Posted by: Titus Presler | April 25, 2014

Home for Easter – with joy and gladness!

It has been so good to be back home for Eastertide. This is the letter I sent to wellwishers while en route last week:

Maundy Thursday

Dear Friends,

I am happy to report to you that I am en route home.  I am writing this over the Atlantic, having flown from Islamabad to Doha early this morning and then continued on Qatar Airways toward Washington Dulles, from where I will fly to my family in Vermont later tonight.  The necessary notification from the Pakistani Government came through earlier this week, and that enabled me to arrange the departure.

It will be a blessing to be back with Jane and the family, and to be back for Good Friday and Easter.

Thank you all for your email letters, concern and prayer over this time.  It was very encouraging and sustaining to hear from so many of you.  I am very grateful.  In the Daily Office epistle for today, Paul discusses how in the Eucharist we participate in the body and blood of Christ and then goes on to reflect, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”  Your care during a difficult time has expressed the oneness of the Body of Christ that is the company of the faithful.

I arrived in Pakistan this time round on Jan. 22, and the exile since the events of Feb. 14 has been a little over two months.  Exile is the apt concept, for being deprived of documentation meant that I could return neither to the college ministry in Peshawar nor to my family and home.  It was an involuntary geographical restriction.

“By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered you, O Zion,” lamented the psalmist, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song upon an alien soil?”  The disempowerment in recent events affected the Diocese of Peshawar and Church of Pakistan as well as me, and it resonated with the victimization that Christians in Pakistan have long experienced.

At the same time I rejoice that it has indeed been possible to sing the Lord’s song in Lenten exile.  St. Thomas Church in Islamabad was welcoming, and a number of friendships developed with parishioners there.  On an ongoing basis scripture and tradition have spoken to me in ways that brought me to new places in prayer.

The extended stay enabled me to participate in the 2014 gathering of the US-Pakistan Inter-Religious Consortium, an initiative sponsored jointly by Intersections International at Marble Collegiate Church in New York City and the Institute for Research and Dialogue at International Islamic University in Islamabad.  It was good to move forward with friends both old and new in a joint effort that has good potential.

I was able to do a good deal of background work on behalf of Edwardes College and the Church’s effort to secure its rightful role.  There is some heartening news in that area.  Earlier this month Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters met about the crisis with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Canon for Reconciliation David Porter.  Just last week Imran Khan announced that his party, which has a plurality in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, has decided to ensure restoration of the College to the Church.  Much remains in the struggle, but these developments help us persevere in prayer.

When a Massachusetts TV host asked if I had final thoughts before the end of a recent interview on peacemaking I responded impulsively:  “All you viewers: Please don’t give up on Pakistan.  There are enormous challenges, but there are also millions of people here who yearn to move forward as a society.  Pakistan is now the 6th most populous nation on earth, and by 2050 it is predicted to be the 4th most populous nation.  So what happens Pakistan is important for the global community in the 21st century.”

In that spirit I celebrate that it was the hospitality of a Muslim household in Islamabad that made it possible for the exile to be safe and fruitful, a family that supports justice for the rights of Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan.  I am very grateful to them.  The dialogue, mutual appreciation and support we have together are, I hope, a harbinger of the future.

I wish you every blessing in this Holy Week and the coming Easter.

Warm regards,
Titus

Posted by: Titus Presler | April 13, 2014

Joining our enemies on their knees – A godly admonition

Islamabad on Passion Sunday

“A church committed to the reclaiming of the gospel of peace looks like those who join their enemies on their knees.”

This stands out for me among the many good things Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said in his April 10 talk at the Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace conference of Episcopalians in Oklahoma City.

We might rephrase the statement as: Christians in a church committed to reclaiming the gospel of peace will join their enemies on their knees. Whose knees? Presumably our enemies are on their knees, and we are on our knees. Conceivably, the statement assumes that our enemies are already on their knees, so that its import is that we are joining them where they already are. The mandate, then, is to kneel with our enemies – they on their knees and we on our knees, we and our enemies together in prayer.

Considering what this might mean is salutary in Holy Week, when we walk through the Passion, a saga that highlights enmity both within and outside the Jesus movement, violence as a tactic of first resort, and cultures of violence both Jewish and Roman. That saga should prompt us to consider our own enemies and enmities, the violence we suffer and the violence we mete out, and the cultures of enmity and violence in which we are complicit.

