Saturday, November 05, 2011

In exalted company

I spent today at a conference for believers from a Pakistani Muslim background and those interested in church planting among UK Pakistanis. Click on the title for the link to the work. Here are the photos from the day. You need to be on Face book to see the captions. https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150351435118152.346138.621918151&type=1&l=3c144f7d19
You will see the main speaker of the day was our most prominent British Pakistani Christian, former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, the most outspoken evangelical in the Church of England.

There are an estimated 1,200,000 Pakistanis in the UK, all but 100,000 in England with 30,000 in the High Wycombe area where we were meeting. Most are from the Mirpur area of Pakistan. There are no Pakistani Muslim Background Believer (PMBB) churches. The conference theme was Social, cultural, theological and political factors contributing to or hindering Church Planting among Pakistanis in Britain. Attendance was around 170.

Bishop Michael told how Pakistani cultures (not all is uniform) are Islamic but not exclusively so. Pre-Islamic elements are there and even the Islamic may have other, earlier, Christian origins e.g. prostration in prayer and removing footwear for worship. He said dialogue is a prerequisite for evangelism. Christians need to listen to Muslims and be concerned for social cohesion. It is easier to talk on spiritual matters to Pakistanis than to the British. The spiritual is part of Pakistani life. Historically church planting has been by extraction of converts from the Muslim community and hoping they would survive in churches which did not reflect their culture. It is therefore not surprising that in UK it is estimated that 60 to 90% of converts revert to Islam what with the poor welcome for integration in British churches and the pressures from family and friends to return. The bishop is not a fan of homogeneous convert churches but sees they could initially have a place in church planting. He sees the church in the New Testament as expressed in church in households, church in cities or towns and church universal. The church must have the deposit of faith and a ministry to pass on and guard that teaching. He concluded with a critical assessment of the insider movement. While sympathising with insider motives he did not see how they could join in the Muslim prayers. In Pakistan where the Ahmadiyya are not allowed to call themselves Muslims, will not insiders be seen as people engaged in deception, pretending to be Muslims when they are not?
After lunch we divided into seminars and the bishop and I were the speakers on "What are the theological, political and financial factors contributing to establish churches for PMBBs (Pakistani Muslim Background Believers in Christ) in the UK?" Most of the questions to us were on aspects of witness to Muslims and I felt I was the small fry next to the expert big fish. For my part I confessed the unfriendliness of English churches was a big problem. I as an Englishman often did not feel welcomed in good evangelical churches so i am not surprised PMBBs do not feel at home. The English sometimes welcome the foreigner but rarely with a warm embrace. Church members need to be educated in friendship evangelism of Muslims and meetings for mutual understanding should be arranged with local mosques. Evangelism is not the only aim but also social cohesion.

Other seminars considered the needs of MBB women, freedom, contextualisation and social and cultural factors for MBBs. Women are particularly vulnerable. Converts lose their family and does the church make a new one. The cost of discipleship for a woman may involve depression. It could cost here life,

There if freedom in the UK but converts suffer persecution and pain. Their families suffer too feeling shame and loss.

Contextualised fellowships would be welcomed as a way to show Christianity need not have a Western cultural expression.

The church needs to be the new family for converts. It must help them overcome their fears. I personally have for many years believed there will be no great advance in Muslim evangelism until churches corporately can show something better than the Muslim's umma - community.

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