After holding evangelistic meetings in a number of places in Pakistan in February, we returned last May to see how those who had been baptized were doing. We also wanted to find out if the "seed" sown in the hearts of those who had shown interest but had not been baptized was bearing fruit.
The visit was encouraging. In each place the number who had gone back to their previous way of living was small. Of more than 400 persons baptized, about 7 percent had problems. Almost all of those who found it difficult to attend worship regularly on Sabbaths were in close contact with either the local pastor or some local church members. Not one was hostile to us or to the church.
In each place we visited we were warmly welcomed. In one village we were overwhelmed by the people. In this village the ADRA team had helped get a very sick woman with a heart condition hospitalized. This action had saved her life. There was great respect for the Seventh-day Adventists, who gave help to everyone irrespective of their faith or background. We were told, "No one else is so unselfish." This service without partiality greatly helped us in our ministry. ADRA can bring a valuable plus to evangelism.
As in February, so in May the emphasis in our work was on leading men and women, boys and girls, to saving faith in Jesus, to obedience to God's commandments, to baptism, church membership, service, and witness.
The local pastors gathered for a special workers' meeting. We visited their churches and examined those who wished to be baptized. We explained to the prospective candidates what the nonnegotiable requirements for baptism are. Arrangements were then made for baptismal services at three locations.
Reaping after sowing
The work was greater than the time avail able to complete it. Requests to visit them came from more places than time and energy allowed. Operating under constraints requires the concentration of resources and flexibility in order to be productive. One particular incident illustrates some of the difficulties we encountered.
On the last Wednesday before returning to the United Kingdom, we were to visit a specific area. We could not do so. The next day, early in the morning, the leader of the group we were unable to visit came to see us. He was visibly disturbed at our failure to be with his people. He had gathered a large group for us to speak with, and we had failed to come. We explained our problem to him. Then in detail we told him the mes sage of salvation and what was involved in baptism. We commissioned him in Christ's name to return and tell his people what we had told him. He was moved to tears and embraced us, and we prayed with him. We then went on with the visiting planned for that day.
God's ways are strange but purposeful. Because of a death in a village we visited, it proved impossible to complete our work there. As a direct consequence we were able to visit the village of the leading man who had come to us that morning. We arrived around 8:30 p.m. and found our brother. He was very happy to see us. In a short time he had gathered 40 people in the "courtyard" of his house, and we spoke to them.
The situation presented quite a picture. The people sat down, women on one side, and men on the other. The ubiquitous dogs were present, along with a couple goats, a buffalo, and the hens scratching in the yard. An electric light bulb gave off minimal illumination. The moon overhead was bright in a star-filled sky. Eager faces looked up at us, waiting to hear what we had to say.
In such a setting we told the gospel story. We explained the way of salvation and what is required for baptism and church membership. Before concluding and telling of the heaven God has prepared for the redeemed, we asked, "Are there any questions?" There were several. One came from a lady: "Some people offer sacrifices of sheep and goats. Should we eat these?" It was a strange question. Very simply we explained the central idea of sacrifices, pointing the people to the one and only Sacrifice who can do for them what no other could: "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29, RSV). Then the lady said, "In all my life nobody has ever told me such beautiful things."
We were aware that here amid the poverty God's Holy Spirit was present. The of fer of Jesus as the loving Saviour has power to melt and move human hearts to faith. We realized the graciousness of God. At that moment we felt that we would not change places with an angel in heaven. This was gospel ministry. Here was the converting force of Christ. Here was the wonderful power of Christ and His cross. Here was salvation.
Returning to the hotel we shared the experience with our brethren. They shared with us similar experiences. We felt blessed beyond measure. In some small way we knew that God had used us in making Christ known.
The baptismal joy
The last Friday came. Baptisms were to be held in three different locations. People who had not been baptized in February had now decided for baptism. Three in particular stood out. From the group we had studied with the previous night, the leader we originally spoke to stepped forward for baptism. He embraced us, and as he confessed his faith in Jesus as his Saviour we baptized him. Later we learned that most of the people he gathered together were neglected Christians of another denomination and that they had come to observe and learn more about the Seventh-day Adventist faith.
A middle-aged man came forward. He had serious injuries to his limbs. During the February meetings, he had come forward asking for prayer. Now he could walk quite well. He climbed into the baptismal tank, and we immersed him. He came out of the water, shouting "Hallelujah, hallelujah." His rejoicing was infectious.