Kneeling with our enemies may remind us of Jesus’ prayer from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” That in turn may remind us of Jesus’ word in the Sermon on the Mount: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

The story Abp. Justin told of the sequel to the bombing of Coventry Cathedral in 1940 suggests a radicalizing of even Jesus’ word from the cross:

The following morning, the Provost, Richard Howard, in the ruins picked up a piece of burnt wood and wrote behind the High Altar the words: ‘Father forgive.’ Someone said to him: ‘You mean Father forgive them?’ to which he replied, in the words of Romans 3:23: ‘No, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ Violence is not something that is only the sin of the other.

Read More…

Posted by: Titus Presler | April 10, 2014

Reflexive mission in two Lenten devotionals

Today I share brief Lenten devotionals written by two parishioners at Grace Church on Broadway in Manhattan, New York City, two people who are very dear to my wife Jane and me. 

Lent 2014 Grace Church Devotional Email
Monday in the 5th week of Lent, April 7
I invite you…in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word…   (Service for Ash Wednesday, Book of Common Prayer, p 265)

Today’s readings: Psalm 31* 35 Exodus 4:10-31 1 Corinthians 14:1-19 Mark 9:30-41

[Jesus] sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”  (Mark 9:35)     + + +

I spent three formative years of my childhood in Zimbabwe, Central Africa, living at St. David’s Bonda Mission, a small, rural outpost where my parents were appointed missionaries of the Episcopal Church and my father Priest-In-Charge at the mission church.  As the only white students at the local Christian primary school, my sister and I were often exempt from the menial chores and corporal punishment our fellow students had to endure, leaving us feeling oddly excluded and inappropriately “privileged” in the post-colonial context of the time.  During the first year, my closest school friend Tabitha Pomo insisted on carrying my water pail to and from the student garden because, as she pronounced matter-of-factly, “You are white and I am black.”  I was both shocked and relieved when, in my last year of school, I lined up with my classmates and opened my palm for a solid thwack with a ruler, standard punishment for poor quiz grades. When I knelt down to polish the cement floor of our classroom on the final day of school, side-by-side with other students, Tabitha smiled with surprise and recognition. Wordlessly, she slowly applied the polish in practiced circular movements, nodding for me to mimic her and seamlessly join in.  I had the most profound and confounding Christian welcome in Zimbabwe that I may ever experience. And when I reflect on Jesus’ exhortation to servant leadership, I can’t think of a better example than Tabitha Pomo. –Emma Presler

Thank you to today’s author, Emma Presler.  At Grace Emma co-chairs the committee that plans the Sunday Forum.  She met and married her husband, Steven Lee, at Grace.

Today’s Collect: Be gracious to your people, we entreat you, O Lord, that they, repenting day by day of the things that displease you, may be more and more filled with love of you and your commandments; and, being supported by your grace in this life, may come to the full enjoyment of eternal life in your everlasting kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.   Amen.  

 

Lent 2014 Grace Church Devotional Email
Wednesday in the 1st week of Lent, March 12
I invite you…in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word…  (Service for Ash Wednesday, Book of Common Prayer, p 265)

Today’s readings: Psalm 119:49-72 & Psalm 49; Genesis 37:25-36; 1 Corinthians 2:1-13; Mark 1:29-45

 

In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. (Mark 1:35-39) + + +

Jesus went out to a deserted place in order to speak to his Father. Do we have a favorite place we go, when we need to talk to God?  I remember reading this passage with my students at Sing-Sing Correctional Facility. We started to talk about Jesus’ prayer life in the wilderness. One inmate got really animated in the discussion. I later found out he just been released from 30 days in solitary confinement.  “This is my wilderness,” the inmate said. “I don’t need to go to any deserted place to pray. I pray right inside here.” He tapped his heart.  I think about that man whenever I find myself too distracted, too busy, or too tired to pray. I try to pray as he did. From the heart. – Steven Lee

Thank you to today’s author, Steven Lee. Steven is a student at The General Theological Seminary, on field placement to Sing Sing prison.  He is writing on Augustine’s pastoral theology and its implications for prison ministry, our concepts of community, and Church as the Body of Christ.

 

Today’s Collect: Bless us, O God, in this holy season, in which our hearts seek your help and healing; and so purify us by your discipline that we may grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.  

