*To protect the believers in Pakistan from persecution or reprisals the names and details of the work there have been edited for this account.
In October 2010 my wife, Gayla, and I went on our first joint international missions trip to Pakistan. We have always done ministry together but because of the cost and other factors the only international trip we have taken together was with a group of pastors from the Western District of the UPCI to Spain and Portugal in 2007. We visited some churches and ministered in them but much of our trip was sightseeing. Before we were married Gayla traveled in British Columbia with her family and participated in a youth missions trip to the Philippines. In my work with Christian Life College I have traveled to Ethiopia (teaching), two trips to India (teaching and preaching), and Sweden/Norway (preaching and visit to churches). When we were invited to Pakistan Gayla was also asked to teach during our visit. True to her character she was immediately positive and ready to accept the invitation.
Invitation to Pakistan
We became acquainted with the resident missionaries in Pakistan when their children were in Bible college. Occasionally, at general conferences or when they were traveling on deputation we were able to visit with them. They had suggested we come to Pakistan and we had agreed that we would, but no definite plans were made until the summer of 2009 when they came through Arizona on deputation. We enjoyed hosting them in our home and they again extended an invitation to come to Pakistan. We tentatively planned to do so in the fall of the following year.
Early in 2010 they called one day to see if we still planned to come and we were invited to teach for two weeks in the Bible school in Lahore. After a couple of weeks of looking at the budget and praying about the opportunity, we agreed to go in October.
We continued correspondence planning out the details and also began to communicate with the director of the Bible school in Lahore as well. He was the vice principal of the school and in charge of the curriculum and operations. Several years ago we met this couple in Toronto at one of our Bible college summer seminars. At the time they were working at Northeast Christian College in New Brunswick.
Due to political situations In Pakistan we were warned that the visa application process would take some time and could be challenging. So about two months before our planned visit we made application through the Pakistani Consulate in Los Angeles. In about ten days we received a call asking for a letter of invitation from someone in Pakistan and copies of our host’s national identification card. I responded in an email with attached copies of the documents they had requested. After another week or more and no further communication I called and they said they needed the same thing. They claimed the documentation had not been received. I used another email address they gave me and I followed up with a faxed copy as well. After several days and still no word, I was getting a little nervous. We did not want to buy tickets before getting our visas, but as the time grew closer the possibility of increased airfare and travel costs threatened. The Islamic observance of Ramadan was concluding as I began to call the consulate every day or two. No one was answered the phone at the consulate. I really didn’t know what else to do, but one day our passports and necessary visas arrived in the priority envelope I had provided with the application. Praise God! It only took about five weeks! Our hosts congratulated us on the advanced response we had received!
I booked our flights through a local travel agent because of our desire to take advantage of a layover in Dubai. When they booked it we were able to stay two days in Dubai for no additional cost. We were flying the new direct flight on Emirates Airline from Los Angeles to Dubai. We had hoped the extra days might help us to adjust to the radical time change and anticipated jet-lag as well as provide an opportunity to see a very modern city in the Arab world.
Now that our plans were becoming reality, we had to get in high gear preparing for the trip, taking care of church, home, and college responsibilities in our absence. I developed a plan to cover for my classes in college by bringing in substitute teachers, showing videos, recording online lectures, and scheduling tests online. We had two planning sessions with the church leadership to plan the activities that were coming up and our tremendous team took care of all the activities, services, and ministry during our absence. Pastor Emeritus Robert Bibb agreed to teach two Wednesday evenings with some special lessons on the Godhead.
Two days before we left I was frantically finishing my 2009 tax return for which I had filed an automatic six month extension back in April! Why do I do things like that?
The Journey Begins
Finally we were packed and ready and the big day arrived, Monday, October 11, 2010. Ethan and Adrian Brumfield (our Student Ministry Pastor) agreed to take us to the airport for our departure on this journey. They met us at our house and we loaded up our luggage: one medium rolling suitcase, two small carryon rolling suitcases, my computer backpack and my wife’s large handbag. (We’ve learned to travel light!) Ethan dropped us off at Sky Harbor, Terminal 4, and we rolled our luggage to the Southwest airlines check-in kiosks.
