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A Broad Church

March 18, 2013

I took the boys to church this morning.  Our church is set behind high walls and has 3 layers of separate security to get through before you get in the front door.  This is because 11 years ago to the day (yesterday) it was subject to a grenade attack which killed 4 of the congregants.  And this is the safest and only church in Islamabad we are allowed to attend.

When you go to a new church, there are generally 3 impressions you can be left with. The first is that no one speaks to anyone, and after the service people head out as quickly as possible.  That’s the sort of church you don’t go back to. 

The second is that after the service everyone talks to everyone else.  It all seems very friendly and warm, if only you were on the inside.  That’s the sort of church you might go back to a couple of times in the hope that maybe someone might talk to you, but it’s easy to feel excluded and discouraged.

The third type is the type to which our new church belongs, where after the service everyone came to speak to us and, despite only having been for a few weeks, we felt as though we had real friends.  That’s the best kind of church.

At our old church in London there was a chap called Lewis. His job was to meet and greet people and I really don’t think I’ve ever met anyone better at their job. He managed to find something meaningful to say to everyone.  My father once came to a service and, as we got there a bit early, decided to pay a visit to the bathroom.  A quarter of an hour later he still hadn’t come back.  I said ‘I bet he’s met Lewis’ and, lo, when he finally arrived back in his seat he said ‘Do you know, there’s a lovely man here called Lewis I’ve been chatting to’.  We laughed.

The pastor at our new church is an amazing man.  A week after the grenade attack in 2002 he was asked to come out and lead the church and he agreed.  That’s bravery.

My ayah (nanny for the children), knowing that my husband was out of town, invited me and the children to her house for supper yesterday.  It was quite an adventure just finding the place.  Islamabad is shaped like a rectangle and is built on a strict grid system, but around the middle of the southern edge of the rectangle it’s as if the town planners destroyed their rulers and decided to indulge in a spot of filigree.  At a junction where a simple traffic light (or, heaven forfend, a roundabout) would do a marvelous job of letting you turn right, you end up on a slip road going on an overpass which dumps you in the middle of the rectangle with little or no idea where you are.  It’s quite fun really and I applaud the creativity of the person who designed it, if not his ability to organize a road system.  3 U-turns, 2 illegal stops in a no-stopping zone to check the map and a trip the wrong way down a one-way street and I arrived at the address she’d given me.

The houses all looked very nice, 2 or 3 storeys with gates and driveways.  My ayah then appeared and directed me to go down a narrow alleyway and across a VERY bumpy path to what was essentially a rubbish tip. There I parked the car. I followed her down a dirt path between two rows of brick built houses of varying heights and up 2 cement blocks into her house.  She lives in the basement with her husband and 2 sons.  It’s a single room with no divisions, just a single bed in the corner and, at the other end, a little table with a vase of flowers on it and some chairs around. I asked where her sons slept and she said that that would be the floor. She’d asked me to bring some of my cardboard packing boxes with me as they would be her new wardrobe.  The next floor up, where we came in, housed her uncle and his family and at the top was a roof terrace. 

As we went into the house there was a big sign on the front door saying “Welcome” and the boys (and to a much lesser extent, me) were very much the centre of attention.  Neighbours kept coming in to see us and my ayah had invited her whole family over for dinner for this special occasion. 

Before we ate, her nephew, who is a pastor himself, said grace.  It was an amazing thing, to be standing in the basement of this poor but very homely house in Pakistan with Pakistani Christians praying to the same God that my family prays to at their mealtimes.

I then fell to speaking to her nephew. It turns out that he is an evangelist and works with drug and alcohol abusers within the Christian community in Islamabad.  Given that the Christian Community in Pakistan is seen as the lowest of the low, he works with the lowest of the lowest of the low.  He was telling me then how he is going down to Lahore next week to preach the gospel to the Christian community there.  A week last Saturday some 200 Christians had their houses burned down.  Our church is taking a collection next week to help them get back on their feet. 

After supper, and some fabulous Bollywood-style dancing from my ayah’s nieces and son 1, we headed home.  I have to report that the road system made no more sense going back than it had when getting there, but that we got home in the end.  Hurrah.


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  1. Nick Ostler permalink

    Really enjoying your posts. Being a travelling coward who gets jittery if I have to go to a different sandwich shop, let alone country, this is fascinating stuff. Although I can’t believe you ‘ate her nephew’. I guess they just do things differently there! Hope you and the family are exceedingly well. Nx


  2. I’d just like to make it clear that no nephews were harmed in researching this blog. I have, however, introduced a judicious comma (the best kind). Thanks for the heads up.


  3. Alex Pease permalink

    an amazing story of very brave Christians in a difficult place – quite a challenge to us in Hampshire!


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