Sample Chapters: The Priest from Pakistan

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1 

Germinating Process 

 

I believe the journey of our faith begins as soon as we come to a realisation of our existence in the world, even without a clear knowledge of our exact beliefs. We are trained to join in with our family’s religious practices and rituals, if they have them, whether we agree with them or not. As we know, most faiths have traditions and practices to perform when a child is born into a family. Whether that child just blindly follows the faith they are born into or whether they have a mind to question and explore for themselves their reasons for believing and exploring the meaning of life, existence, and if there is a God, is another story. Faith can begin as small as a ‘mustard seed’ (Luke 13:19) and can grow as big as a tree. 

In a conversation between Jesus and His disciples, He asked who the crowds thought He was. After hearing the various views, He asked Peter, as an individual, ‘Who do you say I am?’ and Peter replied, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:13-16). 

My earliest memory goes back to the age of three, if not before, living with my siblings in Haripur Hazara, Pakistan, a small town in the north-western province, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. We lived in accommodation owned by the company where our father worked as a stenographer. I don’t think there was any church nearby. We might well have been the only Christian family in the area. We were taught to pray before eating and to give thanks for all we had. I do have faint memories of a worship place in a nearby town and being there with the family over Christmas. They had a Christmas tree with flickering candles on it. It seems funny, but I wondered for many years after about how the candles were just burning and not setting the tree alight! When I grew up, I searched around to see if such candles really existed, not realising that they were actually electric! 

Somehow, I knew that I was part of a Christian family living in a Muslim-majority country. I have strong memories of playing with my siblings and cousins when visiting my maternal grandparents’ house in Manipur, a town near Faisalabad, where my mother’s father was serving in his local church as a type of churchwarden. From what I remember, his duties included going on pastoral visits to church families to pray and offer support. He carried with him the electoral roll register for anyone who wished to pay their monthly contributions towards the church. Here we were surrounded by aunties and uncles (our mother’s siblings) who loved and cared for us dearly. 

I was born on 13th May 1952, in the town of Lyallpur,1 Punjab, Pakistan, at St Raphael’s Hospital, situated close to ‘Dada’s’ vicarage – my father’s father. Faisalabad is an average city; it could be called the Manchester of Pakistan because of the many textile industries present there.  

Faisalabad is famous for its clock tower. Following a decision by Sir James Lyall, the Deputy Commissioner, the Foundation was laid on 14th November 1905 by the British Lieutenant governor of Punjab Sir Charles Riwaz. The tower is located in the older part of the city and in the centre of eight markets (bazaar). From a bird’s eye view it looks like the Union Flag of the United Kingdom. This layout still exists today, and the locals refer to it as ‘Ghanta Ghar’ in Urdu, which means ‘Hour House’. During festivals, the Mayor of Faisalabad delivers a speech at this site and hangs the flag at full mast. 

I came to know that on the very day of my birth, my eldest aunty wrapped me up in a blanket and slipped me out of the hospital. She took me home to show to everyone, when I was still supposed to be under hospital care with my mother. Then she took me back to the hospital without the officials noticing anything! Being the first grandchild, I can only imagine the excitement that there must have been to see a glimpse of me sooner rather than later. 

My Dada Chunilal lived in the city of Quetta, India (now part of Pakistan), with his siblings, before the partition of 1947 when India was divided and Pakistan came into existence. His family were Hindus by faith, Kshatriyas by caste (second in hierarchy in the Hindu caste system) and goldsmiths by profession. They were financially well off and socially well respected. When Dada was a high school student, on his way home he received Christian tracts from British missionaries. He read them all and something about the Christian faith touched his heart; especially, it was the words of the Lord’s Prayer. He was convicted of the truth of God when calling God his ‘Father’. On meeting the missionaries again, he enquired further and was given a Bible to read for himself. It was a new experience for him. Reading the Bible opened his eyes to the reality and existence of God, which he had never known – or maybe deep down he had always been searching for this truth.  

He went to meet the local priest, who was also a Hindu convert. The priest advised him to be baptised into the Christian faith, which he was, a few years later at the age of twenty-five. This news, however, was not taken well by his family, especially by his mother, who was devastated; she was sad because of what she saw as his betrayal of the ancestral faith, but was also fearful that she would be losing him forever. 

Converting to Christianity was like becoming one of the lowest of castes and betraying one’s gods. Dada’s family tried to convince him to convert back to Hinduism, but he stood firm. An initial consequence of now being seen as from a lower caste was that he was not allowed to come in the kitchen area for food; instead, his mother passed the food to him to take away to a separate area, where he ate alone.  