Collect for Ash Wednesday: Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent:  Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Read More…

Posted by: Titus Presler | April 9, 2014

Hard places – Vignettes from a Pakistani novelist

Being in hard places sometimes means risking danger.  Yet even if risk is not especially acute, wrestling with the world’s disparities of wealth and poverty, opportunity and suppression, hope and despair can be difficult, even harrowing.

The stance of the privileged in proximity to poverty and violence is a perennial struggle.  How are we to understand the disparities in which we are complicit?  What is our self-perception and our understanding of others who are different from ourselves? In what ways are they and we similar and different?  How do we describe those who are suffering and our own engagement with them?  How do we construct narratives that are truthful and that do not stereotype, exploit, glamorize, exaggerate or distort?

These are questions that arise – or should arise ­– for travelers and reporters, activists and commentators, missionaries and theologians.

Novelists are often especially acute in analyzing the anguish. In Uzmah Aslam Khan’s novel Thinner than Skin (Northampton: Clockroot Books, 2012), the Pakistani first-person narrator, Nadir Sheikh, aspires in San Francisco to be a professional photographer. Here’s a piece of the dialogue when he takes his photographs to a stock-photo studio for inspection:

“Why are you . . . wasting time taking photographs of American landscapes when you have material at your own doorstep? . . . Next time you go home, take some photographs.”

When it was obvious I still didn’t get it, he dumbed it down. “Show us the dirt. The misery. Don’t waste your time trying to be a nature photographer. Use your advantage.”

At the next studio he presents some studies of the antique marble tabletop in his mother’s kitchen in Karachi:

“Your photographs lack authenticity.”

“Authenticity?”

“Where are the beggars and bazaars or anything that resembles your culture?”

“The marble is a real part of my family history. It’s old, from 1800–”

He waved his hand. “It seems to me that when a war’s going on, a table is trivial.” I wished for the courage – or desire – to ask what images of what war he was looking for.

Read More…

Posted by: Titus Presler | April 8, 2014

Hard places – Resonance, pathos and mission

Bits from Rowan Williams’ Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014) amplify my posting yesterday about risk in putting oneself next to chaos:

You don’t go down into the waters of the Jordan without stirring up a great deal of mud. . . . The new humanity that is created around Jesus is not a humanity that is always going to be successful and in control of things, but a humanity that can reach out its hand from the depth of chaos and be touched by the hand of God. And that means that if we ask the question, “Where might you expect to find the baptized?” one answer is, “In the neighborhood of chaos.”   It means that you might expect to find Christian people near to those places where humanity is most at risk, where humanity is most disordered, disfigured and needy. Christians will be found in the neighborhood of Jesus – but Jesus is found in the neighborhood of human confusion and suffering . . . If being baptized is being led to where Jesus is, then being baptized is being led towards the chaos and the neediness of a humanity that has forgotten its own destiny. . . .

The baptized person is not only in the middle of human suffering and muddle, but in the middle of the love and delight of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That surely is one of the most extraordinary mysteries of being Christian. . . . [T]he path of the baptized person is a dangerous one. Perhaps baptism really ought to have some health warnings attached to it: “If you take this step, if you go into these depths, it will be transfiguring, exhilarating, life-giving and very, very dangerous.” To be baptized into Jesus is not to be in what the world thinks of as a safe place. Jesus’ first disciples discovered that in the Gospels, and his disciples have gone on discovering it ever since.

From a cosmic perspective, the God who created a universe where the random proliferates and free choice flourishes found that one result of randomness and freedom is a vast underside of vulnerability, anguish and suffering. These occur not only in isolated spots but, in one way or another, throughout and in close juxtaposition with the joyful and prosperous. God gravitates to the pathos, contemplates its gravity and waits for human companions to join God there – companions who empathize with those who grieve and vibrate with God’s own yearning for human wholeness. Read More…

Posted by: Titus Presler | April 7, 2014

Hard places – A reflection on risk in vocation

Events in Peshawar, and being attacked in February, prompt reflection on the element of risk in the vocation of global service.

Given the environment of violent extremism, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Afghan border areas, coming to Pakistan was a risk.  I was aware of that.  I thought it was worth it, and I continue to believe that.  Some have not been so sure, and others have simply been mystified.

