Posted by: Titus Presler | February 9, 2013

A visit from the home church – and the blessings of being visited in mission

It was a blessing recently to host two missional visitors from the Episcopal Church USA.

The experience was a pleasant reversal for me after years when my travels for mission consultations around the world gave me opportunity to visit missionaries in their places of service – South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Mexico, Haiti and three places of my own previous or present experience: India, Zimbabwe and Pakistan.  I did a good deal of training for groups of missionaries at ecumenical and Episcopal gatherings held in Toronto, Chicago, Santa Fe, Austin and New York City.  It was a privilege to assist with regional retreats for missionaries held in Zimbabwe and Istanbul.  I’ve loved training and visiting missionaries – exploring their experience, celebrating their dedication, supporting them in their vision and challenges.

With that background it was so good to be on the receiving end here in Peshawar – to reflect on what might be helpful for visitors to experience, work out the various logistics, and then finally receive them and make the visit happen.

The visitors were Buck Blanchard, Director of Mission and Outreach for the Diocese of Virginia and an outstanding catalyst for mission for the Episcopal Church as a whole, and Bill Sachs, a theological educator and scholar, now Director of the Center for Interfaith Reconciliation at St. Stephen’s Church, Richmond, where his major focus is Muslim-Christian dialogue. 

I first got to know Buck when he emceed the first Everyone Everywhere mission conference in Baltimore in 2008.  Bill and I have been colleagues in various settings since we worked together on the Global Anglicanism Project in the early 2000s.  Both were interested in making connections between Peshawar and Virginia, Buck on behalf of the diocese and Bill focusing on interfaith relations and school links.  So the visit was to both Edwardes College and the Diocese of Peshawar, and Bp. Humphrey Safaraz Peters and I divided their time between us.

Here at the College it was a joy to show them around, introduce them to faculty and students and then let the conversations happen.  There was good talks with professors in the Faculty Room and with hostel students in the Canteen, and various other pick-up chats on the walkways or wherever.  Bill and Buck came to Chapel, visited Integrity Project classes, and witnessed a rehearsal of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.”  They had a sit-down tea with some Christian students, who are a small minority at Edwardes.

It’s not often that people from the West venture to Peshawar.  Everyone here knows that.  So students, faculty and staff all very much appreciated the interest and the courage that Bill and Buck had in coming.

A group highlight for me was a dinner gathering here at the Bungalow of Faith Friends, Peshawar’s one inter-religious group.  It was the first time FF had ever met at Edwardes, and I saw it as an opportunity to expose our faculty to the possibilities for dialogue that it offers.  Fourteen regular FF members came, including Sunni, Shia, Christian and Sikh – no Hindus came to this meeting, though Hindus have been part of FF since its beginning about 10 years ago.  I invited 11 faculty: 6 Muslims and 5 Christians.  The conversation was probing and substantive, and it was especially good to hear from Dr. Qibla Ayaz, Dean of Islamic and Arabic Studies at the University of Peshawar, about the many accomplishments of FF over the years.  Our faculty members left excited about establishing an FF group at Edwardes to stimulate religious interchange.

There was a Christmas party – yes, in January! – for all faculty and staff outside with a campfire.  I put on a dinner party for a small group of faculty with our guests for in-depth conversation, which turned out to focus on the difficulty of nurturing tolerance in the environment of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.  And so on.

The gift in it all for me was twofold.  One side was sharing the many fascinating aspects of being here – cultural, religious, educational, ecclesial.  The other was being able to talk about the personal side of this venture for Jane and me.  On their last night we talked for easily three hours, ranging far and deep – the joys, the challenges, the dangers, the gifts.

Thanks be to God.

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