and educating themselves.

Once again, there was a huge tent of brightly colored fabrics set up on the campus, with chairs for at least three hundred people. Once again, there was the obligatory ceremony of being garlanded. This time, however, dozens of young people had prepared a program for our delegation that lasted more than three hours.

A young pastor preached from a text in First Timothy, exhorting the young people to recognize that they must work hard to honor the gift of education that they are receiving, and reminding them that as a Christian minority their conduct must be above reproach. “In a country where Christians make up roughly three percent of the population,” Philip said, “people are watching their behavior and whether they live what they believe.”

Several students at Foreman made speeches as well, and then there were a series of skits put on by different classes from several of the Education Board’s Girls Schools (some Boys schools were represented as well, but they weren’t active participants). One school did a series of dances, in costume, from different regions around the country. It made me think of similar “baile folklorico” events I’ve seen from the different states of Mexico.

The skit that moved me the most was one in which a group of older girls acted the what took place with the recent earthquake, and then worked together to provide medical care to the victims and to reconstruct the houses, all to the tune of the song, in English, “Make the World a Better Place,” that was so popular a couple of years ago. It made me think of my visit to the seminary at Gujranwala a couple of days before, where we learned that the students of the seminary had disrupted their studies throughout the semester to travel with material aid to a village in the mountains that was wiped out in the disaster. Many of them stayed for days at a time in order to act as translators for the relief organizations that were working there, and I was told that one student was so moved by the tragedy that he took a one-year leave of absence to live and work in that village.

As the event began to wind down, we could smell food cooking over open fires just on the other side of the tent wall. Hospitality in Pakistan appears to begin with garlands and end with food, every single time. However, before I could eat, I posed with dozens of classes to have our picture taken together. Being the moderator, on that day, was a great joy. For our Pakistani partners, it means more than we in the U.S. can understand to have a visible expression of our solidarity with them.

These kids care about making a difference in the world, and our support of the PCP and it’s related schools is preparing them to be able to do so. I felt both gratified and challenged by this visible expression of the importance of that partnership.

By the way, Presbyterians reading this should know that Foreman Christian College (FCC), where the event was held, was nationalized in 1973 and operated for thirty-one years by the Pakistani Government. By all accounts, it was a disaster that drove the school into the ground. However, in 2003 the Government agreed to de-nationalize the school, and it is now being operated by an independent FCCBoard of Trustees. Out of 3,000 students, close to three hundred are Christian. Out of 180 faculty, roughly one third are now Christian. The “Islamic Studies” department has been replaced by “Religious Studies,” and all students are required to learn about both Islam and Christianity. The government, US AID, and many Presbyterians in the U.S. are re-investing millions of dollars to bring the physical plant back up to high standards, and the mood among students, faculty and administrators is one of excitement and enthusiasm.

Supporting Foreman, and supporting the PCP as it works to denationalize and rehabilitate other schools that were founded by our missionaries, is one clear way to support the next generation of both Christians and Muslims who will be tasked with building a society of tolerance and opportunity.

From Lahore,