Where does this risk-taking come from? Some have said to me, “You’re so brave – I could never do that,” or words to that effect.  I do not feel brave.  Bravery as a category does not come into it. What I have said to people, most recently to a participant in an interfaith conference here in Islamabad, is: “It came as a call.  When I came to assess the situation, the question I left with was not ‘Why?’ but ‘Why not?’ I had peace about it, the peace that Paul invokes as ‘the peace of God that passes all understanding.’  With that peace I have not had to screw up my courage, wince and face the danger – not at all.  I am at peace, and I come and go in peace.  So it is not bravery.  It is rather Emmanuel, God with us.  It is not virtue or achievement on my part.  It is God’s grace.”

On the circumstantial side, coming to Pakistan to contribute in church-sponsored higher education arose out of longstanding relationships of solidarity with local leaders. So I was not suddenly picking up to go into the dangers of a strange place with no connections.  My wife and I had visited Pakistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa much earlier, and she supported the venture. A daughter and a son had also visited Peshawar earlier on projects of their own.

The relationships that come our way in life are in a real sense random – we get thrown in with people through random circumstances. When the question arose, “Well, what about Peshawar?” responding positively seemed to be a God Thing, and I believe it was.  Not in the sense of “God’s Plan” – I don’t experience God working that way.  God gave up planning long ago when God created a cosmos much too random for planning.   Read More…

In a heartening move for the Diocese of Peshawar and the Christian community of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Christians from South Korea have committed to building a peace center at All Saints’ Church, Peshawar, site of the Sept. 22 bomb blasts that killed 128 parishioners and wounded 170 in the worst attack on Christians in the history of Pakistan.

Vision for a center for reconciliation and peace was expressed by Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters in the early days after the bombing. Funds received after the bombing from multiple sources have been devoted to the medical care of the wounded, which continues at a number of hospitals and in homes, and to longterm provision for widows and orphans who have lost the income brought in by wage-earners who were killed in the bombing. Read More…

Posted by: Titus Presler | April 5, 2014

Bishop of Peshawar grieves mob attack on Hindu sanctuary

In a demonstration of inter-religious solidarity, the Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters, who is also Deputy Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, “expressed much sorrow and distress” over the recent mob attack on a Hindu religious sanctuary in Larkana, a city of about 350,000 people in the southern province of Sindh.  Following is the press release from the Diocese of Peshawar:

The Bishop of Peshawar & Deputy Moderator, Church of Pakistan Condemns torching of Dharam Shala (religious sanctuary) and a temple of Hindu Community in Larkana.

The Bishop of Peshawar (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa & FATA) Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters, who is also Deputy Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, has expressed much sorrow and distress over the mob attack and torching of Dharam Shala (religious sanctuary) and a temple of Hindus in Larkana on the 15th of March 2014 when the Hindu community was celebrating their religious festival of Holi. This is a matter of great embarrassment, shame and disgrace for the Federal Government and the Provincial Government of Sindh. This is also a sign of increasing religious intolerance within the country, whereas the Constitution of the country protects and respects the rights of the religious minorities. The Church of Pakistan condemns this act of insulting the marginalized and innocent minority groups in Pakistan. Attacks on worship places, deliberate attempts to forcefully grab the minority institutions, a vivid expression is Edwardes College, Peshawar, and attacks on the officials of the minority groups are becoming a routine business in our beloved country. This amounts to hatred and religious prejudice towards the non-Muslim Pakistanis. The Federal Government and especially the Supreme Court of Pakistan must take serious note of such atrocities and religious and sectarian intolerance towards non-Muslims Pakistanis. Once again we strongly condemn the attack on Hindus and torching of their religious places. The Church in Pakistan expresses its full solidarity with the Hindu Community of Pakistan.

The Bishop’s Office

Diocese of Peshawar                                                 21 March 2014

The incident prompted comment from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and received press attention in the Express Tribune, a publishing partner of the New York Times, the News International, Reuters, and several Indian newspapers.

 

 

Posted by: Titus Presler | March 10, 2014

Vital congregational life thrives in Islamabad churches

Attending Christian worship in Islamabad has been refreshing in these early days of Lent, and the state of the Church is encouraging as seen in two particular parishes.

On Ash Wednesday I attended the 6pm English service at Our Lady of Fatima Roman Catholic Church.  Astonishing was the number of parishioners pouring out of the church from the earlier Urdu liturgy.  We stood for 15 minutes watching the river of people coming forth from both the striking modern sanctuary itself and from the hall below, where the service had been broadcast – altogether over 1,000 people, estimated one longtime parishioner.

