Pakistan (CAM) — The worst terrorist strike in the history of modern Pakistan on Dec. 16 reinforced the country’s image as a hotbed for the Pakistani Taliban and other Islamic terrorists, including the reported arrival of the Islamic State (ISIS) in the country. For the average Pakistani, however, life goes on as usual, as it does for indigenous missionaries offering the Bread of Life.
The slaughter of 134 schoolchildren among the 150 people gunned down by Taliban militants at an army-run school in Peshawar shocked the world. Two months prior, 6 key Pakistani Taliban commanders, including the spokesman of Tehrik-e-Taliban–a Pakistani umbrella group of violent Islamist insurgents–announced their allegiance to ISIS. A rebel commander of the Baloch Liberation Front was quoted as saying that Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was both “activating” and financially supporting ISIS.
While terrorist activity since 9/11 has driven many foreign missionaries from Pakistan, a visit to the country by the Christian Aid Mission South Asia director found local Christian workers dedicated to their gospel tasks without interruption. In fact, the departure of many foreign missionaries due to the increased Islamist radicalization, she said, has led to indigenous missionaries learning to take leadership roles.
“Again and again I heard that after 9/11, a lot of the missionaries left the country; but in a way, they were somewhat relieved,” she said. “They were almost thankful that finally they were in charge.”
The leader of a seminary supported by Christian Aid Mission put it this way: “Now the responsibility of leadership has come to us.”
Officials and teachers at the seminary have not let little or no pay keep them from following their calling. They are determined to contribute to the advance of the gospel and the planting of churches in spite of various challenges.
The terrorist threat and social opposition in the 96% Muslim country is the least of their concerns. Their greatest challenge is learning the administration and fundraising techniques they were never trained to carry out.
“They’re really good at going out, preaching the gospel, and sharing the good news. But when it comes to doing the administrative part, they just don’t have any training,” the director said. “So they’ve had to learn and start from scratch. That’s where the challenge is. Again and again I heard that.”
Leadership training is one of the greatest needs in a country where factionalism and fraud are prevalent.
But leadership training doesn’t have a chance to start yet. Both instructors and students lack financial resources. Bible colleges and seminaries have teachers who lack salaries and students unable to pay their expenses. For example, at the cited seminary, tuition and living expenses are $75 per student each month.
“Their calling is to invest time and resources with the people God puts in their paths to share the gospel,” he said. “The cost is high, but the reward is greater.”
The South Asia director also learned some resources needed were Bibles and Christian literature. The Bible Society used to sell such literature to seminaries and Bible colleges at a discounted rate, but for economic reasons, the rates had to rise.
Likewise, a church-planting organization that Christian Aid Mission assists needs to provide support for evangelists. The group has planted three churches in the administrative territory of Azad Kashmir. One of the group’s primary activities is selling Bibles, rather than distributing them freely. This is done for legal reasons: buying a Bible for $5 and selling it for about $1.50, the organization cannot be accused of proselytizing or coercion. Pakistan is one of the few Islamic countries where evangelization is legal, but social pressures against spreading Christianity are intense.
Conversations about faith take place naturally, however, and some ministries even organize open-air evangelistic events. Still, once Muslims convert to Christianity in Pakistan, they may stay “underground” for a long time.
“Sometimes if they are the only believer in the family, they may not come out so easily,” the director said. “But when a whole family comes to faith in Christ, it’s easier and they’re all there in the church.”
Unlike in many countries, gospel proclamation in Pakistan meets less resistance in rural areas than in urban ones, where some Islamic extremist groups are more active, and the ministries Christian Aid Mission assists are in more remote areas. In both cities and villages, people are going about their daily lives in spite of political and religious firestorms.
“It’s not as chaotic as it looks from outside, and that’s where the ministries focus, such as a remote school in the middle of nowhere,” the director said. “So the ministries are penetrating those remote areas that the Taliban is not interested in.”
Mercy ministries, groups caring for children, Bible correspondence courses, church planters and those reaching out to the persecuted are all pushing forward.
“From the outside, it seems like Pakistan has no hope because of the radicalism and its political instability. But when one gets a closer look, it is like any other country where there is opposition to the gospel. The indigenous missions are committed with a God-given vision to move forward with their heavenly mandate,” the director said. “There are indigenous ministries that are not going anywhere else. Another September 11 can happen, but they’re not going anywhere. They are bringing the gospel to their own people, and they’re determined.”
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