In Returning from three years of missionary service in Pakistan I had the privilege of traveling with the Rev. and Mrs. W.A. Zoerner, missionaries under the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. Through them I was brought into contact with groups and individuals who are probably not too well known to many of the readers. In telling about them, I have not, in most instances, given any opinion of the work but have simply stated what they have done and still hope to accomplish.
The first country we visited was Italy where we soon made our way to Rome. Here we were drawn to the cathedrals (of which there are many) and particularly we wished to see famous St. Peters near the Vatican. The magnificence of this cathedral is truly breath-taking. The vastness of it—the sumptuous architecture the tremendous and powerful sculpturing—and the colors of masterful paintings rising up above the large columns of marble simply leave one awed. This particular morning was Sunday and mass was being said in the various chapels, all of which opened up into the main part of the cathedral. Our attention was soon drawn to these Chapels and although the altar and the priest, and indeed all of the details were beautifully arranged, it was yet hard to feel a sense of worship with all the tourists milling outside the rail, drawing the attention of the worshippers within. As we walked on toward the main altar the sun came through the stained glass windows high up in the chancel and shone down on some small figures sitting there studying the dome up above them. What were they thinking as they sat there? Were they worshipping the God who gave men the gift to perform this masterpiece? Was it making them realize their own insignificance before a mighty creator? Or was it perchance making them proud of a church which could display such art and such wealth? There was power in that cathedral; a power one could feel as well as see as one watched the service of worship of the Cardinals and other hierarchs of the church.
This same Sunday we went to visit the Waldensians at their seminary, a large three or four story building covering about a city block, the money for which had been given by a wealthy American lady of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. The Waldensians date back to the time of the Reformation when they started their protestant movement in the Alps in Northern Italy. Theirs is a history of tremendous courage and persistence through persecution. We happened on a meeting of a group of Christians who had come in for a Sunday afternoon of fellowship with the Protestants in Rome. We were greeted by two of the seminary students, one an American exchange student from North Carolina and one a senior in the seminary who spoke to us in very good English. The enthusiasm of these students was catching, and although the Italian student realized when a difficult task he had before him, there was no sign of discouragement in his manner. All of the talk was o( the converts who had been brought into the church. It didn’t matter that they were poor and probably would have a very hard struggle in a small congregation some day. It was enough that there was fruit upon their labors. One of the seminary processors was there, a devout looking man, busily engaged in talking to the people, most of whom came from the farming district east and south of Rome. An American girl was also visiting there, as part of her holiday from the University of Geneva. She, too, had caught the enthusiasm of the group and remarked that in Switzerland the church was dead, but here there was life.
We were in Switzerland a few days later, in the city of Geneva. associated in all of our minds with John Calvin and the Reformation. We had our thoughts taken back many years as we went through the church of John Knox, and saw the house where Calvin lived. We then walked the streets of the old city where we could still feel something of the spirit of the great religious upheaval which took place there.
While in Geneva we were the guests of Dr. and Mrs. Hendrik Kraemer; Dr. Kraemer being director of the Ecumenical Institute of the World Council of Churches. The Institute is housed in the Chateau DeBossey in a lovely country setting overlooking Lake Geneva, all possible through a gift from the Rockefeller Foundation. Dr. Kraemer, who was formerly professor at Leiden University, directs the Graduate School of Ecumenical Studies whose purpose, according to the brochure, is as follows: “The Graduate School aims at contributing to the training of men and women who will thereby have a real knowledge of the Ecumenical Movement, its goal and problems, and become interpreters of the ecumenical cause in their various churches and countries. All the subjects of the course, whatever branch of learning they may come under. are considered, on the one hand, in relation to the problem of the unity of the church and, on the other, to the witness of the Church in the world of today.” The syllabus of lectures for the coming session includes such topics as “The Problem of Communication,” “The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit in Relation to the Oneness of the Church,” “Worship as an Ecumenical Problem,” and others. including Bible study.
Various groups come here to hold conferences and make use of the facilities of the Institute. For instance, during the year 1954 conferences are scheduled for the Y.W.C.A. Executive Committee; for those interested in the place of lay workers in the church: for a group concerned with prison and prisoners; for those dealing with nursing; plus courses to be given for pastors, laymen, and theological students. This is in addition to the regular work of the Graduate School.
Students come from all over the world to attend the Institute, and it is not surprising that they do not all agree in doctrine and beliefs. A few come there quite by accident and be, come interested enough to stay. One such a person was a young man from India who had been converted a number of years before to Christianity. Since that time he had never ceased to arise every morning at four o’clock in order to study his Bible. During his years of study he had memorized large portions of it, both in the Old and New Testaments. Hence, whenever he wished to prove his point in class, he could easily recite whole passages from the Bible with little effort. He was well remembered for this ability and also for the fact that he believed the Bible to be the divinely inspired Word of God.
