Posted by: Titus Presler | March 25, 2013

From Mardan to Lahore: One disaster-struck community reaches out to another

Meeting in a drenched tent next to the remnant of their church building that was burned by a mob on Day of Love for the Prophet last September 21, the members of St. Paul’s Church in Mardan, a small city east of Peshawar, took up a second collection at the end of their Palm Sunday service yesterday for the victims of the March 9 Badami Bagh riot in Lahore in which the homes of 170 Christian families were put to the torch.

One of the young Christians who accompanied me from Peshawar marveled: “I’ve not heard of a church in Peshawar taking up a collection for the Badami Bagh people, yet here are these Mardan Christians in their tent collecting money to help those suffering in Lahore!”IMG_0390

It was remarkable.  Yet perfectly natural in the dynamics of empathy.  The Christians of Mardan (pronounced Mar-DAHN) had been shocked and traumatized when a procession protesting the video “The Innocence of Muslims” veered out of control, stormed the church compound, and set fire to church, school and staff residences.  So they could identify with the Christians of Badami Bagh when, instigated by a spurious charge of blasphemy, a mob of 3,000 stormed their neighborhood and burned them out.

The emphasis of the Mardan collection was on providing clothing for the dispossessed fellow Christians – which emphasized just how devastating the destruction in Lahore was.  The chair of the church committee read out an impressively long list of parish women who were going to be organizing the effort.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation,” wrote Paul to the Corinthian Christians, “who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God” (2 Cor. 1.3-4).  Paul emphasizes how those who have been consoled by God can console others, but the premise is that those who are afflicted experience their hearts reaching out to others who are similarly afflicted.

So much resonance between Mardan and Badami Bagh: sudden attack, free-ranging mob, fire, destruction, shock.  Such resonance creates empathy, which bears fruit in generosity.  This was especially striking at the start of Holy Week, when we are intensely aware of God’s generosity in the suffering of Christ.

Palm Sunday was not just rainy in these parts, it was drenching.  So people came slowly to church, on this occasion graced by Peshawar Diocese Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters.  But come they did, and by the middle of the sermon the tent was packed with about 250 people.  While the tent looks droopy and bedraggled, it kept the rain out, and the rugs underfoot stayed dry.  The singing was spirited, with plenty of clapping.IMG_0397

St. Paul’s is being rebuilt.  What was left standing will be incorporated into the new church, and a foundation has been laid for extending the nave 20 feet.  Foundations have been laid for new staff housing, and the school is being repaired.  The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Government has committed Rs 36.6 million to the project (about $366,000) as an expression of solidarity and a statement that such violence against religious minorities is out of bounds.  The government provides police presence at all churches in Pakistan, typically a couple of officers, but in an additional sign of support there were at least half a dozen police officers posted on the premises on Sunday.

An innovation at the Edwardes College Chapel this academic year has been a collection at the weekly Friday eucharist, and since September 21 it has been dedicated to resupplying St. Paul’s with Urdu Bibles, Prayerbooks and Hymnals, which we plan to deliver on Maundy Thursday.

In his sermon Bp. Humphrey Sarfaraz highlighted God’s promise fulfilled on Palm Sunday, the humility of the Messiah entering Jerusalem on a donkey, and the praise embedded in “Hosanna!”

St. Paul’s Church in Mardan: a congregation of promise, humility, praise – and generosity in suffering.

Inside the Tent of Meeting

Inside the Tent of Meeting

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