All had ashed crosses on their foreheads, and no one appeared about to wipe them off before going into the city, so they were ready to bear witness to their Christian identity in public.

As in other Pakistani congregations, the parishioners were so multi-generational that one would be hard put to identify a preponderance of any age group.  Children, teens, young adults, young marrieds, middle aged, and older folks were all present in roughly equal proportions, though it might be fair to say that half the people were age 30 and under.  This is one of the great strengths of Pakistani churches – at least that I have attended over the years – both in the present and for their future health.

The English service was much smaller, of course, but the attendance of more than 100 was one that many parishes in the West would rejoice in on an Ash Wednesday evening.  Most of the English-language attendees were Pakistani, with a small number of foreigners present from various countries.  Words of hymns, a mixture of traditional hymns like “Forty days and forty nights” and contemporary compositions, were projected on a screen, as were the words of the liturgy. Read More…

Posted by: Titus Presler | March 9, 2014

Anglican Commentary on Peshawar events published at VTS

The Center for Anglican Communion Studies (CACS) at Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) in Alexandria has published a reflection, “Standing with Christians Under Pressure: Reflections from Pakistan,” on recent events in Peshawar in their monthly online Anglican Commentary series – you can link to it here.

Anglican Commentary began as a weekly column in January 2008 as CACS was coming together, and it became biweekly and then monthly in 2013.  Columns include reflections from many parts of the world by people connected with VTS, observations about wider Church events, and updates on Anglican studies developments within the seminary itself.  Trolling through the various entries is edifying.

I’m grateful to CACS Director the Rev. Dr. Robert Heaney and Program Coordinator and Interreligious Officer Claire Haymes for the invitation to write the reflection for March.

It follows up on the equally kind invitation from the center to speak last Oct. 29 on the impact of the Sept. 22 bombing at All Saints’ Church in Peshawar that killed 128 Christians and wounded many more.  There was a good turnout of students, faculty and others that evening in the room below the Bishop Payne Education Center that the seminary is using as its temporary Chapel.  Dr. Heaney chaired the evening and offered a moving closing prayer.  I was grateful for the introduction offered by good friend the Rev. Dr. William Sachs, director of the Interfaith Reconciliation Center at St. Stephen’s Church, Richmond, and currently teaching church history at VTS, who visited Edwardes College and the Diocese of Peshawar in January 2013 with Mr. Buck Blanchard, Mission Director for the Diocese of Virginia.  The Oct. 29 gathering was a fundraiser for the victims of the bombing, and altogether $5,500 was donated by attendees and other wellwishers – a generous contribution indeed.

Following is the address I offered, which was followed by a good Q/A session:

Comfort in the Body of Christ after the Peshawar Bombing

Address given by the Rev. Canon Dr. Titus Presler, Principal, Edwardes College, Peshawar, at Virginia Theological Seminary, Tuesday, 29 October 2013, 7:30 p.m.

Solidarity is the keynote of this evening as we gather in the wake of the bombing at All Saints’ Church in Peshawar, Pakistan, on September 22, a bombing that killed 128 children, women and men, and wounded 170. This is solidarity in the Body of Christ – you as one part of the Body of Christ are standing with, praying with, reaching out to another part of the Body of Christ in a place of anguish in another part of the world.

Writing to the Corinthians the apostle Paul blessed “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

The day after the Boston Marathon bombing last April I received a visit at Edwardes College from a delegation of clergy and spouses from the Diocese of Peshawar – they came to express their shock and condolence and to pray with me – this amid a death toll of 50,000 Pakistanis killed in the so-called war on terrorism since 9/11, most of them in our own province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which is coterminous with the Diocese of Peshawar.  Their experience of unceasing violence had not hardened them to the trauma of others across the globe – compassion fatigue had not hit them.  To the contrary, they felt keenly the suffering of others and were moved to reach out to me, who they knew had lived in greater Boston and had a daughter living in Cambridge.

Likewise you are gathering tonight to stand with, pray for and reach out to your sisters and brothers in Christ who live in that hard place amid hard realities – so that you may comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which you yourselves are comforted by God.  On behalf of the All Saints’ congregation, Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters, Edwardes College, and the ecumenical Christian community of Peshawar – I thank you for your presence, your concern, your prayer. Read More…

Posted by: Titus Presler | March 8, 2014

Assaulted in Peshawar – and some thoughts about it

On Feb. 18 I sent out the following email to a number of people around the world.  It is self-explanatory.

