President Haye reflects on his trip to Pakistan

Posted by Jack Haye on 6/24/24 5:00 PM

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Stories have a way of capturing our imaginations and transporting us into their space unlike mere facts and figures can do. For with facts and figures, we are looking “at” something, as C.S. Lewis wrote in “Meditation in a Tool Shed” while stories invite us to look “along” things to see the bigger picture, the connection between facts and figures and life in all its many facets.

President  Haye, his wife Carol, and two PHC students traveled to Pakistan with All Neighbors International. Here, President Haye shares his experiences. In the next Learn PHC blog, we will share the experiences of the two students who traveled with him.

Writer Jennifer Weiner wrote: “Tell the story that's been growing in your heart, the characters you can't keep out of your head, the tale that speaks to you, that pops into your head during your daily commute, that wakes you up in the morning.”

Weiner was right. The most important stories have a durability that keeps them top of mind.

The people we met during a recent trip to Pakistan form such stories in my life. Their passion for Christ, their resilience in the face of intense persecution, and their desire to make a difference were both humbling and inspiring.

These are a few of their stories.

In the Fall of 2023, Ilyas Masih, Founder and CEO of All Neighbors International (ANI) invited Patrick Henry College (PHC) to be part of a U.S. delegation traveling to Pakistan to host a series of summits, meetings, lectures, and roundtable conversations focused on the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan. These meeting were being arranged by ANI with support of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington D.C.

All Neighbors International

All Neighbors International (ANI) is a Christian ministry focused on raising awareness and support for persecuted Christians in Pakistan. Over the past twelve years, ANI has fostered strategic relationships among diverse groups who are working on behalf of persecuted minority communities in Pakistan, specifically in the areas of extremist violence directed toward the Christian community, forced conversions, blasphemy laws and forced child marriages.

In Pakistan, ANI works closely with political, faith and educational leaders to increase rights and opportunities for religious minorities. Their projects include job training for women in remote rural areas, water wells in the villages of northern Pakistan, medical centers for women and children, and a home for disabled children. In addition, they work with local churches and schools to provide Bibles and laptop computers to Christian students.

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In the U.S., ANI creates advocacy through their work with the Pakistani and U.S. Embassies, on Capitol Hill and through participation in worldwide religious freedom initiatives. ANI also works with churches and ministries in the middle Atlantic area to raise awareness of the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan by hosting events where Christians can build relationships with Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh families whose family members are undergoing persecution in Pakistan.

ANI is unapologetically Christian and works to build relational bridges over which the Gospel may travel (ref, 1 Peter 3:8-8-19). ANI founder, Ilyas Masih, is known and welcomed at the highest levels of Pakistani government as well as in churches and Christian schools in the slums of all the major cities. His bold humility points others to Christ wherever he goes.

Our Journey

On April 12, Carol and I and two PHC students (Andrew Penrod and Reuben Umana) joined four other members of a U.S. delegation and boarded an Emirates Air flight to Dubai, which would be the jumping-off point for our 17-day journey across Pakistan. Our itinerary would include meetings in Karachi (Sindh Province), Lahore and Jaranwala (Punjab Province), Quetta (Balochistan Province), and Peshawar (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province), and Islamabad (Federal Territory).

Held Safe

From the beginning of the trip, we each knew we would need to rely on the power of prayer. This lesson was brought home at the very beginning as our flight was unexpectedly diverted from Iranian airspace. Once we landed in Dubai we learned the reason for that diversion: Iran’s missile attack on Israel. After collecting our luggage, we gathered to consider the risks of continuing the trip. We knew that instability arising from fundamentalist fervor in Pakistan could ignite quickly if/when Israel launched a counter-offensive. Depending on the target(s), anti-Israel (and by extension anti-American) sentiment would rise quickly. Could we get out?  

With very few facts other than the scant details about the missile strike, we prayed late into the night about whether we should continue into Pakistan as planned. In the end, the team had a peace that we were to continue. Pakistan increased our security protocol to state visit level in response to the unknowns. As a result, we were surrounded by a Special Forces commando unit of 6-8 soldiers wherever we went. They traveled in open trucks before and behind our van, arms at the ready position, and guarded the hotels while we slept.

