Pressing on in the work of ministry
Last month Roger wrote about adjusting back to Britain after many years serving as a missionary in Pakistan with his wife Diana. This month he considers Pressing on in the work of ministry.
In the Bible the word ‘retire’ is never used to describe the cessation of work. There are a few casual references in the Old Testament to priests withdrawing from service in the tabernacle at the age of fifty but even then they were expected to help their younger brethren (Numbers 8:24-26).
In the New Testament, retirement from ministry finds no mention. For good soldiers of Jesus Christ, there is no retirement from the army of the Lord.
When you read this article I expect to be back in Pakistan for two months. This trip is to encourage, advise and support national colleagues in the work of gospel ministry in various parts of the country.
Despite reports in the Western media of political turbulence and violence, Pakistan remains a country where open doors of opportunity remain for the gospel. Let me describe briefly some of the ministries in which we continue to be involved.
In the northern Sindh province, about 300 miles north of Karachi, is the district of Khairpur. It is an agricultural area growing traditional crops of wheat, cotton and sugar cane.
The land is fertile but rainfall is sparse. Crops are cultivated using irrigation canals fed by the mighty Indus River that flows through the Sindh to the Arabian Sea at Karachi. There are also desert areas with sand and scrub amidst low hills and, in some places, magnificent rock features.
The town of Choondko is located beyond such a desert landscape. Most of the inhabitants are followers of a Muslim ‘Pir’ or saint called Pir Pagaro. No one here would dare to speak a word against this semi religious, semi political hero. Pir Pagaro’s word is absolute law and no police are needed to enforce it.
Thievery is virtually unheard of in Choondko because Pir Pagaro has decreed it. Debt bondage, however – a modern form of slavery – is rife. About 80% of the people of this area are bound by such slavery and there seems no hope for them.
In 2003 a Marwari Bhil (pronounced Bheel) Christian family moved to Choondko, concerned to witness for Christ and share the gospel. Sodha and his wife Marium have little education and they live on the borders of poverty, but they love the Lord and are determined to serve him in this remote place of exquisite beauty but spiritual darkness. Over the past four years, a handful of Hindu-background Marwari Bhils have come to faith in Christ. A few small primary schools have been started and a little church now meets on the Lord’s Day. For the first time, the praises of the Lord are being sung by this fragile expression of the body of Christ in Choondko.
Three hundred miles further north in the lower Punjab district of Bahawalpur, life is much more civilised. Bahawalpur itself is a modern, well developed city with a military garrison and airport. English and Urdu schools are common. There are even supermarket-style stores selling all kinds of Western goods.
Outside the city, life in the villages is much simpler but even here the basic infrastructure (schools, electricity and tarmac roads) is present. In the city there are several established churches including the Episcopal Church of Pakistan and its Roman Catholic equivalent. There is a Baptist church with lively worship services and evangelistic ministries.
In 1989 Diana and I moved to this city and began outreach among the Marwari Bhils in an adjacent rural area about half the size of Wales. Today there are about two hundred professing Christians among these people.
Because the community is scattered it is difficult for believers to gather in large congregations. However, with about ten leaders going from place to place, they meet in small house church settings.
Christian primary schools and discipleship training programmes are functioning. Some leading men are involved as tutors with the Open Theological Seminary, while young Marwari men can study theology by extension in their own villages.
The far north
In the north of Pakistan are the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Islamabad is the seat of Government and Rawalpindi is a business and commercial centre. Grace Baptist Church is located on the border between these two cities and is the only church I know in Pakistan that holds to the doctrines of grace (taking the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith into its constitution).
In late August 2007 the beloved pastor of this congregation, Arif Khan and his wife Kathy, were brutally murdered in their own home and the church is struggling to come to terms with their loss. The month that you read this, I hope to visit and encourage this little flock.
Much further north in Pakistan-administered Kashmir is the strategic town of Gilgit. It is a sensitive area for the work of God’s kingdom and the Lord has his people in this place. Seed-sowers and harvesters are being recruited for an anticipated in-gathering.
We press on while it is still day – for the night comes when no man can work.