alice garrick, ayra indreyas, Badshahi Mosque, child protection, christian, christians, church of pakistan, Church of Scotland, diocese of lahore, diocese of raiwind, Pakistan, pakistani christians, vulnerability, womens projects
Over the last two days, we have been visiting various women’s projects In Lahore and Raiwind Diocese. These have been very impressive, and great testament to the two women who work at the Women’s Desk in each.
On Monday, we visited Ayra at Lahore Diocese ( covering 73 churches), and she gave us a comprehensive powerpoint demonstration of the work that goes on in Lahore – in areas such as health issues, bible teaching, disaster aid training and legal aid to Human rights organisations. It gave us great insight into some of the difficult issues for women. One of the most striking facts was about the high mortality rates for infants and mums round the time of birth. Women often do not have access to appropriate medical care, and husbands are not always in favour of their wives going to see the doctor. Cultural norms really get in the way of basic health care provision, and there is a massive education programme needed to change things for the better.
We visited the Cathedral at Lahore Diocese when we were there – a massive and stately building in the compound built in the 1880’s. Then we went to give out certificates to a Woman’s project, for women who had completed their training in Beauty treatments. There were 41 women who completed the course, and they were very proud to get their certificates. We had the privilege of giving the certificates out, and seeing the pride on the woman’s faces. Doing the course, giving the women a chance to get out of the house, and to chat with other women were all very helpful to empowering these women, increasing their confidence, and giving them an opportunity to earn some income for their families.
The next day, we also visited some projects with Alice of Raiwind Diocese. She showed us marvellous hospitality, and took us out to see two projects – the first one a Child Protection Project working with children of church families, who would find it difficult to afford education at government schools. There would normally be 55-65 children here, although many of them were not present because of dengue fever. It was quite humbling to meet a young man whose wife had just died of dengue fever, and how devastated he was. It helped us to see how the community tried to support him and his daughter at this difficult time.
We also saw the community rehabilitation project in Youhannabad where Susan Clark will be working in January. Again this project was very busy, and there were so many women to talk to. Seeing the women who were taking the midwifery course in their special uniforms all learning together was wonderful. And some of the younger women were brave enough to speak to us, even through there were two men present. They were able to share how the centre had helped them, to be able to find support, training and also prayer. One woman also said how her faith had been strengthened, and it was humbling that many women came asking me for prayer because they knew I was a minister. It was yet another time when language didn’t matter, as God understands all that we said – even if we didn’t.
In the evening, we caught up with Alice and Ayra for a meal at Cooco’s in Lahore. This was a spectacular place to dine, with an open air view of the Badshahi Mosque which was breath-taking. Chris was very excited, and we were all so busy looking at the evening sights, we almost forgot to eat – but only almost!
Today is my last day in Pakistan, and I feel very sad about leaving. I have had a fantastic time here and learned so much. And I think about the street vendor who had many canaries in a cage. And there is a local custom that people buy a canary and set it free, and this is a symbolic way of releasing worries to God. The canary soaring into the air is also a symbol of people released from prison. I want to go and buy a million canaries and set them free, as a symbol that all the people – women and prisoners and people who are oppressed could all be set free. I remember the verse that says ” where the spirit of God is – there is freedom”, and my prayer for the people of Pakistan is that one day they will be free!
Please pray always for Pakistan
Equality, one of the biggest issues facing people in Pakistan. Especially those of minority faiths, and even more so women in these communities. It has been an incredible honour, privilege and education visiting the projects over the last few days. I won’t say much more about the projects Fiona mentioned, she has covered them very succinctly, save to mention the women themselves. It very much seems to me that the women here are not only the fairer sex, but the stronger sex. They have to deal with so much more than the men do; they have more responsibility in the home; they are often the best educated person in their household (women have time to get an education whilst the men are trying to earn money); they face more stigma for just being a women, often men will treat them as if they are invisible. Yet they are the noblest, bravest, kindest, warmest, most honest people I have ever met.
We were honoured to see a side to them that some visitors may not, because we had Fiona with us. Not only is Fiona a kind-hearted, warm, friendly, loving person, but she is a female minister. This caused great excitement amongst the women we met – evidenced by the line of women she had waiting for her to pray for them when we visited the rehab project.I saw the other side of this behaviour today. This morning, Sandy and Andrew McLellan left for Islamabad and this afternoon Fiona left for Scotland, with me staying behind in Lahore. Ayra took me to visit another couple of women’s projects this afternoon. At both of the projects, the women seemed genuinely glad to see me (or perhaps it was just Ayra’s presence) but they were very shy in speaking out when I asked them to share with me how the projects have changed their lives. (I’ll be blogging more about these projects tomorrow, they were very interesting places!).
I feel so honoured, so blessed that I have been able to meet these women, these heroic people, their nobility, their strength, their fragility is something that will stay with me forever, something that I dearly want to share with the Church of Scotland.
Fiona asked to you to pray always for Pakistan, I want to echo that request. There is much to thank God for out here, much to intercede for too. There is beauty, there is brokenness, there is strength, there is fragility, there is injustice, there is Grace.