Dear Friends,

In January I was in touch with many of you about the need for prayer in the challenge Edwardes College has been facing in what appears to be a governmental effort to take control of the College.  Established in 1900 on the frontier below the Khyber Pass, Edwardes is a historic symbol of Christians’ commitment to serve the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa  and today it is an institution of the Diocese of Peshawar in the Church of Pakistan.  The attached letter to Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby [posted yesterday on this blog] outlines the pressures bearing down on the Church.

I returned to Pakistan on January 22 and for security reasons have been staying in Islamabad while assisting Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters of the Diocese of Peshawar in the Church’s efforts to regularize the governance and administration of the College after disturbances that occurred in December.  Last Friday, February 14, I was in Peshawar to appear in a court proceeding related to those efforts, and it went fine.  The federal Ministry of the Interior had directed local authorities to ensure security.

On our way out of the city at about 5:20pm we were pulled over by unknown agents at the Peshawar Toll Plaza at the entrance to the M1 motorway that goes to other parts of the country.  Brusque and forceful, they demanded to see my passport.  Presently we we were told to drive to the other side of the road, where I recognized the two main agents who raided the offices of the Bishop and myself on two separate occasions in December.  Two agents hustled me out of our car and into the back seat of one of their vehicles “for questioning.”  While the lead agent harangued me, two agents pummeled me with their fists.  The leader then ripped my Pakistan visa out of my passport and told me to leave the country.  The back-seat attack took about 7 minutes.  My Muslim host argued strenuously on my behalf outside.

We then drove on to Islamabad without further incident.  Bp Humphrey had been in Islamabad that day for a meeting with European Union representatives about the situation of the Christian minority in Pakistan and was on his way back to Peshawar when the attack occurred.  When informed, he turned round and met with us back in Islamabad.  We then went to a local hospital, where a physician examined me and wrote up my injuries, which are bruises.  On this fourth day after the attack, one leg is painful and I am sore here and there, but mostly recovered.  An urgent letter reporting the incident has gone to the National Crisis Management Cell of the Interior Ministry with a request for me to meet with the Interior Minister.

Right now I am preparing to go on leave to be with my wife and family, who have borne so well with the inviting but hazardous mission in Peshawar, and to whom and for whom I am so very deeply grateful.

It’s taken some time to begin reflecting on the incident, but here are some first thoughts.

• When prayer began pushing up through the shock as we drove away from the scene, it was this: “Friend Jesus, this and so much worse is what your Christian brothers and sisters have been experiencing here in Pakistan for so long.  This and so much worse is what your Muslim brothers and sisters and others have been experiencing here for so long.  Now I know it first-hand.  I’m not thankful for the beating, Friend Jesus, but I am thankful for the knowledge.  And for still being alive.”

• Evil exists and has existed ever since the God-inspired evolution of moral choice in human consciousness, for the freedom to choose reflects the freedom of God.  Some choose conversation, some choose violence.  Some choose to build, some choose to destroy.  Some choose to reconcile, some choose to alienate.  Some choose truth, some choose falsehood.  Some choose to nurture and promote, some choose to dominate and exploit.  So it has always been, and so it is now.  Being here has reflected a choice to offer experience and vision to build up the Church’s contribution to higher education in a polarized and violent society.  I grieve the effects that contrary choices are having on individuals, communities and institutions.

• Mission as solidarity is an existential urgency.  Solidarity takes many forms in accord with gift and call – on-site work, visits, correspondence, advocacy, finance, networking.  Another form is listening to the experience of local Christians and others on the ground.  The solidarity accessible to all of us is the solidarity expressed in prayer.  Certainly Christians are called to pray for fellow Christians. Whether you are Christian or Muslim or on another spiritual path, please do pray for the religious minorities and for the religious majority of Pakistan.  And for the Church of Pakistan, the Diocese of Peshawar, Bishop Humphrey, Edwardes College, and me.

Grateful for your prayer and care,
Titus

Today, March 8, I continue in Islamabad, awaiting Pakistan government documentation that will be valid for travel.

Some readers are aware of recent disruptive events at Edwardes College in Peshawar.  After a hiatus prompted by the sensitivity of the situation, I am resuming communications with the wider world through the blog – not only about Edwardes but also, as before, about more general developments in mission, world Christianity, interfaith relations and the like.  Beginning with this post, I bring you on board with the Edwards situation.

