Bill Gray tells us about Glasgow Presbytery's visit to the Diocese of Hyderabad, Pakistan
Congregations in the Presbytery of Glasgow are actively involved with the World Church in many diverse ways, but until recently they had not embraced the Twinning Programme. The Presbytery decided to encourage congregations by twinning at Presbytery level, and now the Presbytery is in the final stages of twinning with the Diocese of Hyderabad which is part of the United Church of Pakistan.
The Diocese is in the province of Sindh, situated in the very south of Pakistan bordering India. It is a small Diocese with only 26 parishes, but otherwise has similarities with Glasgow Presbytery. The Diocese and the Presbytery are both centred on large cities with an industrial heritage, universities and teaching hospitals. Both have parishes in rural areas and their populations have some of the poorest people in the country as well as high rates of unemployment.
Christians in Pakistan are very much a minority and practice their faith in very difficult situations. They are frequently discriminated against and subjected to violence. Despite all these difficulties the Diocese continues to publically serve others, particularly the poorest in the wider community by supporting schools, community hospitals and planting churches in the tribal areas.
In November, four members of Presbytery including the Moderator, the Clerk and the Convener of the World Mission Committee spent eight days in Sindh getting to know the people there and building relationships.
On arrival the team experienced quite a culture shock as there is so much hustle and bustle, colour and noise. A very full programme had been planned for each day and we were often welcomed with presentations of traditional gifts, dancing and songs, including a marching band.
It was a privilege to worship with our brothers and sisters. All three ministers in the team preached and conducted communion in different congregations. Worship was joyful with psalms being sung in Urdu. Some buildings are a legacy from the British Raj, but in the tribal lands there are mainly traditional round buildings with thatched rooves where the faithful crowd in. Sadly due to previous attacks the Government provides armed guards outside during worship.
Visits to schools were inspiring and it was a joy to see children desperate to learn. The children are taught in English from nursery level and upwards, which greatly helps employment prospects. All the schools are happy places where education is deeply valued and children proudly showed off what they had learned. The schools admit children from Christian, Muslim and Hindu backgrounds and teach them to respect one another. Learning does not stop with the children, as they educate and empower older women in the villages through role play. It was amazing to see so much being done with so little.
A highlight was a visit to Kunri Hospital, which is supported by the Diocese and has been supported financially by the Church of Scotland for a number of years. The hospital now specialises in gynaecology and obstetrics. Infant mortality in the area is amongst the highest in the world. There are four doctors working hard, training community midwives and helping large numbers of women give birth.
The Scottish team was greatly encouraged by the great kindness and generous hospitality received from everyone we met. We were frequently challenged and humbled by the strong Christian faith demonstrated alongside a desire to evangelise through serving the marginalised of all faiths. People consistently asked for and to be remembered in prayer. The strength of belief in the power of prayer was challenging and should cause us in the Church of Scotland to reflect on our own prayer life.
Glasgow Presbytery has learned much about faith in action and hope. Twinning with Hyderabad will provide a framework for joint working and support for each other. Representatives from Hyderabad have been invited to visit Glasgow in May when it is hoped that Twinning will be finalised and mark the beginning of a fruitful relationship.