‘Pilgrimage of Life towards Reconciliation – in the Company of the Poor, Marginalized and Terrorists’ – this was the title of the March 12-15 international conference convened by the Church of Pakistan in Lahore. It was a long title, so long that the hyphen is one I’ve inserted myself in order to make it more understandable.
Lahore is the city where over 70 people were killed and several hundred wounded in a park on Easter Sunday afternoon, March 27. A breakoff group of Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and said they were targeting Christians, though in light of the demography of Pakistan more Muslims than Christians were killed.
Especially outrageous is the fact that children were especially targeted, the bomb having been set off adjacent to children’s favorite amusement rides. Such callous disregard for human life, and especially for the next generation of Pakistanis, is hideous. It is all of a piece with the horror inflicted by terrorists everywhere today, whether in Pakistan, the Middle East, North Africa, Europe or the USA.
‘In the Company of the Poor, Marginalized and Terrorists.’ In Christian mission today it is commonplace to talk about fulfilling God’s mission in the company of – or accompanied by or in companionship with – the poor and marginalized. But ‘in the company of terrorists’ was an arresting and unusual inclusion, as I noted in my address to the conference.
The church was audacious in its vision that reconciliation would be sought in the company of terrorists, the premise being that terrorists, or at least some terrorists, would join Christians in seeking reconciliation in Pakistani society.
The church was equally audacious in its vision that reconciliation could be sought with terrorists – with terrorists who for years now have been victimizing Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan. The Easter bombing in Lahore was only the latest in a long series of outrages, the most horrific being the September 2013 bombs at All Saints’ Church in Peshawar, when 128 people were killed and hundreds injured.
The fact that two weeks after the conference at which the church’s vision of reconciliation was highlighted Taliban terrorists attacked Christians – and others – yet again on the major Christian holy day of Easter illustrates just how audacious the church’s vision and hope is.
Church of Pakistan leaders are living out reconciliation during this week after the bombing. ‘Church of Pakistan consoles nation where “every heart broken,”’ reads the headline on the latest news article from the Anglican Communion News Service. It details how the church’s bishops are visiting Muslims as well as Christians in hospitals and lamenting how Pakistan as a whole, and not simply the Christian community, is under siege.
Christians are targeted, then Christians console the nation!
It is a remarkable vocation that the Church of Pakistan is living out. It witnesses to the pivotal role of Christ Jesus in God’s mission in the cosmos. In its tribulations it lives in solidarity with the suffering of Christ for humanity. In its faithfulness it lifts up the mission of reconciliation for which Christ lived, died and rose again. In its outreach to the nation it offers a mustardseed of the reconciliation that is the heart of the gospel, the heart of the Reign of God, the heart of the mission of God in the cosmos.
Lots of questions get asked about Christian witness in Pakistan, and they have certainly been asked of me: What’s the point? How can there be any hope in a place like that? Is ministry in Pakistan a worthwhile investment of time, resources, safety?
The short answer is, Yes.
A longer answer is this: There is a major Christian community in Pakistan. In a nation of 200 million, a conservative estimate of the Christian proportion is 1.6%, which amounts to 3.2 million people, and the true figure is probably higher. These disciples of Jesus are faithful and courageous. Worn bright by constant adversity, their leaders are clearer than most Christian leaders about the demands of the gospel and the opportunities of transformation that it offers. They are living faithfully. They are witnessing. They are persevering.
In solidarity with them, how can we do less?