Later, he was told to leave home and was given just a sheet to sleep on and a bowl to drink from. He left home forever and never looked back. He chose the new Christian name of Jacob as his surname and kept the initials of his first name, and so was known as C L Jacob.  

Names are an important part of our identity, given by our parents. Some parents will choose according to the meaning of the name, and some just like the sound of the name. Some people might choose to change their name to a choice of their own, once they are older. It is interesting to note that God, when He calls people for His purposes and plans, often gives them a new name – such as Abram and Sarai (Abraham and Sarah), for example. 

Dada sensed his calling to full-time ministry and was trained in Gujranwala Seminary, Pakistan’s oldest Presbyterian seminary. Later he got married to an orphan girl, Jasmine, who had been raised by missionaries after both her parents died in a plague. After marriage, Dada and his new wife were placed in the town of Sheikhupura in Punjab, which had no established church. He started a house church fellowship there, until the first church building was constructed in 1925, where the congregation grew. He served in Sheikhupura for seven years, where four of his children were born. The fourth child, sadly, died in infancy. They lived in rented accommodation while a permanent vicarage was being built. After this, he was placed in the United Presbyterian Church in Lyallpur in 1933 and served there for twenty-eight years until his retirement, witnessing the Partition of India in 1947. There, four more of his children were born. Altogether, he and his wife had seven surviving children, four girls and three boys.  

Dada’s elder brother once visited him in Lyallpur, after Partition, to offer him his share of the family inheritance, but he refused to accept it, saying, ‘I have left your religion and so I don’t want to receive anything of yours.’ His brother refused to drink or eat anything from Dada’s house and never visited again. Much later on, during his retirement, at our family evening prayers, Dada often testified and quoted the words of Jesus from Luke 18:29-30: 

I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.
(NLT)

Dada could not ever visit India to see his family after Partition, because of the government’s restrictions on travel. It must have been heart-breaking for him, being rejected by his own mother and family and never seeing them again. Reminiscing, he once shared that he remembered fondly how his sister used to make his favourite dessert, using lots of different nuts. However, he did not seem to have any regrets in choosing to follow Jesus.  

I took Dada as my role model. The thought of writing about his life initially came from a relative of mine about thirty years ago. This relative shared with my sister that our grandfather’s life and ministry was so impressive that a book should be written about it. This idea stayed with me and I began to make links between Dada’s life and my own. The more I thought about it, the more these thoughts began to expand into a fuller picture in my mind. I kept pondering on it and began to gather information from his children about his life and ministry. I noted that my own life story had its origins in his ministry.  

Looking back at Dada’s life, I am inspired to adopt the same kind of committed church ministry that he exercised. While growing up, I remember seeing him in his study, reading and preparing sermons. The sermons were handwritten in a notebook. Sometimes he would sit in his rocking chair in the vicarage garden going over the sermons in his mind.  

Also, I observed his regular prayer habit. First thing in the morning, in his study, on his knees beside his chair, he would spend time in prayer. I remember thinking this was an amazing way to begin the day! He always prayed prayers of thanksgiving and supplication out loud. 

 I treasure a paperweight in my study, which used to sit on his desk. It takes me back to my childhood. Dada would make regular visits to the surrounding areas on his pushbike to conduct evening prayer meetings. This he did wholeheartedly and with great dedication each week. 

I must have been about five when I accompanied Dada to an evening worship meeting that was held in my primary school hall. It was late and I dozed off on the bench. I started crying with embarrassment but was picked up and sat next to Dada. On another occasion, I accompanied Dada to visit a very sick man. He prayed for him and I came to know later that the man died soon afterwards. Now I value the purpose of this ministry, when I serve in this capacity. Maybe accompanying Dada was a small vision of my future calling. 

After many years in ministry, I still long to adopt the regular habit of kneeling down in silence, to pray and spend quality time with God. I hope that one day I will get into this sacred habit! I have always been encouraged by my spiritual director to begin my quiet time with five minutes and then increase gradually, so I am getting into the habit and valuing the spiritual enrichment. For me, prayer, thanksgiving and confession are a way of life and I take heart in it.  

Holding evening family prayers is another habit that I always long to adhere to on a more regular basis, but it has its stops and starts all the time. Our family and community celebrations always begin with Scripture reading and prayers of blessings.  