The first leg of our journey was to take the short flight from Phoenix to Los Angeles where we would catch the direct flight to Dubai. Southwest Airlines has become my airline of choice when it comes to domestic connections. Because this flight was a separate booking, not connected with our international itinerary, we boarded with ease and left with an on time departure and a full plane for LA.
On arrival at LAX, I observed that it was one of the oldest and least updated of the airport terminals I have been to recently on Southwest. Even Houston Hobby has been upgraded and remodeled to stay current in the industry. Even the Southwest agent in baggage claim joked about the dated conditions at LAX. He said, “If you came in on Southwest you are in the right baggage area. There are two carousels and your luggage will be on one of them. We’re not sure which one your bags will arrive on until they appear. Welcome to the 80’s here at LAX!”
We went out the exit indicating airport shuttles and looked for one marked “other terminals” or “international terminal” or something else recognizable. The first to show up said, “Parking lot C.” I asked the driver if there was a shuttle to the international terminal. She said, “I’ll take you!” So we boarded the “Parking lot C” bus and got off at Terminal B, the Tom Bradley International Terminal a short distance away. We took an escalator to the level for departures. Going through one of the main doors we found that the line for Emirates flight EK216 was immediately on the right.
When we got to the ticket counter I found that they only allowed 15 kg for a carryon. So we ended up checking my wife’s small suitcase and taking one carryon between us, besides my backpack and Gayla’s personal bag. After we were checked in and away from the desk, Gayla remembered that she had stuck her small laptop in the front pocket of the suitcase. Now we were worried! Her computer was on its way around the world in an unsecured zippered pocket on the front of her suitcase. However, there was nothing we could do about it now. The bag had gone through the small door of the conveyor to be loaded up on a plane for Dubai. We just had to ask the Lord to protect it and continue on.
We stopped by McDonald’s in the international terminal for some authentic American food before our departure! It was still early but we cleared security, found our gate and sat down to await the departure of our flight to Dubai.
We flew in a Boeing 777-200 operated by Emirates Airline based in Dubai. I was very impressed with their equipment and level of service. It really reminded me of Singapore airlines which shares the prestige as one of the top ten airlines in the world. Flight EK216 departed about 4:45 PM. We settled in row 35 for a long flight and hopefully some sleep on this sixteen hour trip around the world. That’s right sixteen hours nonstop!
The flight angled off to the North and slightly east. They took the Arctic route to the United Arab Emirates in the Mideast. We rested awhile and then awoke to a good supper of grilled chicken. The food was tasty and still western style cuisine! A few hours into the flight we also had a snack of pizza. I was so exhausted I don’t remember too much of the flight. It seems like I was dozing in and out through the night. About 10 hours into the flight I roused a little with an unusual feeling. My hands were tingling like they were asleep, but I felt like I needed water and was light headed. I remember thinking I should let Gayla know I was feeling strange and then I slipped into unconsciousness.
The next thing I knew Gayla was shaking me and calling my name and saying, “Jesus” in a rather panicky tone! I realized that I had passed out while sitting in my chair. I leaned forward to try to gain awareness and the flight attendants arrived in response to the call button my wife had pressed. They began to ask questions and brought oxygen to help revive me. They helped me get down into the narrow aisle of the plane and elevated my feet. I was sweaty and clammy and I know they were concerned about my heart. We gave them a quick history ... No problems with heart, blood sugar, medications, etc. All the routine questions. One of the flight attendants had training as a medical assistant. Because I didn’t readily recover rapidly enough for her satisfaction she asked permission to attach me to a monitoring device that transmits the vital signs to a doctor and medical center on the ground. I agreed to do it. The device measured heart beats, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation in the blood. Blood pressure was normal, oxygen saturation was 99 percent, but the heart rate slowed and sped up from time to time.
