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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ecumenical Serivce of Thanksgiving for British Missionaries

27th Sept 2014, London: A large group of Pakistani background Christians gathered in the St. Martin in the Fields church to express their gratitude to the British missionaries who risked everything to bring the Gospel truths to the Indian region that now constitutes Pakistan. The service was attended by the former missionaries, their children, those interested in the church works in Pakistan and nearly  a hundred Pakistanis.
the Service started promptly at 11:00 am under the leadership of Rev Rana Youab Khan and the sermon was delivered by The Rt Rev Michael Ipgrave Bishop of Woolwich. A moving testimony - Being a Missionary Child - was shared by Ms Caroline Tisdall, who spent her early childhood in India with her missionary parents.  The present challenges facing the Church in Pakistan were shared by the President of the Foreman Christian College University, Lahore.
 A brief abstract of the Church History of Pakistan was read which is copied here in its entirety for all those interested:
"The Christian story may have begun in what is now Pakistan much earlier than people imagine. Did St Thomas the Apostle come to Taxila and convert its king? The city was a considerable centre of commerce and learning in the reign of Gondaphares, whose conversion to Christianity is claimed in the apocryphal Acts of Thomas. There is also evidence of Christianity in Baluchistan, Sindh and the Punjab up until the end of the 7th century - the result of evangelism by Persian Christians.
Empire was of course a huge factor, both in the impact of the invading Muslim army of Muhammad bin Qasim in 712, and the possibilities for mission opened up by colonizing forces from Portugal, France, and Britain. Jesuit missionaries sent from Portuguese-held Goa built a Catholic church in Lahore, the first in Punjab, around 1597. Two years earlier they had been granted that permission by the emperor Akbar, who had called them to his court in Fatehpur Sikri for religious discussions. Small Catholic communities continued, to exit into the 16th century in Lahore and the Sindh, despite intermittent Mughal persecution and the end of Jesuit mission in 1760.
From 1803 British universities for several years held a prize competition for essays on 'the best means of extending the blessings of civilization and true religion among the inhabitants of Hinduism'. For all the ethnocentric assumptions  those phrases carry, British missionaries of the calibre of the Baptist 'Serampore Trio' of Marshman, Ward and Carey, and the Anglicans Benjamin Bailey, Joseph Fennn and Henry Baker, Claudius Buchannan and Henry Martyn, to whom we owe the Urdu Bible, made an entry in his journal  about the Qur'an: 'Felt much shame at being obliged to confess much ignorance of many things which I ought to know',  and publicly urged the recognition of  'eastern ways of seeing, imagining and reasoning'. The first Scottish missionary, Thomas Hunter along with his wife, Jane Scott, and baby son, came to Sialkot in January 1857. The Hunter family were killed during the Indian mutiny later that year, but their name lives on in the name of the parish church in Sialkot, Hunter Memorial Church, where generations of Christians have worshiped.
Later Victorian missionaries were not always so affirmative of the thought-world of India, but imperial  arrogance was countered by such  people as the first Anglican Bishop of Lahore, Thomas Valpy French, known as the haft-zuban padre, 'the seven-tongued priest', for his familiarity with the classical European and Indian languages.
It is important to note that he British missionaries not just served in the area of education, evangelism and health care etc but also were very much concerned about civil rights and even participated in the Independence Movement in British India.
From such people, and the pioneer Indo-Pak Christian leaders like Safdar Ali and Imad-ud-din Lahiz, I D Shahbaz and Sadhu Sundar Singh we owe the existence and flourishing of the Christian Church in Pakistan, with its doughty determination to continue its work for the Kingdom of God in education, medicine, development and theological witness, whatever crises and challenges may come."  

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