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Feb 22 | Luke Blount

Pakistani Bishops Minister in Hostile Land

Pakistani Bishops

Bishop Doyle, Bishop Rumalshah and Bishop Peters at Council.

On a recent visit to the Diocese of Texas, Pakistan’s former bishop, the Rt. Rev. Mano Rumalshah, describes the Diocese of Peshawar (Church of Pakistan*) as “not a church for the poor, because there are too many. We are a church of the poor.” Bishop Rumalshah and the new bishop of Peshawar, the Rt. Rev. Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters, visited Houston in February to share the story of their ministry with Episcopal churches here.


Straddling the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Diocese of Peshawar exists in one of the most hostile settings on earth. Taliban forces take refuge in this area, as part of the diocese encompasses a buffer zone or “lawless” area between the two countries where global powers engage in the war against terrorism. According to Bishop Rumalshah, no real border exists because one tribe of people represents the majority population of both Afghanistan and the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan (or NWFP) within the diocese.

 

Yet, in this dangerous area, the Diocese of Peshawar serves the poorest of the poor with medical and pastoral care as well as educational training. It is estimated that in the NWFP there are 100,000 Christians out of a total population of 17 million. But the services of the Diocese of Peshawar are open to people of all faiths, including terrorist sympathizers.

 

“Anyone who walks through that door is a child of God,” Bishop Rumalshah said. “It’s a costly love, a sacrificial love. It is a precious love.”

 

Every day the Church of Pakistan faces danger as a result of the “blasphemy law.” Although it is legal for churches to operate, Christian leaders must be cautious not to violate this law, which prohibits speaking against Islam.

 

“Many Christians have been put to death, houses and villages put on fire because of the misuse of this law,” said Bishop Humphrey Peters. “We have to be cautious but we are constantly requesting the government and everyone to stop the misuse of this law.”

 

In addition to the violence, the Diocese of Peshawar has also been hit by two natural disasters over the past six years. In 2005, Pakistan suffered an earthquake that killed approximately 75,000 people. And in 2010, floods ravaged Pakistan putting one-fifth the total land area underwater. Twenty million people were displaced from the floods that left 2,000 dead. Much of the country’s crops were destroyed as water swept across the country.

 

“I can only describe it as one word,” Bishop Rumalshah said. “Cataclysmic.”

 

In the midst of such turmoil, the Rev. Robin Reeves, a fellow of St. Luke’s chaplaincy services, founded Bridges to Pakistan, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to building relationships with the Diocese of Peshawar. After meeting Bishop Rumalshah in 2003, Reeves traveled to Pakistan in 2005 in order to see the work of the Diocese of Peshawar.

 

“In an atmosphere of fear and hate, they are a voice of love for the people that Americans say it is okay to hate,” Reeves said. “They are either a little bit crazy, or they know something about love that I want to know about.”

 

According to Bishop Rumalshah, his province in Pakistan has always been a sort of frontier, not unlike the western frontier of early America. But after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the region grew incredibly unstable.

 

“Nine-eleven turned the whole thing upside down,” Bishop Rumalshah said. “Now we have the special qualification that we are terrorists, and that is the worst part. No one has constructively tried to give these people resources. At the moment, they are trying to kill them instead of build their community.”

 

“You can’t kill them,” he said. “They are used to being killed. They survived the Soviets for 20 years.”

 

Bishop Rumalshah sees the mission of the Diocese of Peshawar as a resource of love to people of all faiths, and he urges Christians in America to do the same. As someone who has experienced intense religious persecution, Bishop Rumalshah abhors the concept in any society. “You must go out of your way in America to share the same radical love to your Muslim neighbors,” Bishop Rumalshah said.

 

“We want to be an instrument of reconciliation for people of different religions,” Bishop Peters said. “Church is hope … not hope just for Christians. It is hope for the entire world. Where is that hope if we don’t [show] it?”

 

In order to build a stronger community, the Diocese of Peshawar wants to foster new partnerships with people around the world. Though resources are slim, and violence is always a concern, the Pakistani bishops don’t want Americans to feel sorry for their church.

 

“We are proud to be here,” Bishop Rumalshah said. “We don’t want pity. Our presence is alive, and we are not underground. We want living relationships with people.”

 

Visit www.bridgestopakistan.org to learn more about the work in the Diocese of Peshawar.

 

*The Church of Pakistan represents Christians in Pakistan, finalized in the Plan of Union, which was implemented in November, 1970, and includes Anglicans, Methodists, Scottish Presbyterians, and Pakistani Lutherans. Learn more at: www.peshawardiocese.org

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