The Stories of Those We Met

Everywhere we went, we found ourselves entering into the stories of people who are working to address complex problems impacting the minority Christian community—problems made more acute by the presence of extremism.

These were men and women who, like the men of Issachar, “understood their times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 11:32). Here are a few of their stories.

Stories of Maqsood who used his platform to establish the Sindh Special Forces Counterterrorism Unit of the police force to set a new standard for service and not corruption.

Stories of Samina, a Christian social worker who uses her personal resources and influence to support a jail reform movement for Christians who are incarcerated, advocating for fair treatment under the law. Her foundation partnered with Angel Welfare Trust, established by Christian Deputy Superintendent of Police to construct a chapel in 2022, which is the first church ever built in the Sindh Province prison. Christians who are serving sentences or awaiting trial—many on blasphemy charges—comprise about 15% of the Singh prison population, which is a stunning number since Christians only account for 1.7% of the population. We had the opportunity to attend worship with the prisoners at the Chapel. Their joyful worship reminded all of us that worship transcends our circumstances and unites us in ways that defy human understanding.

In addition to the Chapel, Dr. Nawab underwrites a program that provides art and music training for prisoners. Their paintings and pencil/ink drawings were hauntingly beautiful. Dr. Nawab helps these inmates sell their art as a way for them to support their families while in jail.

Stories of Sahibzaka, Chairman of the Frontier Foundation which operates charity hospitals and blood transfusion clinics for children with genetic blood disorders like Thalassemia and Hemophilia, children who will likely not live beyond their teen years. Mr. Haleem, who is a businessman, saw the need to offer these free services to all, regardless of faith.

Stories of Missions Hospitals established in the early 1900’s now in disrepair and understaffed but continuing to provide free medical care to the poorest of the poor.

Stories of Naveed, a Christian doctor who decided to stay in Pakistan and devote his life to serving the poor in the name of Jesus. Of the 22 doctors in his extended family, only he remained in Pakistan.

Stories of Soaib who serves the Supreme Court as a one-man Commission where all minority legal cases are reviewed. Dr. Suddle came up through the national police ranks and has seen first-hand the problems that exist with police in minority communities, problems that are fueled by corruption, distrust, and abuse of power. A nation-wide program has been put in place under his leadership to facilitate community-based hiring of minority policemen to work in their neighborhoods.

Stories of Tony, founder and Chairman of Christian Social UPLIFT, who has a Christian school of 2000+, pre-K through 12. About 30% of his students are Christians who attend on fully funded scholarships including tuition, uniforms, books, and supplies. These scholarships are funded by the fees paid by non-minority students and Christian students who can afford to pay the fees.

Stories of Peter, a serial entrepreneur who uses his business platforms to advance the Gospel. He and his wife started a 6-week Sunday School program to teach children to read and write from an early age. There are currently 1000+ students in these programs across Lahore.

Peter has also helped plant six Grace Fellowship Bible Churches across Lahore. There were 24 baptisms on the Sunday we were in Lahore.

He also employs a team of attorneys who provide legal representation for Christians wrongly accused of blasphemy as well as families who experience forced conversions of their daughters. His other current projects include advocating for financial compensation for homeowners whose houses were destroyed in the Jaranwala violence in the fall of 2023.

Stories of Adeel, CEO and founder of PAK Mission Society, who is funding an emerging leader training program that engages bright young leaders, Muslims and Christians, to tackle the toughest issues inside the slum of Islamabad, which are populated primarily by Christians. Creating educational models that work in the poorest contexts is at the forefront of their work. In addition, PAK Mission serves as first responders in areas where western relief workers cannot go.

Stories of entrepreneurs and businessmen who are using their platforms to provide schools and tech training opportunities inclusive of Christians who are largely considered 4th class citizens (behind Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus). The caste system is deeply embedded in Pakistan’s history and cultural fabric. As a result, those in the lower castes are easily overlooked and/or avoided altogether. Little thought is given to helping them improve their lot since echoes of the need to pay for the sins of previous lifetimes still reverberate through the culture.

Stories of leaders of the Interfaith Harmony project sponsored by the government. Leaders who stand with Christians and other religious minorities who are victims of violent extremism.

Stories of pastors who bear the scars of suicide bombings on their bodies and in their churches and yet still stand and faithfully preach the Word each Sunday. 

