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