A 4-month delay in the granting of a fresh work visa meant that I was not able to return to Peshawar after the summer until Nov. 21.  A number of disturbing events occurred in December, which are described below in my Jan. 7 letter to Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.  I returned home for Christmas, then came back to Pakistan on Jan. 22, but have been working with the Church on the situation mostly from Islamabad.  Further recent events and reflections will be posted in the coming days.

image001

• Peshawar emeritus bishop describes anguish of Sept. 22 attack

• Sees attack as “defining moment” for future of Pakistan’s Christians

• Commends Diocese of Peshawar for response to catastrophe

• Probes speculations about motives behind bombing

• Appreciates response of Muslims, other churches and government

• Assesses strengths and weaknesses of NGOs’ response

• Exhorts Western “faith-siblings” to relationship of mutual responsibility

• Exhorts Pakistani Christians to unity and socio-economic empowerment

On Feb. 10 I received a remarkable document from Bishop Munawar Rumalshah, Bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Peshawar, with the following note: “I finally picked up some strength to write something on the Peshawar tragedy, of which I am sending you a copy. Please use it as you will.”  Pressing matters here in Islamabad were preoccupying at the time, but I now seek to give it as wide an audience as possible.  On Sunday, March 9, Bp. Mano will celebrate in Peshawar Cathedral 20 years since his consecration; he served as Diocesan for 15 years, from 1994 to 2009.

“Manifesto” is my term for the document, not Bp. Mano’s.  I use it because his statement brings together moving descriptions of the suffering of victims with historical analysis and bold challenges for the world Church, non-governmental organizations, and the Christian community in Pakistan.  The document is long, but I encourage readers to continue to the end.  It is the most significant document that I have seen coming out of the catastrophe of 9/22/13.  The manifesto was written in Epiphanytide, but it is edifying as well in this Lenten time after Ash Wednesday – and at any time.

PRAY: AND BE BLOWN INTO PIECES!

The REALITY at All Saints’ Church, Peshawar, on Sunday, 22 September 2013

This cataclysmic act committed by two suicide bombers shook the very foundations of our people and changed the course not only of their lives but of the whole Christian community in Pakistan. It happened after the morning  worship of Holy Communion while they were sharing an agape fellowship in the small compound of this historic church. The church was built in 1883 as the first church building of its kind, being designed like a mosque and especially for the use of the native Christians of the local area. Even at that time its foundations were filled with the blood of nine local Christian martyrs. It is located in the heart of the ancient historic city of Peshawar and in the neighbourhood of the famous Qissa Khawani (story tellers) bazaar, which was the hub of the travellers of ancient times when entering from Khyber Pass onto the Silk Route.

My relationship with this ‘gharana’ (family) goes back almost quarter of a century. I have shared their joys and sorrows during these years. I have been their friend and father-figure. Many of them I Baptized, Confirmed and Married. It has been one of the two largest parishes in the Diocese of Peshawar and a bastion of indigenous Christianity in this famous border area of Pakistan/Afghanistan. Most of the families can claim their lineage in this area for well over a century. One of the most celebrated aspects of their Christian witness has always been their Easter procession, very often numbering up to five thousand young and old, women and children, singing and praying through the winding and narrow streets of the neighbourhood. Almost all of them speak and communicate in the local Pakhtun language and are also well versed in Pakhtun culture. So they have never felt themselves to be either outsiders or unfamiliar with the local customs and traditions. For this reason they were always open and at ease with their Muslim neighbours. Read More…

In a conversation from Peshawar today, Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters of the Diocese of Peshawar said that the confirmed death toll from the bombing at All Saints’ Church on Sept. 22 in the old section of the city stands at 127, with 170 injured.

“It has been just devastating,” he said.  “Quite a few children are paralyzed, and others are orphaned.  This is a terrible time for the Christian community.”  Financial assistance is urgently needed to support the families of the dead and injured, he said.

Government officials, including the Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkwa, the Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and federal ministers, have visited in order to express concern and condolence.  The bishop has met with them either at All Saints’, where he has been based over the week, or at his home on the grounds of St. John’s Cathedral.

