Short-term diaries: India and Pakistan

Robbie Strachan

After ten days in Delhi, I flew up to a town called Amritsar in North India and then, the following morning, crossed the border into Pakistan. I caught a taxi from the border to Lahore and then travelled to Islamabad.

Islamabad and Rawalpindi are closely connected ‘twin’ cities - the former, with its carefully planned network of streets, feels modern and sparsely populated; the latter, a sprawling metropolis home to 4.7 million people, was much more lively. Zarephath Bible Seminary (ZBS) is in the heart of Rawalpindi, and was started in 1982 by evangelical mission agencies in response to the great shortage of trained Pakistani Christian workers. It has a well-stocked library, offices and lecture rooms and it has had its fair share of Western lecturers and principals, although currently it is run by a Pakistani national. The students come from all over Pakistan.

On the receiving end of Pakistani hospitality. The writing says: “TOKEN OF LOVE. For Robbie Strachan. Oka Hill College”.

For two days I was able to join ZBS students for classes and a few games of volleyball. It was great to meet them, to hear about the churches they hoped to pastor in, and to see the way in which the seminary was preparing them for ministry. I was bowled over by Pakistani generosity - I left the college laden with gifts and ‘tokens of love’, including clothes, jewellery for Evie and a pair of beautiful vases. Another example of hospitality - unbeknown to me, the principal had opted to run lectures on a public holiday, just so that I could experience more of seminary life. And, amazingly, all the students had shown up!

It was interesting to me to compare the urgency and intensity of the three-day conferences in Delhi - which are designed to support pastors without taking them out of their context - to the more traditional approach of ZBS. Students worked on academic-style essays, learnt biblical languages, and some were hoping to study PhDs. One class I sat in stressed the importance of reading the newspaper and engaging with culture and politics. Although many of the people in their congregations will be poor and uneducated, it certainly felt like those training at ZBS were taking theological study seriously. I guess I wasn’t there long enough to really analyse the pros and cons of these different models of training, and how they impacted on local churches… It seems like both are necessary, but it’s something I’d like to think more about.

To re-read Robbie’s earlier blog posts, click here for part 1 and here for part 2.