Dada’s strong and clear faith and determination to follow Jesus have always inspired me, and the way he sacrificed all that he could have inherited for the sake of the gospel. As an act of remembrance, I bought a chair in St James Church, Alperton – where I ministered – with an inscribed plaque saying, ‘Chunilal Jacob, a pioneer of our Christian heritage’. This opportunity was given when, in the new building of St James’, the pews were replaced by the chairs. We could buy a chair and a plaque with an inscription of our choice, and that’s what I did. It came as a pleasant surprise to know that I share my date of birth with Dada – and he was baptised on the same date as I got married.  

I also learned from what did not work so well in my family and I have tried to avoid those things. I came to know that Dada was quite disciplined and strict with regard to his children’s education and spiritual growth. All of them had to get up at 5am to read the Bible before breakfast or getting ready for school. This I understand was not received well by his children, though they all kept to the Christian faith and have been practising Christians throughout their lives. For my children, I held to the example given in the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15, who learned from his mistakes when given the space and opportunity. I tried to give them the teaching and the example that I could, and left the rest to themselves and God. 

Marriage was another important life matter on which I needed to have an opinion. Dada arranged our uncles and aunts’ marriages, with careful attention being paid to matching them up with Christian families. All their marriages seemed to work. Marriage was for life. Once married, one had to live in obedience to make it work for the honour of God. Divorce was unacceptable within the local culture. Women had no other option, choice or support system to turn to.  

I observed the ins and outs and saw some safety and protection within this system of marriage, and so decided to follow this family tradition for myself. In addition to this, I knew that in general I was not great at making the best choices! It was nearly half a century ago when I ‘tied the knot’ with my husband, Stanley, and I am not saying that the road has always been easy.  

Of course, the world’s view of marriage has dramatically changed over the years. With my children, I decided to give them a free choice within limits, believing that it is good to meet and get to know your prospective partner before committing to marriage. Marriage seems to be a complex issue now, and to make it last requires a lot of work! I believe in the rule of God – taking marriage as a covenant and remembering the commandment of love. The vows taken need to be valid for the rest of one’s life. It might well be worth repeating such vows each wedding anniversary! The choice of a partner should be made with God’s wisdom and clear guidance.  

I am aware that some people reading this may have gone through a difficult and hard process of divorce, but God is our loving Father who is capable of redeeming any situation and can use any of our circumstances for His good purposes. 

Learning about monetary issues faced by Dada was important for me. He had a large family and lived on a small stipend. Grandma played her helper’s role beautifully by sewing clothes for her own children and for her neighbours and selling buffalo milk to raise money to feed the family. When younger, Grandma had been keen to learn to sew, knit and crochet, and made a request to be trained in these skills. So she was sent to a special school to be taught these things.  

Just as Eve was given the role of helper (Genesis 2:18-24), I also have tried to fulfil this role to the best of my ability. It was important for me to learn about managing finances and budgeting for the benefit of the family. I learned we are only stewards of our money and we will be answerable for it all to the Mighty Giver.  

I knew that I needed to hear about other people’s experiences and listen to their wisdom to sustain my marriage relationship; I needed to understand my own likes, my dislikes, who I am, the purpose of my life – and my focus needed to be on the bigger picture. I understood that we grow and change with time; I needed to grow in love and knowledge of God to understand human relationships better.  

It is often said that we cannot change the other person; we need to change ourselves first. For example, choosing to live in love and peace, choosing not to break communication and not letting the ‘sun go down’ on anger (Ephesians 4:26) without apologising and making up: this is what the Bible commands me to do! Jesus said, ‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another’ (John 13:34), and the whole of 1 Corinthians 13 explains that the greatest of all things is love (v13)! Ephesians 5:25 states, ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church’, and verse 28 carries on to say, ‘husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies’.  I live in hope that the seeds of the Word will continue to sprout in my journey of grace.  

 

2 

Sprouting Seeds 

 

When I was six years old, in 1958, my mother was taken ill with tuberculosis (TB) while pregnant with her sixth child. My father was not happy with her for not telling him earlier about this illness and took her straight to Sialkot Mission Hospital, which was more than four hours away from Faisalabad. All five of us children were sent back to Faisalabad to live with our grandparents and uncles and aunts in the vicarage. Our father returned to Haripur Hazara for his job and visited us during his holidays. 

While I missed my parents greatly, I look back with great fondness at this time of living with my grandparents, appreciating what a privilege it was to be growing up in the vicarage and witnessing Dada’s spiritual discipline and dedicated ministry. We received immense love and care from aunts and uncles. The vicarage was surrounded with all kinds of native fruit trees, which we were privileged to enjoy. There was also a swing attached to a large tree, which we spent many hours sharing with our cousins during their school holidays. I learned recently that the vicarage was demolished a few years ago and now a modern church building, with the capacity to hold 5,000 people, stands on the site! 