Stories of All Saints Church, Islamabad where a clock on the wall stands frozen at 11:43am to mark the 2013 suicide bombing that killed over 100 and injured many more. Christians who worship in spaces each Sunday with walls still pocked by bullets.

Stories of Jaranwala where a mob formed quickly in response to a page of the Qu’ran being torn and left crumpled in front of a Mosque. Stories of 27 Christian churches and 84 Christian homes burned. Stories of Muslim families who stood with their Christian neighbors to try and stop the violence. They were beaten with sticks and stoned along with the Christians.

Stories of Christian Colleges, founded in the late 19th century by mission organizations, now run by the state. Christian faculty, staff, and students now comprise a very small minority who endure discrimination and bullying.

Religious Freedom Summits

Religious Freedom Summits sponsored by ANI brought together those who are working to bridge many of these gaps. The Summits took various forms from interfaith meetings at madrasas, round-table discussions in the offices of political leaders, Eid celebration dinners with large groups of interfaith leaders, and a formal day-long conference at the J.W. Marriott in Islamabad. This conference included panel discussions with government and faith leaders on “What have we done well?”, “What have we not done well?”, and “What can we agree on for next steps?”. In the afternoon, Islamic University students joined in the Q & A, which became quite lively.

ANI effectively shares God's heart for the persecuted church among top political, business, and interfaith leaders who are working on the Interfaith Harmony project.

Traveling in Remote Regions

Our itinerary took us to major cities and remote provinces on the borders of Iran and Afghanistan. According to the U.S. Deputy Ambassador, we saw more of Pakistan than 80% of the U.S. Embassy Staff has ever seen.

According to the church leaders in Quetta (Baluchistan Province), there have been very few Westerners who have visited this remote province since 9/11. In fact, most of the youth we met had never seen anyone from the West. The Bibles we delivered to the church were the first that these young people had ever owned.

What Did We Accomplish?

The April trip created important spaces for conversation and collaboration among those working on various aspects of religious minority rights—education, employment quotas, justice issues, blasphemy laws, child marriage laws, and forced conversions. The gatherings hosted by ANI provided a bridge between government policymakers and those who live with the implications of those policies.

In addition, we delivered 400 Bibles in Urdu to people who have never owned a Bible, and presented laptop computers to top Christian high school and college students. At the end of the trip, the team received a request for an additional 500 Bibles.

ANI has created the relational bridges needed to bring these diverse groups together. Ilyas Masih's work over the past twelve years is a great example of faith-based diplomacy.

An Educator's Perspective

Having PHC participate brought academics and educationalists into the conversation. Education is a critical component in finding sustainable solutions. Both accessibility and the quality of education available to religious minorities are critical components in breaking the cycle of generational poverty resulting from a lack of exit opportunities from the caste system that keeps Christians locked in the very bottom of the social and economic strata. For many Christian youth, their only way out of poverty is through forced conversions. The number of Christians in Pakistan has now fallen to 1.7% according to the Pakistan Mission Society.

There are disconnects when considering the small number of Christian students in even Christian schools and colleges. On one side, you have the highly placed political figures saying that all youth are going to school and graduating with degrees and their challenge is finding jobs. On the other, are poor Christian families who cannot afford the annual fees to send their children to any type of school. In many cases, the children begin working by age 8 to help support the family. Over 60% of Pakistan’s population is under the age of 35. Another factor is the low literacy rate. Literacy is determined by whether you can write your name in both Urdu and English. Countrywide, the illiteracy rate is 30%, but among Christians, the average is much higher—well over 50%.

While anti-Christian discrimination in private school and university admissions exists, lack of academic readiness is a larger factor, given the limited opportunities Christian students have in their earlier educational years. Any solution to the problem of having more Christian students in top schools must include access to quality education from the earliest years.

A Continuing Story

We are called to be salt and light in a dark world. That includes standing with parts of the Body of Christ who are being persecuted. Our participation in the ANI delegation was a vivid reminder that we have each been given a platform of influence. The question is how will we use that influence for the glory of God and the good of others? Our brothers and sisters in Pakistan need our prayers and our support. We should always be looking for men and women of Issachar who understand the times and know what to do (Chronicles 12:32). ANI is one such organization.

Matthew 25:34-40

 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’


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