After a chance meeting with an Interserve partner on a train, I decided to take a year out from my career as a doctor to work in Bach Christian Hospital, in the north-west of Pakistan. Having cared for the Pakistani community of north Manchester during my time as a junior doctor, during a time of increasing controversy in the press regarding the Islamic world, I wished to see for myself this much maligned society, try and understand how the message of Jesus fit into it all, and decide whether I had anything to offer there.
Northwest Pakistan was a stunningly beautiful place to visit and culturally fascinating with a variety of ethnic groups. By day, the bazaar surrounding the hospital was bustling with traders selling mangoes, spices or (inevitably) mobile phone credit, as well as people servicing the ageing lorries plodding along the Karakoram highway. By night, to step out of the hospital compound was to step into a world of wild-eyed silver-bearded men, smoke from fires burning beneath metal plates containing sizzling kebabs, and ovens baking naan.
One of the strengths of Pakistani culture is the lavish and endless hospitality to visitors. In a country where I had anticipated there might be some hostility towards Westerners, I received free meals, bus fares, chai, haircuts and more from strangers, yet fierce refusal when I tried to reimburse them. Another virtue is the strength of the family structure. It was touching to see fearsome turbanclad Pakhtun men tenderly spoon-feeding their frail demented father. I miss this, back amongst the often disjointed families and individuals in English society.
It is very hard to summarise the ways in which my time in Pakistan developed my understanding of the gospel message, of mission and of the Islamic world. Certainly, it was not how I had anticipated it. There, with people with whom I’d assumed I’d clash I found relaxed, pure-hearted friends.
Opinions I’d previously ridiculed I now, seeing them in context, understood. It was also truly inspiring to meet those individuals who had chosen to spend their life serving in Pakistan. In the face of a struggling infrastructure and significant security threats, and away from their family and friends, the teachings of Jesus took on a whole new meaning. It was also inspiring to meet the Punjabi Christians of Pakistan. Should you ever become comfortable in coffee-morning western Christianity, this was cold water in the face –people making huge sacrifices and taking big risks to follow in the path of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I found that if I was open and vulnerable I could form a number of good friendships, some of which I still maintain. I was also able to provide real tangible help to a community in need of medical help.
The author is a former Interserve OnTracker from the United Kingdom.