On Feb. 18 I sent out the following email to a number of people around the world. It is self-explanatory.
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,
Today, March 8, I continue in Islamabad, awaiting Pakistan government documentation that will be valid for travel.