Dear South Highlanders,
One of the things our youth at South Highland say consistently every summer, after they have been to Montreat Youth Conference and try to describe it to the congregation is, “You just have to be there to understand fully.“ That is certainly true of the crown jewel of Pakistan, Forman Christian College.
Monday, March 28, our team spent the day at a remarkable institution that has had and is having an incredible impact in shaping the future of Pakistan. Forman Christian College is the only chartered university in Pakistan, and the only liberal arts institution in the nation exposing students to a broader range of learning in and beyond their vocational focus while other universities are strictly vocational.
The story of Forman originates in the vision of its founder, a Kentucky missionary, Charles Forman, who sensed God‘s calling to the people of greater India, long before the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. Beginning in 1849 he began teaching a small group of children under a banyan tree while sleeping in a burial tomb 2 miles away, and while America was engaged in the awful Civil War in 1864 he founded a school that became a college.
Today Forman Christian College is the premier educational institution of Pakistan, having educated two Prime Ministers, the first chief justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court, together with numerous business and professional leaders. It is the school where people of means in Pakistan want to send their children, and it is the school where people of no means are able to send their children because of the incredibly generous financial support that flows into Forman from around the world.
Over our days in Pakistan we have moved from seeing God at work in remote Christian girls and boys elementary schools developed through the PEB Presbyterian education board, to seeing dynamic energized Christian congregations where we worshiped on Sunday, to now visiting a great esteemed Christian College in a Muslim majority nation that has developed the only PhD level program in Christian studies for teachers.
At Forman we met a remarkable group of students with whom we exchanged ideas and had tea (a requirement for any visit) for over an hour. Having seen village life and significant poverty, with people living hand to mouth not knowing where their next meal was coming from, we now engaged with bright inquisitive hope filled young people whose lives have been transformed by the Christian influence of this college.
Forman is one of the few places in Pakistan where people of different faiths can engage openly and freely. The students we spoke with described their friends as coming from all sorts of religious and economic backgrounds. A number of these students come from very poor families and have been able through scholarships to study at Forman.
We were particularly impressed with the strength of the women students we met. They feel fully accepted and able to pursue their individual dreams in this male dominated society. They all felt things are changing in this regard with growing opportunities for women.
As we toured the campus we saw evidence of this commitment by the Presbyterian Women USA whose birthday offering paid for the women’s dormitory, North Hall.
After touring the beautiful campus where we saw the new children’s library in the elementary lab school, which provides children’s education for all levels of Forman employees from faculty members to building maintenance workers, we arrived at the home of chief academic officer vice rector Doug Trimble, and his wife Margie Trimble who serves as chair of the board of the Presbyterian educational board. Doug and Margie hail from Pennsylvania where Doug had served for many years in academic administrative college leadership. They sensed God calling them to this role now in Pakistan. Doug reminded us of the school motto going back to founder Charles Forman, indeed going back to the apostle Paul in Galatians 5:13, “by love serve one another.“
Before dinner we heard from two remarkable faculty members. The first was Dr. Bob Whitmore who came from the United States to establish the PhD level program in Christian teaching and education. He described the approach of teaching Pakistani students to approach Christian scriptures in the original languages and interpret them from within their own Pakistani culture, rather than from established western culture interpretations.
The second was one Forman graduate who has done that very thing, returning to Forman to develop this PhD program after completing his own work in the United States. Dr. Kenneth grew up in a very poor family where his father was a rickshaw driver. Everyone ,he said, looked down on Christians as “pieces of junk.“ Kenneth had a knack for learning and studied hard as a child. Everyone asked him , “why do you do that since you are just a son of a rickshaw driver? You are nothing!”
But his mother was committed to seeing him get an education. She gave up her wedding jewelry as security for a loan for him to study at Forman. However he got a full scholarship because of good grades and was able, he said, “here to explore my identity.”
Kenneth was particularly indebted to the influence of one of our Outreach Foundation friends, Rev. Dr. Robert Johnson, who is along this trip with us. As Chaplain and Professor at Forman from 2005 to 2008, A time just after Forman was returned from government control in 2003, Robert developed A Christian life program that today has flourished into a mighty sheltering tree. Kenneth credited this program in particular, and his experience at Forman with totally changing his life.
“When I think of people who have impacted my life, if I subtract these people of Forman from my life it totally changes my life. People like Robert Johnson helped me find my identity in Christ.”
When Kenneth and his wife were in the United States for study they were about to have their first child. They deliberately made the decision to return to Pakistan for her birth rather than remain in the United States at that time, which would have given her US citizenship and the freedom to immigrate to the United States later in life. As Kenneth said,
“We came back from the states to have our daughter here, not in the states, because our ties are here in Pakistan. We are fully Pakistani and going to stay here as the Lord will use us. We would rather have our daughter be born here and grow up in harder circumstances and yet be a follower of Jesus then to grow up in better circumstances and not be a follower of Jesus.“
One further story is worth telling about how a Pakistan Prime Minister, and Forman grad, General Musharraf returned the college from nationalized government control to its Christian owners in 2003.
Musharraf came a few days early for his first school term. At the gate he was told by the gate keeper he was early and they had no place or food for him, and he would have to leave and come back when school opened.
However, the gatekeeper’s wife, from the kitchen overheard this conversation. She instructed her assistant, “pay no attention to my husband, prepare a room for this boy and food.“ They did, Musharraf was provided for in those days. As Prime Minister he remembered.
At the end of the evening Robert Johnson summarized well for us what he and others at Forman offered to Kenneth and students like him. “They were told they were nothing. We designed a student life and chapel program to say to the students they are something. – and it worked!”
I hope you can get from all of this some sense of what we have experienced. But really, “you just have to be here!”