They arranged for paramedics to meet me on the plane before I disembarked, just to be sure I was okay. I felt fine but I was extremely weak and I wasn’t sure if I could walk very far in this state of health. In order to be closer to the door and accessible for the emergency personnel they moved us up to business class for the last 30 minutes or so of the flight. Now I could get used to that! The seat extended out with ample leg room. Fully reclined, one could almost lay down and stretch out. The personal media screen looked to be about 17 inches. It was a beautiful cabin. I was wishing I felt well enough to fully enjoy these last few minutes of a very long flight.
When we landed in Dubai two paramedics came to my seat, checked my vital signs and asked many of the same questions I had already been through. I concluded that it was just sheer exhaustion and sleep deprivation for the last week or so. I didn’t realize how stressed I had been while getting ready for this trip. I declined their recommendation to go to the medical clinic at the airport for further testing. I just wanted to get to the motel and stretch out!
The airline staff arranged for a wheel chair to take me to baggage claim and immigration because it was such a long way and required a lot of walking. I was humiliated and grateful at the same time. Humiliated because I didn’t feel like I was so handicapped, but grateful that I didn’t have to walk all that distance and risk fainting and falling out in the airport! We collected our baggage and were relieved to find Gayla’s laptop was still in the zippered pocket where she left it and it was not damaged in transport.
Immigration was a breeze. Visitors with USA passports are granted a free 30 day visa on the spot for access in the United Arab Emirates. Directions were well marked and provided in English as well as Arabic. We followed the signs for ground transportation and found the curb for hotel shuttles. Within 10-15 minutes a shuttle for the Holiday Inn Express appeared and we jumped on for the quick trip to the motel. The reservation was in order and we retired to our room, placing the “Do not disturb” sign on the door. A bed never felt better!
It was only about 9:00 PM locally when we retired and we slept well until the early morning hours. Adjusting to a twelve hour difference causes you to wake up at weird times and get sleepy in the middle of the day. We had no trouble getting up early to take advantage of the complimentary breakfast in the dining room.
I felt better but was still tired and felt the adverse effects of the fainting spell. We checked with the front desk on the shuttle schedule and transportation options from the hotel to sights in downtown Dubai. The hotel shuttle did not run downtown but to a nearby mall or the airport. We could have taken the metro train from the airport. I didn’t quite feel up to attempting the train, so we took one of the eager taxi drivers for a quick trip downtown. He charged us 58 dirhams for the trip (about $20), but he was entertaining and fast! We found out the fare normally is about half that and these unofficial taxis do have a meter but you have to ask them to turn it on when you get in. The hotel staff gave us that tip on our second trip out.
We were dropped off at the Dubai Mall that claims the fame of being the World’s largest mall. It is in the same area as the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. I got the impression the designers of this city were very competitive!
On the lower level of the mall were several banks and we were able to exchange some US currency for the UAE Dirhams. Dubai Mall also hosted a large indoor aquarium, a four story waterfall, an ice skating rink, movie theaters, and full supermarket. There were many name brand shops everywhere you looked and a large section just for shops dealing with gold: The Gold Souk. We didn’t even attempt to see everything available in the mall. We mainly browsed around and took pictures. Immediately behind the Dubai Mall is the world tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.
The Burj Khalifa boasts over 160 stories and is more than 2700 feet high. It sets several world records besides being the tallest building. The Burj Khalifa is the tallest free-standing structure, has the highest number of stories, the highest occupied floor, and the highest outdoor observation deck in the world. It boasts of 37 floors for corporate office space and an observation deck on floor 127. Space is allocated for 900 Burj Khalifa residences besides an additional 144 Armani private residences. The Armani Hotel is housed there and provides 160 rooms and suites on seven levels, eight “dining experiences” and several shops and a spa. (http://www.burjkhalifa.ae)
We took several pictures outside the mall with the tower and other beautiful buildings in the area. In the surrounding area there is a huge pool of water that was as blue as a swimming pool and perfectly clean. In this great pool is the Dubai fountain. Each evening after dark an outdoor performance is enacted every thirty minutes. Lights and powerful fountain motions are choreographed to recorded musical numbers. We had read and heard about the fountain as a “must see” in Dubai.