An elderly blind lady made her way to the pool. She was helped into the water. Looking at her sightless eyes, we sensed her need, her hope in coming to Jesus. She con fessed Jesus as her Saviour. We told her, "When Jesus returns He will give you a new pair of eyes. The first thing you will see is His beautiful face." We baptized her and realized afresh how precious and wonderful is Jesus and His salvation.
We received information that the next day, Sabbath, a national strike was going to be called. It would paralyze the whole nation. It became imperative that we re turn to Karachi that night. A baptism was planned for the Sabbath afternoon at a central location, and we had to be there. This news required us to rearrange our pro gram. With some inconvenience we made our way back to Karachi and arrived late Friday night.
On Sabbath morning it became clear that the strike had been effective. Nothing moved on the roads, and no one came for the baptism. This was disappointing. After a great deal of effort in February and the intervening months and now in May, the work appeared to have been frustrated. What could be done?
It has been observed that "difficulties do not disappear before a halting spirit." How ever, there is a difference between leader ship and administration. In this particular instance it would not have been considered unreasonable simply to accept the fact that because of circumstances beyond our control, the baptism had to be postponed. The field president was not going to be defeated. Nor would he accept that nothing could be done. After sundown, when it became possible to drive, he borrowed the field mini bus and drove us into the city, where we visited pastors and elders and told them that the baptism would take place the next day, Sunday, at 5:00 p.m. They should bring their candidates into the central location. After hours of nightmare driving we finally got to bed early Sunday morning.
Would anyone come for the baptism? We had agreed to meet at 5:00 p.m. for the baptism. At 2:30 p.m. a group arrived. It was agreed that they should be examined and baptized rather than wait until 5:00 p.m., when the others were expected. What happened that Sunday afternoon was spectacular. Groups of candidates arrived at irregular intervals, and after examination they were baptized.
It was unlike anything we might do in the West. There was no formal procedure. No sermon. No hymns. No voting into fellowship. No presentation of certificates, etc. What happened was a manifestation of the true "communion of saints." Men and women under the direction of the Holy Spirit presented themselves for baptism in order to follow Christ. It was a wonderful scene. The newly baptized, their families, and the church members were spread across the field. At the same time more people were coming to be baptized. There was a marvelous sense of freedom, spontaneity, and joy that blessed all who were present.
Formalism in religious life and worship can lock out the presence, power, and joy of the Holy Spirit. In this respect, there is much the West can learn from the East. We must be open and sensitive to the freedom the Holy Spirit can bring. Sharing as we did in the fellowship of the newly baptized, the regular church members, and the pastors was a taste of what the apostolic witness and experience must have been.
The manner in which a great difficulty had been overcome and how it was turned into a great joy was a sharp reminder that faith can always find a way forward, what ever the difficulties. A strong faith with decisive action is an essential component of a progressive evangelistic work.
Planning for the future
Now, what about the future? We selected seven young men, one from each of the areas where we labored. These men were to be helped, through a scholarship plan, to attend the Pakistan Adventist Seminary for one year to train for gospel work. Funds for the scholarships came from those involved in the evangelistic outreach, with double commitment coming from a group of Danish ladies who were involved. The seven young men from each area were required to make personal contributions to their fees, which for them was not an insubstantial amount. The college and union are also contributing.
The plan sends a message we want the work to continue. The work will not end because we are no longer there. It encourages young men from the communities to commit themselves to the work of spreading the gospel.
Simple means for doing the work
In such settings the real work of evangelism comes to life. Four activities consume and energize the workers prayer, preaching, visitation, and baptism. Nothing else has a claim upon their time and interest. The Lord blesses. Men and women find salvation and join the church. They go out and witness and prepare for a soon coming Saviour. The work advances.
Perhaps the most important lesson we in the West can learn from the East is the simplicity of the Christian mission. Our work is not complicated and difficult. It is simple though profound. It does not require large sums of money. It is not essential to have modern technology, sophisticated methods, extensive levels of higher education, and tightly ordered levels of administration. Though each and all of them have a proper place, none of them are essential.
Living Christians who know, love, serve, and are faithful witnesses for Christ are the essential component that is most effective in the hands of the Holy Spirit. "When the love of Christ is enshrined in the heart, like sweet fragrance it cannot be hidden. Its holy influence will be felt by all with whom we come in contact. The spirit of Christ in the heart is like a spring in the desert, flowing to refresh all and making those who are ready to perish eager to drink of the water of life."*
*Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain
View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn.,
1956), p. 77.