As I stepped outside the airport concourse into the milling crowd waiting for families and friends to disembark, a Pastor colleague from Australia spotted me and waved. I was here in Lahore in response to his invitation to teach a two-week intensive course in the Pakistani Bible College of which he was Principal. In anticipation of this trip, I’d had numerous needles to protect me from various lurid-sounding diseases.
As a white female travelling alone I felt very vulnerable at times and was therefore surprised when my entry into Pakistan passed uneventfully. My flight from Brisbane arrived in the small hours of the morning and I expected it to be scary! The scars of 9/11 were only two years old and security checks, seldom enjoyable experiences, had escalated. I tried not to feel intimidated and was comforted by the thought that I was being prayed for! Still, that first trip early in November 2003 was memorable.
The tangled streets of Lahore were quiet as we negotiated our way to the home of Pastor Daniel where I would spend the rest of the night. Several people greeted me by candlelight, ushered me into a room with a double bed with ensuite bathroom, then without further ado quietly wished me goodnight.
Jamila, Daniel’s wife met me when I emerged later in the morning. Her name means ‘beautiful’ in Urdu and she certainly has a beautiful spirit. The rest of the family, including four grown-up children, had already left for work or ‘uni’. I had never met them before, but when Daniel heard I was coming to Pakistan he invited me to preach at a weekend Conference he was organising. In anticipation, Jamila undertook to dress me appropriately and took me shopping for a ‘Shalwar Kameez’, the baggy trousers and tunic top complete with colour coordinated ‘dupatta’ or shawl commonly worn by women. She is an expert bargainer – I just left the purchasing to her. The shop had no fitting room so I was obliged to hide amongst the racks to try on outfits. I can still visualise the look on Jamila’s face as she removed the first pair of complicated looking shalwar trousers from my hands with a ‘tut’, turned them round and handed them back. I was trying to put them on back-to-front.
At the end of day one, I moved across the road to the home of a Christian family. They had a spare room upstairs specifically built with visiting ministry in mind. Their inspiration was the Prophet’s Chamber the Shunnamite woman in the Bible built for Elijah. They have four children who were quite young when I first met them and I have enjoyed watching them grow up. They were sleeping when I arrived from the airport which is why Daniel and Jamila as good neighbours took me in – so as not to disturb the little ones. The children were hugely excited at the prospect of a visitor and had told everyone that ‘Auntie’ was staying in their house. As with all kids, long before I arrived they kept asking, “When is Auntie coming?” For some years now I have been a beneficiary of this family’s wonderful hospitality. I am always spoilt rotten. I ate the delicious food they made and felt fortunate because I love curries and spicy food. I hoped to collect some recipes before leaving.
“Please make us an Australian meal,” I was urged. Without my recipe book this was an untenable situation for me. I measure everything! I felt quite hamstrung, limited to top-of-the-stove cooking and unable to shop for groceries myself. In desperation I coated chicken pieces with crushed potato chips and fried them. My hostess rang her husband telling him delightedly that we would be having ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ for dinner. Mmmmmm! Very Aussie! And yes, there is a franchise in Lahore, as well as a McDonalds which was bombed a year or so later.
The lectures at the Bible College were set for three hours every week night. The prayer in my heart was that the students would receive everything God has for them, despite the fact that I would need to work through an interpreter. This is a major hurdle with which travelling educators must contend. Long-term missionaries spend many months grappling with language study, but short term missionaries are seriously hampered in this regard. I have learned to make praying for my interpreter a priority, but was fortunate that those I had at both the College and the Conference were good. There were only one or two glitches where they were confounded by my choice of words and raised their eyebrows with a bewildered “Excuse me?” I wanted the students not only to learn some interesting historical facts which occurred in another country/culture/era, but to be available to God in encouraging a passion for the Kingdom of God. The hardest thing was trying to gauge how much they already knew. Only one student in the group of forty men was a lady. Rapport between us developed easily and she shared with me her desire to be an evangelist.
The subject I taught was ‘Revival Principles and History’. I strove to emphasise aspects of the Church Universal, how believers in Pakistan are part of the worldwide Body of Christ despite being an isolated minority group where they live. In addition I drew connections between the Sialkot Revival (led by ‘Praying’ John Hyde) with contemporary movements in India and Australia, right back to Azusa Street. Sialkot is now part of Pakistan and I found from their feedback that this was an aspect the students, as Pentecostals, appreciated. I set the exam questions and the Pakistani Pastor who translated for me had the joy of marking the exam papers. Thankfully, all students passed the course
As far as I know, I only disgraced myself once during lectures. Social blunders are always a possibility when one is in unfamiliar environments. In this instance I had forgotten to allow the interpreter time to speak. When I noticed the students gazing at me uncomprehendingly, I laughed and I playfully slapped the interpreter on the shoulder. Because he was propped against the pulpit and unbalanced, I succeeded in sending him flying. He barely retained his footing and his dignity. Ladies are not even supposed to touch their husbands in public, let alone other men. Oooops! Pakistanis are very conservative, so the students were goggle-eyed and unsmiling. The Principal arrived just in time to see the incident and wonder to himself, “What’s Elizabeth doing?!” No one else saw the humour in the situation, and it was with some difficulty that I controlled my amusement, apologised demurely and wound up the lecture. In time I came to value such experiences as intrinsic to my cross-cultural education.
Everyone called me ‘Sister’ rather than ‘Pastor’ (despite my credentials). I take this to be a cultural convention in a country where female Pastors are not in vogue. I have found the way is eased if I prime my audience by telling them I have come with my husband’s sanction and my Pastor’s blessing – all of which is strictly true, of course! Independent womanhood is not esteemed highly here, unless you’re Marilyn Hickey. She is a popular figure. Interestingly, everyone here seems to have Masters Degree or Doctorates. The Principal told me it is the ‘in’ thing to have a degree and he couldn’t imagine where most of them came from but suspected they were available from the internet. This trait unfortunately devalues genuine degrees, but it did strengthen my desire to teach at a good standard to keen students.
The weekend Conference was held in a huge colourful tent on a vacant allotment in the Christian enclave. It was a success in the opinion of the organisers, but precious in my memory are the five salvation decisions and various healings that by God’s grace occurred. I prayed it would be ‘fruit that remains’. My sermon text was John 14:6 – Jesus said I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me – a very pertinent statement in any part of the world. Conversions are illegal in Pakistan, but often there were nominal Christians in the audience and ministry to them is legitimate. God is amazing! On Sunday afternoon there was a baptismal service and I took photos before being asked to pray. It was a delight to share in the celebration.
Due to my shopping trip I was turned out acceptably in one of my four new shalwar kameez each time I spoke. I wore a shocking pink outfit of Indian paper silk the first evening and felt rather like an oversized party balloon, but everyone was delighted with me for wearing their national dress. It is such a pleasure to show them honour in response to the pressing love and respect they gave me. It was my first encounter with the sub-continental custom of welcoming guests with a garland of flowers, usually fresh roses or marigolds.
by ELIZABETH GUNTRIP