Today I finally found a church in Pakistan. For the past 3 Sundays, I have been walking, getting lost and taking rickshaws around the city trying to find a church. Only one of these trips was semi-successful and after a lot of money spent, I found a Catholic church halfway through the service, luckily in English.
This morning, I made a trip further into the city – a place called Saddar Town – to look for the Baptist church I was told exists. I finally found it, but I got ‘frozen’ at the gate. Apparently I needed a Pakistani ID saying that I am a Christian, or for me, my passport. Like in all situations when I am caught unaware in this country, I acted the dumb foreigner – speaking only in English and staring blankly around. (It got me out at the airport when this punk demanded a $50 bribe from me and confiscated my yellow fever certificate)
After a while, it worked, and the guard frisked me and let me in. I was pretty excited to find a protestant church, my kind of church, but when I finally got in, there were only 10 people inside. I took a seat in one of the back pews with a lady I could tell was really poor.
If I have never said it, poverty is rife in Karachi. In a place where power means everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING, being poor means in addition to having a hard life, you are treated like dirt…you are ignored, you barely seem to have any rights, you are probably a beggar on the streets alongside the other hundreds, everyone speaks harshly to you, everyone orders you around. If you do work as a cleaner like in my former building, you get paid equivalent to Kshs.500 per month. If you are lucky enough to work in an estate like ‘Runda’ you probably sleep on the kitchen floor and work everyday. In retrospect, it’s interesting that I have gotten so used to it… all the beggars, and the 7/8-year-olds I have seen working in my friends’ houses…
So there we were, sitting in an English Baptist service, all 10 of us.
This lady’s back was slightly hunched but she did have a pretty face… if you bothered to look at her, really look at her, and see beyond her bare cracked and dusty feet, beyond her dull brownish-orange unwashed clothes, beyond the sound of her nasty cough that overcame her every so often and had her doubled up in the pew, you would see peace in that pretty face. Peace as she soundlessly walked to the front of the church to receive the sacrament, peace as she sat down with her palms open praying in earnest…
My mind drifted in and out of the service, ‘what will I cook later, how much should I pay for the ride home, that lady has nice hair, her kid looks like a pineapple’.
Finally, in between the pastor preaching about David’s house and God’s Kingdom, the offering basket came round to me. I held it with one hand as I put the money in, and made to pass it on to the poor woman at the end of my pew. The usher tagged it back slightly, and I thought, ‘oh well, yeah, guess it will be embarrassing for her if I make it obvious she has nothing to give.’
Mark 12 Vs 41- 42: ‘Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched… Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins…’
The offering basket was back at the front of the church,when the woman got to her bare feet, and walked to the front of the church and dropped her money into the basket, before making her way back to our pew.
The look in that lady’s eyes, that pure unwavering peace and pride at having given something to the Father. That look belittled me…
Mark 12 Vs 43-44:’ I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty, put in everything. All that she had to live on.’