Having one buffalo on the property back then, Dada grew a field of green corn around the vicarage grounds for the buffalo to eat, and we enjoyed fresh milk, butter and lassi (a kind of yoghurt drink). There was an old-fashioned hand-driven cutter to cut the greens for the buffalo, which a house maid first had to cut from the field and then chop finely. 

I have strong, happy memories of playing for hours in the shade of the trees with our cousins and neighbours’ children. Extended families all living together seems a thing of the past, but I remember its great value and warmth, where everyone lived in peace and harmony, and where love and respect was given and received by all.  

During the school holidays, our aunts and their children visited us, and big pots of food were cooked by my grandmother on the homemade wood burner, which was common practice at that time. Chapatis, flatbreads, were cooked in a clay tandoor oven, also heated by a wooden fire, and then shared around the big dining table. Men of the household were not expected to help with cooking or washing up – this was typical of the Asian culture of that time! 

My fondest memory was that of walking with Dada to church. Every Sunday he would bring back and forth a large clock from the church wall for safekeeping at home. We enjoyed Sunday school, which was led by our youngest aunt, and learned a lot of the Scriptures and Old Testament stories. The class consisted of about thirty children, most of whom continued to hold to the Christian faith and did well in later life. 

Our grandmother was a hardworking woman. Having raised seven children of her own, she now had the task of taking on the five of us. She worked hard in the kitchen with the help of the live-in housemaid. Our grandmother was a woman of faith who was fully involved in church life, leading the church choir on Sundays. Our bedtime stories included Bible stories and moral tales that I still remember to this day.  

I always benefited from Grandma’s stories about what life was like in the past, even before Partition. I wished that she might always stay with us. She lived to see me leaving for the UK and died a few years later. I will always treasure her empathy and help in many ways. 

Our evening family prayers were held in the open air, in the courtyard of the vicarage, with my uncles and aunts present and led by Dada. These times have left a great impression on me. We sang a psalm, read part of the Scriptures and Dada would share a short message before asking one of us to pray.  

Once during such a family prayer time, in the vicarage courtyard, I remember the unforgettable sound of the flapping of wings, like that of a big bird passing over the vicarage. This was explained by our aunt as an angel of protection that passed by each night. My sister told me that after Dada’s retirement, in the new house, when we went to sleep on the rooftop, she also heard the sound of flapping wings. Upon asking Dada, she was told that it was the angel of protection who passed over every night. For her this memory has always been comforting, no matter what she has gone through in life.  

Another incident I can vividly recall, and one which we can all laugh about now, was that during an evening prayer time my younger sister saw a cat coming and started to scream. The rest of us automatically started to scream as well and that was the end of Dada’s prayer time! 

One autumn morning, Dada took me to visit my mother in the hospital in Sialkot. It was a large ward with many beds spread out in it, as is necessary with TB. I don’t remember coming too close to her, yet I will always remember that scene. It would prove to be the last time I saw her face. I will always be grateful to Dada for taking me to see her. It was after the birth of my brother, the sixth sibling, and I remember my mother saying to me, ‘I am getting better now and soon will come home.’ Yet in the same year of 1958, on Christmas morning when our new clothes were being ironed for church, a telegram arrived from the hospital telling us that our mother had died earlier that morning. 

I sensed from the whispers what had happened without even being told of the contents of the telegram. That day, no one apart from Dada went to church, and after the service the flow of people started coming with their condolences, which is very much part of our cultural tradition. This can continue for many weeks after someone has passed away. 

It must have been on the second visit after the death of my mother that my maternal grandad announced, ‘Our daughter has died now and we will have nothing to do with your family from now on.’ I assume it may have been because of family tensions but I was too young to know the reason. We did not meet again for many years. 

Our mother was buried in the city of Sialkot graveyard. My father, his brother, both grandfathers, along with my elder aunt, all went to bury her, and on their return my aunt hugged me and cried out loud, saying, ‘We have buried your mother under tons of earth.’ That was the only verbal confirmation given to me as to what had just taken place. 

Soon after this, my life went back to so-called ‘normal’. It was decided that the newborn baby boy be given up for adoption. The reason could have been that it was too much for our grandmother to cope with, as she already had the five of us to bring up! Alternatively, there could have been fears as to whether my mother’s TB would have had a negative impact on his future health. We did meet him again much later on, when he was married and had his own family. He looked healthy and happy with no such issues. 

