IMG 20240202 WA0020Reflection on my Recent trip to Pakistan and illness; March 1, 2024

 I went on my second trip to Pakistan with my husband, Dan for two weeks at the end of January and the beginning of February. This time we brought 4 lay members of the congregation he serves and one member of the congregation I serve. They had a chance to see the profound Christian faith of people whose faith is precious to them because they are not always free to practice it in a majority Muslim country where Islam in preferred, practiced and enforced by the national government. Christians make up only 2% of the population, but as the 5th most populous country in the world, that still leaves them with about 1.2 million Chrsitian belivers nation-wide. 

But they are isolated. No one visits Pakistan because of it's reputation for violence (mostly extremists near the Afghan border who prefer a more strict and conservative enforcement of their version of Islam). To have Christians visitors from another country come and preach, visit, and pray with them, means the world to these Pakistani believers. Everywhere we went, we were treated like royality and loved like family. It is both startling and so affirming and connecting to be with believers so fervent in their faith and overjoyed to be connecting with others who share their hope in Jesus Christ.

The night before we were supposed to leave, I got very sick from apparent food poisoning from something I ate at another church event that afternoon (we think it was the potato salad). After 36 hours of being sick, our host, a pastor insisted I go to the hospital. By the time I got to the ER, my blood pressure was 80/40 and I learned later that my kidney function had dropped and my creatnin levels were high. I was admitted for 2 days to bring up my fluids, give me antibiotics, and get me out of the danger zone. 

But as Pakistanis live every single day as an often persecuted minority, spiritual transformations almost never come from success and strength. As Fr. Richard likes to say, "the way down is the way up." It is when we fail, when we are in crisis, completely out of control, or flat on our back in a foreign hospital, at the mercy of others for everything, that life's gifts and their spiritual depth come in to sharp relief.

What do we behold from the hospital bed, the persecuted minority, the graveside,  the cavernous ache of our heart, the bottom of the cross, or the closed tomb of holy Saturday? After my recent ordeal, I see with fresh eyes. Now I see infinite love from a God who manages to find us wherever life has swallowed us, carrying us through friends and strangers alike; I feel the depth of human love that bespeaks holiness across time and space that I dare not take for granted (especially in my children); I witness a Chrsitian community in Pakistan and in my own congregation so full of gifts and spirits coming alive it takes my breath away, and brings me to my knees in gratitude; I hear a new internal conversation between my spirit, which is always saying, yes, and my body which is sometimes saying, no or go slow, and I sense the only way to work this out is by living it, with the incarnate Jesus and other believers as my companions.

The way down is the way up, and the way up is the way down. Maybe that's why we practice walking down with Jesus during Lent. So when hardship happens we know God is working up to spiritual renewal and resurrection for those with spiritual eyes to see. May we all see more clearly this Lent. May we be willing to walk with those who are persecuted for just believing, and learn to not take for granted the pure gift that expressing our faith affords us.

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