In the city of Geneva we visited the World Council of Churches headquarters, housed in an attractive chalet and filled with many men and women working on the various activities of the organization. These activities include a study of the problems involved in Church Unity; promotion of ecumenical study projects among member churches (under this department a commission of thirty theologians had been studying; the main theme of the 1954 Assembly at Evanston “Christ-the Hope of the World”): inter-church aid (in 1952 more than eight and a half million dollars was spent by churches for such aid): and service to refugees (in 1952 over 18,000 refugees were resettled from Europe and Asia to other countries). There is also the Youth Department which works through the World Christian Youth Commission and sponsors Ecumenical Work Camps in many countries each year, and the Ecumenical Institute mentioned above.
Near the chalet which houses the World Council of Churches are some Army barracks converted into use as offices. In one of these we sat down for a chat with the Assistant Field Director, The Rev. E. John Hamlin, who was taking the place for a time of The Rev. Chas. W. Arbuthnot, Director of the Overseas Interchurch Service of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. Mr. Hamlin told us of the activities of the eighteen fraternal workers (they are not called missionaries) scattered throughout Europe who are working with others from various denominations, these workers are sent to encourage the churches in their programs of evangelization; to give financial assistance in building churches; to aid in getting treatment for the many pastors, their families, and theological students who have been ill with tuberculosis; to start new centers for work and to encourage the work already done in Spain and Portugal; and to aid in the great refugee problems which center particularly around West Germany where thousands cross the border. In East Germany Christians are still holding services and proclaiming their witness to the world. During the past year a lady from Geneva went to a conference held in that area and came away with a profound respect for those who were openly declaring their faith regardless of the cost. In some cases it meant that even though their children were capable of studying, the government put them into the factory and in many such ways denied them opportunities.
The transition from Switzerland to France was unmistakable. There was a basic peacefulness—almost a complacency—in Switzerland, while in France one felt the deep trouble of the land. In the former there was prosperity while in the latter the lack of it was very noticeable. In one land there was hope and security while in the other there was doubt—doubt about everything, including religion.
The working-man in the factory is disillusioned about his faith-Roman Catholicism, and is turning to communism in sheer despondency. Everyone seems discouraged and hope, less about the government and even more so about the fact that all their life blood is being spent in a useless war Over in Indochina. There is a tremendous amount of drinking in the land and it is demoralizing the home. The picture is gloomy indeed. But it has its bright side, which we became acquainted with as we visited with friends there.
Our first visit was to a small city in Eastern France where we carne to a platform without any stations other than a makeshift building. It had been bombed out during the war and there were no funds available as yet to rebuild it. Friends met us and took us through a cold, dismal rain to their home, where we found real christian love and warmth. There was security here which no amount of political insecurity could erase. Among others in this home was a dear, little old saintly lady who knew and had worked for the French Protestant missionaries all her life. She saved all the stamps from envelopes and collected anything she could which might be saleable and thus bring in money for the mission cause. The other members of the family were also busy and in their spare time made string bags (for carrying parcels) which were later sold. We learned much of the suffering the French people had to endure during the war and of how families had to be separated for years. We learned how children became ill with many diseases, including tuberculosis, because of lack of food, and then how happy they were when the Americans finally came to help. We had gone out to visit one of the American cemeteries and the sadness the thousands of crosses had produced in our hearts was lightened a little by the words of gratitude which they spoke. Our people had lost sons, brothers, and husbands, but they had lost so much more.
Our trip next took us to the home of a pastor near Paris. There were nine children and we could see that the Reformed Church did not have much money to give to its pastors. But, in spite of the fact that they obviously had rule, they yet managed to find the means to give themselves the things that were cultural, and most of the children could play the piano well. The books around the house were classics. There was no loud talking, and consideration and love for each other was evident at all times. We were interested in the fact that one of the girls was taking a course in philosophy in High school. In inquiring into what sort of thing she was being taught, she admitted that it was highly tinged with Marxistic thought. All the other children were going on to the University under government scholarships which are available to those who can maintain a high average in their High School work. The French girls and boys are required to do a great de:li more studying in school than are our children. We were very much impressed with how much they are expected to know. There is now one college in France called College Cevenol which is run under the auspices of the protestants. It has a christian extra-curriculum program and has been able to meet the standards of education set by the other schools. This seems to be the only effort thus far to begin christian schools.
One evening we were invited to participate in a meeting which was held for a small group who were trying to abolish the use of alcoholic drink in their own lives and in the lives of those they knew. Three of the men there that evening had at one time been confirmed drunkards and had threatened many times to commit suicide. They had ail lost their jobs and their homes were all but broken up. Through the influence of the church these men had been able, by renewed faith in Christ and fervent prayer, to get away completely from the use of alcoholic liquors. As a result they had again found work, and their homes were again happy. The organization these folks belong to is called the “Blue Cross,” and anyone who pledges to abstain from all alcoholic beverage receives a pin which he wears. The struggle in France in regard to this is a hard one, but what happened to these three men can happen to others if there is genuine faith.