While we were taking pictures a foreign couple motioned for us to take their picture. Even without knowing their language it was understood what they were asking. I took a couple of pictures of them with the Burj Khalifa in the background and they returned the favor and took our picture. Amazing what can be accomplished through improvised sign language and gestures.
We had lunch by the four story waterfall. All I could manage to eat was soup and I felt my strength waning. We took a taxi back to the hotel and rested through the afternoon. In order to see the much touted Dubai fountains and lights presentation we made another trip to the mall after dark just to see the sights.
My sickness persisted and I felt sick with fever and chills the next morning. We stayed in the hotel hoping to get through this and be well enough to see another missionary family for dinner before flying to Pakistan that evening. They traveled to Dubai from Abu Dhabi and we met them at another mall where we ate at Chili’s, one of the well known American varieties. After a pleasant meal and visit they promised to drop us off at the airport to catch the final leg of our flight into Lahore.
Brad asked me for three things I had learned in ministry that I could share with a younger minister. Because of the recent sickness my mind was rather in a cloud and it was difficult to think clearly in that respect. The one thing I did share with him was that life, the church, and the world is dynamic; it’s always changing. Therefore, we must always be adapting, changing, and learning. So, number one is Never Stop Learning. Continue seeking understanding from God and His Word. Read from various sources. Visit web seminars (if local ones are not available). See what the contemporary church is doing about fulfilling the commission and learn what you can from others. Learn to adapt to changing society, culture, and communications to more effectively transfer this life-changing message.
Later when my wife and I were alone and waiting for our next flight, I mentioned Brad’s question to her. I mentioned that I had only given him one point and at the moment I was unable to articulate my comments into three. She quickly gave me two points that she had observed in my ministry and had appreciated. So here is number two: It is God’s Church. There are two incorrect responses we will have if we persist in seeing it as “our church.” The first response is that we will be stressed, overwhelmed, and develop burnout if the church is not growing as we think it should. Every rejection to the gospel becomes a personal rejection. The apparent success or failure of the church becomes our success or failure. There is a tremendous release from that pressure when we realize that this is God’s church. It was His from the beginning and it will be His when we are no longer around. He is quite capable of taking the rejection and the failures of the church because He knows the truth about every situation anyway.
The second incorrect response if we view the church as our personal responsibility is that we will become filled with pride over the successes we enjoy. If the church grows it is our brilliant leadership that caused it to happen. When people accept the truth, fall in love with Jesus, and embrace the gospel, we feel that have accepted us and embraced us somehow validating our astounding success in ministry. This response will set us up for failure: “Pride goes before a fall.” It doesn’t take long in ministry to see that there are victories and defeats, there are mountains and valleys. If we take responsibility for all the victories we must suffer the defeats as well. If we want to take credit for the marvelous accomplishments, we must also take the blame for setbacks and failures. It is so much easier to pastor as the “under-shepherd” We are just working for the big boss. If it works out good ... To God be the Glory! If something doesn’t work out ... God knows! It is God’s church.
Number three lesson in life learning is that we must always Live in God’s Grace. We will never outlive or grow beyond our need for grace. We were nothing deserving of love when He found us and He loved us anyway. We are nothing without Him even after years of following Him. The only way to live is with a constant awareness of our failures and a total reliance upon God’s great grace!
Dubai to Lahore
Brad dropped us off at the airport Thursday evening about 7:45 PM. The three hour flight to Lahore, Pakistan, was scheduled for 10:00 PM on Emirates airline. The Dubai airport Terminal 3 is very modern and spacious. In other words, there’s a lot of walking required! We used one of the complimentary luggage carts (like you pay $2 or more to use in the US) to tote our wheeled suitcases to the economy line for departure check in.
