Pakistan and Other News

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Sarah and I have had a very busy couple of weeks! As the six-month mark of our journey approached, hotel clerks began to ask us about it. (Our visa lasts for ten years, but tourists are only permitted to stay for six months at a time.) So we had to make plans to leave the country.

Discussing this odd stipulation on our visa with my parents got the gears turning in my mother’s head. My mom is of Presbyterian missionary stock, born and raised in Pakistan. After my parents got married, she came back with my dad for a month-long visit, but otherwise has not had an opportunity to come back, despite her desire to share this with us kids.

“Wouldn’t this be the perfect excuse and opportunity,” my mom pondered, “to share Pakistan with my eldest son and daughter-in-law?” So she eked out a little vacation time, and we started weaving plans for a whirlwind Pakistan visit.

Of course, Pakistan’s been in the news a lot lately, and not for the best of reasons. Even in neighboring India, Pakistan did not seem like a particularly safe place to vacation, with reports giving the impression that every other person was walking around with a bomb under their clothing. So we weren’t sure how much we should talk about it. We didn’t want to jinx our journey, nor did we want to cause unnecessary concern amongst our friends.

From the time we started planning right up till when my mother landed in Delhi on 20 March, our plans seemed uncertain. The Taliban were gaining strength in the northwest, the Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked, and unrest and turmoil over the deposed Chief Justice grew more and more intense. My uncle, a seasoned international traveler, began to question the wisdom of visiting Pakistan at such a time, and my dad asked if I had any quotable last words, just in case. But then the political storm clouds suddenly cleared. Pakistan is still probably not the safest place in the world, but the immediate danger of chaotic collapse dissipated.

Our week of travel in Pakistan was fantastic. We were lavishly hosted by the Presbyterian Education Board, an organization that runs several private Christian schools in Pakistan. They made all sorts of wonderful arrangements for us. We got to see all of the important sites from my mother’s growing up years, and see some of the tourist sites. We had a chance to get acquainted with the work of the PEB, and the lovely people associated with it. We got to observe mission and challenges of the church in Pakistan, and explore the complex missionary legacy in which my family plays a small part.

A warm welcome from the Christian Boy's High School in Martinpur.
A warm welcome from the Christian Boy's High School in Martinpur.

I felt very at home in Pakistan during our visit. Perhaps it was the warm hospitality of the PEB staff, and the graciousness of all the people we met. Perhaps it was connecting the dots from stories that my mother and grandparents told me when I was growing up. Perhaps it was seeing so much evidence of my grandparent’s work—the people they influenced, the institutions they participated in, the little memorial plaques on the walls of schools and churches. Perhaps it was all of these strings coming together. But this is not something I have felt in India.

Indeed, we enjoyed our time in Pakistan so much that we immediately started planning to go back. We had the foresight to purchase a double-entry visa, and there were still plenty of days left on it. So, within a week of dropping my mother off at the airport, we were on our way back to the Wagah border. We have arranged to work on a couple of short term projects with the PEB, and we are hoping to spend more time with some of the pastors we met, learning more about the life of the church in Pakistan and building connections for the future.

This will be our last subcontinent venture in this leg of our pilgrimage. In May we will be heading back to the States, for the dual purpose of attending graduations and avoiding the summer heat. This summer we will continue in the spirit of our pilgrimage by renouncing many of the material things we have accumulated through life that we have until now avoided thinking about or throwing away by storing them in our parents attics and garages.

I don’t think that we will ever travel quite the same way that we have traveled in India for the past several months. It has been an extraordinarily valuable and broadening experience, but it has also been quite challenging to have so few connections, so little structure, and so little to contribute. I do believe, however, that what we have learned will remain with us, and form us; that our life together will continue to be fed by streams from around the world, and that we will always be “multi-local” people.

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