It is fashionable to disapprove of the Scottish missionaries of the nineteenth century. David Livingstone has been the most notable subject of revisionism. Not so long ago he would have appeared in many lists of “Greatest Scots”: today he is often seen as an exporter of capitalism and a tool of Empire. Not so, however, in Pakistan. The warmth of appreciation the Christian community here for the old Scottish missionaries is very moving.
I was standing in Hunter Memorial Church in Sialkot. It was in 1857 that Rev Thomas Hunter came to Sialkot, the first Scottish missionary in this part of what was then India. It was a bitterly short time they spent in their new work: only months after they arrived he, and his wife Jane, and their infant son were murdered in the First Indian War of Independence. The church which carries their name is beautiful and its setting is beautiful. It is only yards from all the stir and noise and confusion and energy which expresses the spirit of Sialkot and of every city in Pakistan. Yet these few yards lead you into a treasure of peace: trees and flowers and grass and gravestones and quietness and the fine church. All through the graveyard and on the walls of the church there are echoes of Scotland; there is a memorial to a minister who worked in Sialkot for fifty years; and there are poignant memories of several infant deaths.
All this would be moving enough: butt it was very special to be seeing this history in stone of Scottish missionary activity in the company of my two friends. Catherine Nicol arrived in Pakistan, sent by the Church of Scotland, in 1961. Ten years ago, after forty years service, she retired and returned to Scotland. She lasted four weeks! So deep was her commitment to the people of Sialkot that she went straight back; and she has been there ever since. She lives in a girls’ hostel, St Columba’s RTC. I sat at her table and watched an unstoppable flow of people coming in and out all day with problems, questions and requests. These were not trivial matters: often the safety of a very vulnerable child was at stake. With patience and cheerfulness and in flawless Urdu (as far as I could tell!) Catherine listened, thought and acted – over and over again.
My other companion was Sandy Sneddon. Sandy is the Asia Secretary of the World Mission Council: but he has been formed by his 16 years living and working in Pakistan. Again, his Urdu is so very good; he and his wife Marie brought up their family here; on this visit he seems to know everyone we meet; and it is quite clear that his years here as a mission partner are years for which he is deeply grateful and the church in Pakistan is deeply grateful. To reflect on the history of the early missionaries in Sialkot and to give thanks for their service was good; but to do it in the company of these two was to be reminded that in today’s world of partnership and mutual sharing it can still be wonderfully precious for Scottish people to commit themselves to the good of another country and another church.
Which is what all the Christians in Pakistan whom I meet keep telling me.