Sunday, April 17, 2016

A Journey to Pakistan

(from Nov. 2015)
I'm excited to share that I've been invited to visit and present choral workshops and church music training in Pakistan! I am thrilled to have this unique opportunity to visit this country, meet tons of people, including Pakistani Anglicans, and to learn about The Church of Pakistan!
Pakistan is a country I've been curious about visiting for a few years and, while I considered applying for the VISA in 2014, I did not. I was in India at the time and learned that Indo-Pak relations aren't the best. The VISA application was also pretty daunting... As it turned out, I now have an official letter of invitation and sponsors!
So what is this all about? 
Last summer (June 2015), I was very fortunate to be an Alternate Delegate to the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, held in beautiful Salt Lake City, Utah. While there, I was representing our Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana (EDOLA) as Media in addition to serving as an Alternate. I was able to meet with friends, the fabulous and friendly group of Episcopal Communicators, and also various church leaders and representatives. I interviewed some folks and shook hands with or had coffee with others. One person I met was Bishop Samuel Azariah, the primate and president bishop / Moderator of The Church of Pakistan. His home Diocese is The Diocese of Raiwind. Here is some information about the Diocese, directly from their website: 
" The Church of Pakistan is the result of the union of four denominations: Anglicans, Methodist, Lutheran and Presbyterians (Scottish), which took place in 1970. Initially, there were four dioceses in the Church of Pakistan, i.e. Karachi, Multan, Lahore and Sialkot, but in 1980, through a special resolution and for better ministerial work, four new dioceses were created: Hyderabad, Raiwind, Faisalabad and Peshawar. There is a presiding bishop for the Church of Pakistan who is known as the Moderator and has responsibility for a three year term. The united Church of Pakistan is the second largest church in the country after the Roman Catholic Church."
The Diocese of Raiwind experienced several bombings in the spring of 2015 that had remained in my thoughts. We lifted them in prayer at St. Paul's Episcopal. The two churches that were bombed were St. John's Roman Catholic Church in Peshawar and Christ Church in Lahore (a Church of Pakistan church and a member of the Anglican Communion.) At the time, I couldn't get over how resilient those affected were or how awful the situation had become with regards to religious intolerance. Just how does one recover from a suicide bombing and retain faith in the community? This kind of thing means that the community needs you even more.
The Diocese of Raiwind is extremely active. They are leaders in peacemaking efforts and often hold conferences which involve international guests. Bishop Azariah told me about some of the activities, including a small group from Sweden that visited and taught about music. I was intrigued. The Diocese regularly holds educational gatherings and gatherings to promote peace and well-being. They love music and sometimes hold Christian music conventions. HERE is the link to their blog post describing the activities. Their Facebook page is very active and describes events taking place around the Diocese. 
The hospitality and friendship to me has already been amazing and I am super excited about having such a wonderful opportunity!
* Basic info and some interesting statistics here about Christianity in Pakistan.
The Episcopal New Service article HERE about the 2015 Pakistani bombings is eye-opening. In 2013, there were also bombings in Peshawar and Lahore. An article by the Episcopal Digital Network has details HERE. In looking for other info about the bombings, I also found this.
Pakistan's notorious Blasphemy Laws are also still in effect. Created to prevent blasphemy against any religion, these laws have been used differently in various situations by various groups over the years with most of the accusations against non-Muslim minorities, resulting in life in jail or death penalties which many believe were not warranted. Though I'm not sure if the death penalties have actually been carried out, I have read that Pakistanis have been killed as a result of blasphemy via mob attacks and similar events. Here is a recent story (Nov. 2015).
Photo of Christmas festivity in Christ Church, Lahore - by Shekeel Medeeha - 
How Safe is Pakistan?
Well, that varies depending on your source. Keeping a low profile, avoiding crowds and heavily-populated places, and limiting publicity/media/social media about the trip and details is recommended. In spite of U.S. Dept. of State Travel Warnings to defer non-essential travel to Pakistan, few Americans have been affected by incidents.
I'm very excited for the possibility of taking this trip! I feel called to share my gifts in my own special way and to talk to the people there, make new connections, and show them that we are the same. Because there are not very many Americans in Pakistan, I feel like having this chance to make a good connection is a unique and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I am especially honored and blessed to be doing it as an Episcopalian and with the connections that will be made. We have the chance as travelers (different sometimes than tourists) to stand up to society's fears, bust through stereotypes, create goodwill, and see beyond the cover of the book. It helps us see life for the beautiful, diverse, wonder that it is.
~ Caroline
(written Nov. 2015 and slightly updated March 2016)

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