The line moved slowly as we made our way through the maze to the ticket counters. It gave us time to observe the others in line. Some families with small children were navigating strollers, car seats, and luggage carts while keeping their children in tow. Others had great loads of baggage and it made me wonder how much it cost them to take all this stuff home or perhaps they were taking it to less fortunate family members in Pakistan or India. By appearance, most were either from Pakistan or the region. However, there were several westerners which kept us from feeling quite so conspicuous. Not many Americans go to Pakistan as tourists!
When we finally got to the ticket counter the check in process was rather efficient. I think the young man was relieved that we didn’t have the mountain of luggage so many others met him with. We had a medium sized suitcase, under the weight requirement and a small carryon sized suitcase we decided to check. He asked, “Only two?” He printed the luggage tags, attached them to the handles and handed us our boarding passes and passports.
Next we were off to security check in. Here the line moved quickly and there was really no waiting. We breezed through security. They don’t require taking out computers, cameras, lotions and gels, or even to remove your shoes, unless you set off the alarm with some kind of metal bucket or button. Gayla had to remove her shoes because of little buckles on top that set off the alarm. I had to take off my blazer that had brass buttons for the same reason. We took the escalators to the gate area and was pleased to see our gate was the first. No more walking!
Just outside the gate area were several duty free shops for last minute impulse purchases without added tax or restriction. Some good quality and designer shops were among them but we didn’t even look. We have no use for cigarettes and we are accustomed to buying our clothing at discounted prices.
It was immediately apparent that we were in a different culture on the flight to Lahore, Pakistan. For one thing very few westerners were on the flight. We felt like we were an extreme minority! Also, the passengers were a little more aggressive in placing their baggage on board. There was less questions and restrictions for carryon so the bins quickly filled. Not only were they overflowing with baggage but plentiful shopping bags of duty-free merchandize purchased at the last minute. I’m sure they were taking items home or to friends in Pakistan of items they are not customarily able to get.
Another difference was the menu selections available on this flight. There was a choice between chicken and lamb. Both were curry and rice dishes! The only thing I could really identify was the plastic fork and spoon! There was a cucumber yoghurt stuff that smelled strongly of indigestion to me. The desert was quiet good, but totally foreign, creamy pudding stuff over a piece of cake-like stuff. (How’s that?)
The flight was uneventful (that’s a good thing), and my only concern was flying over the airspace of southern Iran. Fortunately, we were on an Arab airline, Emirates, which I assume would be on better terms with the Iranian government. It’s not good to read too much about politics or current events when planning an international trip. I saw a Newsweek magazine in Lahore that featured the international front page story on the “Pakistani Problem.” Great. Sometimes ignorance is bliss!
We arrived in Pakistan about twenty minutes late due to some delays departing from Dubai. That is not usually a problem, except it is 2:00 in the morning and our Lahore hosts are picking us up at the airport. I called our host from the airplane when we landed. He and a Pakistani driver, Francis, were just arriving at the airport. He had gone online to check the status of the flight before leaving for the airport. I guess he is accustomed to things here.
There was a moderate line at the passport check desk for foreign arrivals. It moved slowly but would have been a little faster if a few “special” domestic people had not cut in at the desk to get their passport stamped thus avoiding the much longer line for residents of Pakistan.
They looked us over, punched keys on the computer, scanned our passport, took our picture with a webcam on the counter, and stamped our passports. No questions asked.
We waited for a long time on the baggage. There was tons of bags and they seemed in no hurry to get them distributed. People just waited and crowded around the baggage carousels. Finally, after I began to get a little concerned that our bags had not made it, my wife spotted one and then the other.
