Saturday, October 24, 2009

WMC 09 - Saturday Morning Plenary - Asia

The Saturday morning plenary focused on Asia and the Pacific with specific focus on the Presbyterian Church's education mission in Pakistan.

A disclaimer: when I worked at the General Assembly in the late 1990's and early 00's I was tangentially involved in the PC(USA)'s effort to regain control of Forman Christian College in Lahore. This ministry is dear to my heart.

Background: In the 1800's, missionaries from the Presbyterian Church established a network of primary and secondary schools as well as colleges in what is now Pakistan. These schools flourished, with Forman Christian College becoming known as the "Harvard" of the Sub-Continent. In 1972, the government of Pakistan "nationalized" all the schools, disenfranchising the church and ruining the institutions. After years of prayer, petition, legal action and more, the government began returning the schools to the Presbyterian Church (USA) - who holds title to the property - in the late 1990's. Forman Christian College was returned in 2003. The schools are run by the Presbyterian Education Board, an extension of the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan. Forman Christian College is an independent institution with close ties to the PC(USA).

Presbyterian Education Board - Ms. Veeda Javaid
There are 252 Presbyterian Churches in Pakistan. Presbyterian primary and secondary schools educate 4,000 students - 60% Muslim; 40% Christian. PEB operates 10 schools and are waiting to receive a few more back from the government. MOst of the schools were returned to the church in deplorable condition. They are raising money internally and externally to rebuild the schools.

A story: One day a prominent Shiite leader came to visit the head of the Presbyterian Board of Education. He wanted to enroll his daughter in a PEB school, and wanted a full scholarship despite his wealth. The board reluctantly agreed. Some time later the leader returned to visit Ms. Veeda Javaid, the PEB director. He relayed the following story:

One night he and several other Shiite leaders were at his house planning an attack on the Suni. The meeting was quite enthuiastic and his ten year old daughter overheard what was going on. She came into the room, looked him in the eye and told him that her teacher would not approve. Her teacher said that everyone was brother and sister and they should care for each other.

At this point Ms. Javaid was very nervous and afraid that the leader would threaten her and the school. To the opposite, the leader reported that he called off the attack and was there to enroll another of his daughters - and this time he would pay tuition. Currently all three of the leader's daughters attend the school.

PEB is largely self sufficient but looks to its American partners for short term teacher training and capital help restoring its campuses.

Forman Christian College - Dr. Peter Armacost
Since receiving the school back from the government in 2003, FC College's board of directors is rebuilding the school as a first rate liberal arts college. Their first class graduated in 2009 and has above average employment/graduate school admissions.

FC College has several goals:
  • Offer a model of interfaith harmony
  • Educate leaders for Pakistan
  • Support the Christian community. Since many Christians are less educated and poorer, FC College has affirmative action and special student development programs for Christians. They maintain active Christian worship, Bible study and leadership development.
A young Muslim woman began quietly attending chapel at FC College. After some time, she converted to Christianity. She then discerned a call to ministry and wants to return to her village as a pastor.

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