Our uncles and aunts gave us the best love anyone could give. We enjoyed their wedding ceremonies. When my aunts and uncles got married and started having children, I innocently thought, ‘It is always only after the wedding ceremony that they start having babies. It must be an answer to the prayers offered at the wedding ceremony.’ Now I smile about this and tell it as one of my embarrassing stories.  

I was one of the flower girls at my uncle’s wedding, along with my cousin. After seeing them, a young, happy couple, the thought of mortality crossed my mind that they would have to die one day as well. I must have been eight years of age. I began to realise that we all have to die one day, and I thought, ‘That means it’s not worth doing anything in this world.’ 

I carried on pondering these questions. Slowly but surely, from Sunday school teaching and learning from the Scriptures, the purpose of life became clear. I understood that God’s love shown to the world in Jesus Christ has given me assurance that death has no hold on me, and that after death I will live with Jesus forever, because of His sacrifice on the cross for me, His blood being sufficient to cleanse me of my sins.  

I must have been about nine years old, three years after my mother died, when I began to realise that this whole experience of being raised without your own mother present was not a natural one. This seemed a rough start to life, and I always felt a kind of emptiness inside. Maybe this has left me with a sense of apprehension in life, as though something important is missing. It caused me to grow up quickly, and my prayers always go out for the children of the world that they may grow up in secure and loving homes. 

While my cousins had their mothers with them, the recurring question as to why this had to happen to me often crossed my mind.  

I have grown up not knowing what a mother’s love is like. Mothering Sunday has always involved mixed feelings for me, not really being able to relate fully to having a mother, although our stepmother tried her best to play her role. Yet now, through my relationship with my own children, I feel I can enter more into this day of celebration. Also, my Christian faith reassures me that God is both my Mother and my Father. He loves me way more than my earthly mother could ever love (Isaiah 49:15) and can fill all the gaps in my life. I know that He has always been there for me, no matter what I have gone through in the past.  

Being the eldest child, I was expected to behave well, to do well in life and to be a role model to my younger siblings. Though I failed many times, in God’s grace He was present at every step to pick me up again.  

My primary school education was at a church school, where my life was enriched with daily assemblies and a period of Christian studies. All the teachers were of the Christian faith, and I was often asked to tell Bible stories in front of the class. Unlike in recent years, the Muslim students had no objections to learning the Scriptures with us. 

One end-of-year results day, the speech from the head of the school left a great impression on me. She said something about our results being according to the work we had done throughout the year, and nothing could be changed now. The thought of potentially not doing well worried me and I made a promise to myself that from the next year I would work hard all year round! I was relieved to hear that I had passed my exams and I kept the promise to always work hard in the future. From that incident, I learned that our life is not about experiencing individual separate events and then just forgetting the past; rather, all life events are interconnected, and God has intended for us to live life as a whole and to complete the journey. 

My school was about a kilometre away from home. The thought of walking alone back and forth scares me now, but it was much safer to do so back then. Later, when attending high school, I remember commuting along with other students in a simple horse-drawn carriage, known as a tonga. That led to some fun incidents! Sometimes the horse tripped and the people in the front had no safety bar to hold on to or seatbelts to wear, so they tipped forward. Conversely, the people at the back went up into the air! Thinking back, it was actually quite scary, but that was the most common and economical way of commuting at that time. 

It was becoming difficult for grandmother to take care of us. About four years after my mother died, at the insistence of Dada, my father remarried – I was about ten at the time. He and his new wife settled back in Haripur Hazara with my three younger siblings, leaving me and my sister with our grandparents. We visited them in the summer holidays with Dada and were accompanied by our cousins from Lahore. This is where I remember our aunt teaching us a short prayer to say before eating food. We have all remembered it and have passed it on to our grandchildren as well.  

I have lasting memories of distant hills facing our housing development, and pleasant weather with a cool breeze in the hot summers. Haripur Hazara is also known for being the birthplace of our former president, Ayyub Khan. 

The memories of this place, the calm and pleasant atmosphere, the playtime with friends, are very fresh in my mind. Our house had a large front garden, where my father nurtured his interest in gardening and had a vegetable patch, and on our visits we enjoyed organic vegetables and fresh fruits. The closer side of the house had pretty, colourful flowers growing there.  

My grandmother and aunts inspired me to sew and knit. We had to wear knitted cardigans, and that encouraged me learn to knit for myself and for my siblings as well. Most of my cooking skills and tips came from my father, who cooked for us and gave us helpful hints. And when I developed a passion for gardening, I could easily give credit for it to my father’s influence – without realising at that time how important this seed analogy would become; it was going to be part of my faith.  

 

 

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