The Reformed Church of France is also aware of the challenge brought about through the impact of Communism and men are going into the factories to work side by side with those who no longer know what they believe. It is difficult work because the name of Christ is associated with Roman Catholicism and these men and women no longer wish to hear about that. That the Catholic Church is also realizing what is happening is shown by the fact that a priest also felt that he should go into the factories to work with these men who have turned bitter toward the church. In this one particular instance there was great difficulty over the incident and the priest was in danger of becoming excommunicated.
Our respect for the French Protestants grew as we realized under what handicaps they worked. They lacked funds, yet managed to have quite a foreign mission program. They kIcked funds, yet managed to have quite a foreign mission program. They lacked personnel, yet were able to manage an organization such as the “Blue Cress.” There was no complaining about anything except that there was so much to do and not enough people to do it.
The Netherlands, our next visit. is a country dear to the hearts of many of us, but I can say very little about it because my own visit had to be short and was spent entirely in visiting relatives. I was very delighted with the warmth and geniality of the people as they sit talking together over a cup of tea and also at the frequency and interest with which church matters are discussed. I was truly sorry to have to leave the land so soon.
In England we were in a land of a number of friends, for in the work in Pakistan we had met and worked with many missionaries from there and learned to appreciate their spirituality and sense of sacrifice. It was again our privilege to be the guests of a man prominent in the religious field. This lime we went up to Birmingham and spent the Easter time al the home of Dr. and Mrs. J.W. Sweetman. Dr. Sweetman is professor of Islamics at Selly Oak Colleges. Selly Oak is a group of independent, religious colleges which are federated under one governing body in order that students may select subjects in more than one college. Dr. Sweetman was at one time a missionary in India and was a member of the staff of the Henry Marty School of Islamic studies. He is a widely recognized scholar in his field and has a tremendous knowledge or Eastern and Oriental languages, which include Creek, Hebrew, Persian, Arabic, Urdu, and possibly others of which I am unaware.
Since Dr. and Mrs. Sweetman had during the past winter made a tour through Pakistan, and were tremendously interested in the mission work being done, a great deal of the conversation centered around the problems which were currently facing the christian missions, particularly in regard to educational institutions.
In Pakistan there are some 75,000,000 people, of whom 65,000,000 are Muslims and the rest either Hindus, Christians, or others, or the group of 10,000,000 non-Muslims there are about 500,000 Christians, and most of these are in West Pakistan. In no other muslim land do we find such a great number of Christians but neither do we find a group so poor. In West Pakistan there are now forty-three Christian schools and the government is giving the order that islamic religious instruction must be given to the muslim students in these schools. This means learning pan s of the Koran from memory, using a prescribed translation and commentary, plus learning the forms of Muslim worship. This order is not a new thing, but now the government is becoming strict about it because there are thousands of muslim children and young adults attending these schools. Because the Christian community is so poor, practically all of the schools are being subsidized with government funds. If the government’s order is ignored or refused they could cut off all subsidies and most of the schools would have to close, putting many christian teachers out of work, plus taking away a means of evangelization.
Meetings were of course held and much discussion took place, both in Pakistan and abroad. Two proposals have come about as a result of these meetings—the first being that government money no longer be used for the schools, and that about two-thirds of them be closed and the rest amalgamated to give education to the Christian children only. The second proposal was that the schools be secularized and that neither the muslim nor the Christian faith be taught, but that the church be made responsible for teaching the fundamentals of the faith to the children. The first proposal seemed the most acceptable to all. At this lime no decision has been made definitely and the situation may still change, but it is very significant that the Muslims themselves realize that a large group of their young people are growing up without a knowledge of their own faith and are being influenced by Christianity in either a mild or strong way, depending on the school. Dr. Sweetman seemed fairly optimistic about the outcome of this problem (or he relied much on the fact that in the Constitution of Pakistan the leaders are desirous of putting in a Human Rights Bill giving all people freedom of religion within the muslim State. The only difficulty is that putting it in a constitution and exercising that right are two different things, as many Christians call testify, Dr. Sweetman had just finished a twenty-two page report on his visit and this was being sent to all the people in any way connected with the educational problems in Pakistan.
Our journeying came to an end and as we left the shores of England we had time to reflect on what we had seen and heard. There has been so much suffering and so much courage shown. Now there seems to be a feeling of waiting, of expectancy—as though for something else. We, as well as they, wait and pray for the future, wondering what it will bring while remaining confident that a sovereign God reigns and rules over all.