Sandy Sneddon, Asia Secretary of the Church of Scotland World Mission Council
In October I visited India and Pakistan as a normal part of my work as Asia Secretary of the Church of Scotland World Mission Council. Here are some of the things stood out for me.
At the Church of North India partners Meeting it was interesting to see two new partner churches represented, the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan and Presbyterian Church in Korea. The church is still small in Asia but it is growing and these South-to-South partnerships are important for everyone involved.
A Korean organisation had sponsored the construction of some new churches in Punjab and I was delighted to attend the inauguration and consecration of two new church buildings. The communities in Suffian and Talwandi Rama had outgrown their old buildings and the opening of new church buildings was the cause for a day of exuberant and vibrant celebration and thanksgiving.
I had seen the famous Flag Lowering Ceremony at the Attari-Wagah border before. The display of soldiers from nuclear-armed enemy forces marching at speed, stamping with improbably high kicks in a highly choreographed and coordinated spectacle has become a popular tourist attraction. This time I walked over the border , first clearing passport control on the India side before going through immigration just a few hundred yards away in Pakistan. Instead of the crowds that pack the stands each evening, I was with two other foreigners and a single Pakistani family returning home after an Eid visit to relatives in India. One couple was returning to India from Pakistan. Perhaps one day there will be free movement people across that border, more visits, more trade and more peace instead of the hostility and suspicion that too often marks the relationships between the two neighbours.
In Pakistan it seemed like every conversation was about the 22 September bomb attack on All Saints Church in Kohati Gate, Peshawar when over 120 were killed. I heard about people suffering painful deaths, having horrific, life-changing injuries, of people organising collections for basic medicines and supplies for the wounded. The scale of the attack, the largest loss of life ever from an attack on a place of worship in Pakistan, overwhelmed the church yet somehow people and organisations responded. Already it is clear that some people and families will need help and support for years to come as they cope with serious injuries, the need for long-term medical treatment, the loss of breadwinners, parents, children. The damage to the community will go far beyond the physical scars that many will bear for the rest of their lives. Many difficult and challenging questions remain, for now, unanswerable: How will the church live out its call to bring healing? Will the community be able to forgive? Can good come out of the carnage at Kohati Gate?
My final port of call was to Diocese of Hyderabad in Sindh where I visited Kunri Christian Hospital (KCH). Established in 1972 the hospital suffered calamitous mismanagement in the 1980s & 90s. When Naveed Khurram, Administrator, and his wife, Dr Fauzia arrived in 2007 much of the hospital was closed and there was a deficit of Rs 6.9 million (£40,000). Under their management and guidance Rs 5 million (£29,000) has been paid off and the deficit should be cleared by 2015, more doctors and nurses have been hired and the hospital re-organised to be more compact.
There are plans to re-open and develop facilities and more donors and partners are supporting the hospital. Naveed benefitted from participating in a training course for hospital administrators organised by the Anglican Alliance and DfID and hopes to gain entry to another training course on Human Resources for Health Management run by Queen Margaret University in collaboration with Health Services Academy in Islamabad.
There is still much to do but there is hope, optimism and a commitment to KCH which is testament to the faith of Naveed, Fauzia and many staff, whether Christian, Hindu, Muslim or Ismaili. After the tragedy at All Saints it was heartening to see signs of hope.