By Khushbakht Peters*
I belong to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. It is a Muslim majority country, where out of the population of 193 million only five per cent are religious minorities. 2.5 per cent are Christian, with the remaining 2.5 per cent comprising of Hindus, Sikhs, Baha’i, Kalasha, Parsis and Buddhists. Living in any country as a religious minority has its challenges. These appear in educations, finances and social status, and even more troublesome challenge comes in the form of intolerance, a generalised unacceptability towards religious minorities.
Times are changing, and with more awareness by the media, education and emphasis on human rights, this intolerance is reducing day by day. But still in many parts of the country narrow-mindedness prevails, more in the rural areas than in the cities. This bigotry can also be seen to greater extent when a person goes higher up in their studies and career. A common example of this is the minority seats in professional government colleges, one seat per college, for which many students of the religious minorities apply. Through this there is an assurance that only those few who end up receiving an education on those seats would excel, a strategic way of not allowing many other students who are from a different faiths to succeed.
Another challenge that we face as Pakistani Christians is that most of us are financially weak. As we progress in our studies, fewer and fewer families are able to support their children in their college and university studies. As a result only a few Christians get to a professional level.
With all the challenges, the ones who cannot face them end up leaving the country. No doubt, it is an easy option. But to stay in the country and face the everyday challenges requires guts. I feel it as a courage that only God is able to provide. These are the people who truly make a difference, an impact in the society. They are ones who bring about a revolution where they are placed.
When I got into the medical college, I was the only Christian in a class of 250 students. After my graduation, I started working at a state tertiary care hospital where I was the only Christian doctor in the entire hospital. Now, as most of you would be able to relate, being the only Christian in your class or college or working place, this become quite pressurising sometimes. One of the reasons for this is that you are under a constant scrutiny. Others whenever talking about you will usually refer as “that Christian girl / boy”. It can be quite uncomfortable some times. But why not take up such a situation and make something great out of it?
Dr. Seuss said “Why fit in when you were born to stand out”. We as Christians, in a non-Christian working environment, can sometimes not totally fit in. So instead, why don’t we use this to our advantage?
Where I come from, most of the people rarely have an interaction with Christians in a position of authority in the working place. Like I said before, since many Christians are not able to get higher education and therefore cannot reach to good jobs. The few who do receive an education and reach a position of authority are respected by the people around them, but are also scrutinised greatly, which makes their working environment twice as hard.
As a Christian, in most cases we are the only Bible that non-Christians will ever see. So it is essential to try to live according to the guidance that is provided in the New Testament or in other words, become the living Bible. It is written in Colossians 3:23:
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”
It is essential for us to work with compassion and with all our heart. This will not only bless us, but will bless those around us, as the work will be done in time and with God’s favour. We should learn to adopt the character of Christ, to be humble as He was, and treat people at our workplace with love and empathy, with respect and kindness regardless of their social status, or faith. It is not easy to do all this, and be out there by yourself. But it is said in Philippians 4:13:
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Another important role that Christians having professional jobs contribute is, in making character of the people who are junior to them; becoming a role model. By behaving in a way as the Bible teaches us, with compassion and kindness, we are able to lift up and encourage them, something that is not common in the world nowadays, where everyone is busy in trying to concentrate on himself only.
It is then these people who respect Christians because of the impact with the one Christian they had; they tell their families about their experiences. And so this respect gets passed on from them to their families, and more religious tolerance develops in the society. However, that being said, there will always be those still that will say that a religious minority, or more specifically a Christian should not be in a place of authority. But such people are always a few. Because of them we should not lose confidence in ourselves.
The lives that we manage to change along our journey are more important and more in number than those who disapprove of us. We should continue live like “a Living Epistle of Christ” with utmost faith in God, and always remember that the Holy Spirit is with us.
This piece was published with permission from the author.
*An eye surgeon from the united Church of Pakistan’s Diocese of Peshawar. She writes about the challenge of living as a Christian in a minority context.