Yesterday’s car bomb in Qissa Khawani bazaar was detonated nearby while the All Saints’ congregation was again at worship on the first week’s anniversary of the Sept. 22 bomb.  “People were in a panic, and there was such a rush,” Bp. Humphrey said, “but after about 25 minutes we were able to get them settled and resume the service.”  The bomb killed 40 people and was reported to have exploded about 300 yards from All Saints’, near a mosque and a police station.  On Friday, 19 people died when a bomb planted on a bus carrying government employees exploded in the outskirts of Peshawar.

Today’s confirmed count of 127 dead and 170 wounded from the Sept. 22 bomb is lower than the initial reports of 150 dead and 200 wounded, but it is considerably higher than the figure of 85 dead that is being circulated by global news media.  Peshawar’s overall death toll from bomb blasts for the week is 176.

“The world reached out wonderfully when Malala Yousafzai was shot,” Bp. Humphrey said, referring to the 15-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head last October by the Taliban for advocating for girls’ education.  “There are many Malalas now after the bombing,” he said in appealing for assistance.

Episcopal Relief and Development sent a $15,000 grant, the bishop said.  Other initiatives are being developed in the Episcopal Church and may be announced soon.  Meanwhile, the Edwardes College Compassion Appeal has already begun receiving donations for victims and their families from concerned people in the USA as well as in Pakistan (click here for details).

IMG_0302By all accounts, today’s Peace Rally at Edwardes College went very well in the wake of Sunday’s catastrophic bombing at All Saints’ Church in Peshawar.  Students, faculty and staff were there in full force – altogether about 3,200 people.

2013-09-26PeaceRally-MemoryCornerBishop Mano Rumalshah, emeritus of Peshawar, spoke, as did Vice Principal Yar Muhammad, Cathedral vicar IMG_0228Joseph John, and Islamiyat Dept chair Sardar Sabir Hussain.  The event was held to honor the students and alumni who were killed in the bombing, for whom a Memory Corner with photographs was set up, reflect on the need for interfaith harmony at this time in Pakistan’s history, and launch the Edwardes College Compassion Appeal to assist affected families.

“Everything went excellently!” said Alwin Edwin, English Department chair, who spearheaded the organizing for the event.

My own reflection, read out by Myra Edwin, also of the English Department, picked up on the standard greeting common in Pakistan and, with variations, throughout the Muslim world:

IMG_0193Salaam alekum – Peace be with you.  We gather today to honor those who were killed and injured in Sunday’s bombing at All Saints’ Church, especially those who were students and alumni of Edwardes College: our students Merab, and Merab, and Shiza; our alumni William and Noel; and our injured alumni Asher and Sherjeel.  I wish I could be with you, but for now I must be content to greet you from afar.

Salaam alekum – Peace be with you.  That is the customary greeting among people throughout Pakistan.  The peace we wish upon one another is the peace of God, and the greeting recognizes that IMG_0242God is the God of peace, not discord; peace, not conflict; peace, not violence.  So in saying “Salaam alekum” to one another we are lifting up for each other God’s eternal invitation to lives, relationships and communities of peace.

Yet we cannot expect God simply to produce peace.  Created in God’s image, we are creatures of vision and decision, will and action.  God expects us to work for the peace that is God’s vision for the human family.

Salaam alekum.  We should hear that greeting not simply as a courtesy, but as a call, as a summons by God through one another to be peacemakers.  We must work for peace in order to prevent such an atrocity as was visited upon the Christian community last Sunday, or such atrocities as were visited upon the Shia community in Quetta last January and February.

Working for peace means listening deeply and trying to understand people who are different from ourselves.  Working for peace means seeking to resolve differences without conflict and violence.  Working for peace requires courage and humility, and it often requires sacrifice.

Let us pray that the God of peace will strengthen us to be God’s peacemakers in our troubled region in this troubled time.

IMG_0311Along these lines, here is another reflection from a Muslim Edwardes student, this one shared on Sunday on an Edwardian student website:

Shocked and heart broken at hearing about the blast in Church at Peshawar. Having studied in Presentation Convent – in fact, coming from a family where generations have passed through Convent – it is indeed a sad sight to see our fellow citizens being the target of terrorism.  I would like to emphasize, though, that terrorism has NO religion.  There have blasts in Mosques, Imambargahs, religious rallies.  No place is safe, and no one is safe.  Islam does NOT condone such acts of senseless terrorism.  May Allah grant a quick recovery to those who are injured, and patience to the bereaved families.  All our prayers and thoughts go with you in this hour of need. We all stand together!

This is solidarity and empathy.

Walekum asalaam – And peace be with you as well.

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