Then the chaos began. All baggage had to be put through an X-ray scanner before you exited the terminal. I learned that this was a new addition to the airport and it wasn’t quite large enough for the amount of baggage coming off of a filled Boeing 777. People were pushing their carts and baggage closer and closer in one great gridlock while porters were attempting to stuff the bags through the machine. I wasn’t sure how we would get our bags through the din until one porter reached out for our suitcase and stuck it on the belt. I quickly handed him the other two and then turned to get out of the crush before my claustrophobia kicked in.
Somehow Gayla had followed a porter through the crowd and made it through the crush of people and bags well before I did. She was intent on collecting our baggage on the other side before it disappeared. Thankfully, she had already collected two pieces before I got out of the crowd and around to the other side. We proceeded toward the exit marked “nothing to declare” and were only stopped by a security officer to check our baggage claim against our luggage. Just outside the exit doors there was a throng of people lined behind a crowd barricade. Many had signs with the names of people that they had come to meet. I was just looking for a big white man and found it difficult to see through the crowd of nationals. We continued toward the exit and I caught a glimpse of him waving for us to continue to the end of the line. He was a welcome site indeed.
Francis, who is a driver for the family, assisted with our luggage. We loaded up in the school van and headed out for our host’s home. After riding around town I could well understand the need to have a driver who was accustomed to the ways of the Pakistanis. By now it was after 3:00 AM and there was little traffic on the roads. The drivers sort of hesitated at red lights and continued to drive. It was kind of a shock to our custom of stopping on a red light. :)
We arrived at the house. It is a flat among twelve others in a development called the “Swedish Flats.” There is a solid metal gate and armed guards at the entrance so gave us a feeling of security to be safely locked in at night. After a brief tour of the facility we said goodnight and headed for bed. Even though it was almost 5:00 AM we are still programed to a different time zone so it wasn’t easy to go to sleep. We heard the early morning “call to prayer” from a nearby mosque before drifting off to sleep for an hour or so. With daylight coming at 6:00 and the horns of traffic shortly after we were awake again and got up to face the day. It was Friday morning, a muslim holy day and a day we could relax and try to get our bearings after a long trip. Pakistan is exactly 12 hours ahead of our time at home so it was a major adjustment in sleeping and eating habits. It takes about two weeks to get adjusted; just about the time we head home!
We had wonderful hosts in Lahore and they made sure we had time to rest when needed and were very accommodating when it came to sightseeing, shopping, and answering our questions. We were introduced to Pakistani shopping and some wonderful restaurants in the city. We shopped at the Hyperstar, a Walmart style super store. With the exchange rate and knock off products we were able to buy lots of gifts to bring home with us.
Saturday we were up early (before the muslim call to prayer at 5:00). After breakfast of pancakes we arranged to meet with another missionary family that had recently arrived in the country. We all went together to visit the Lahore Fort and the Badshaahi Mosque, ancient and well known tourist attractions in the area. While we were out and about we ate at Nando’s peri-peri chicken which was exceptional.
By the time we got back to the house we were ready for a nap and then made some preparations for Sunday and the classes for next week. Thankfully, they had a good internet service and we were able to make calls to family with Skype and stay connected with email and social media.
Even after a late night of phone calls to the U.S. I awoke feeling rested about 6:00 at first light of day. I enjoy the quiet of the early morning to meditate, pray, and seek direction for the ministry of the day. I did not receive a new sermon, but a direction to simply “Preach Jesus.” That is one topic that will always bring the anointing power of God!
Just before 9:30 we arrived at the headquarters church. This is also the grounds for the Bible school in Pakistan. The singing and worship was already in progress. The building was already 75% full and people were still arriving. By 10:00 the place was packed and heating up! It was well equipped with fans everywhere but was ineffective to remove the body heat and humidity that was accumulating in the room.
During the worship I begin to feel light-headed again and concerned that I might pass out before getting to the door. I sat down and sipped some water and prayed that the Lord would help me make it through the service. I revived enough to return to the platform and participate in the service. About 10:30 I was introduced to the congregation and took the service. The interpreter was good and seemed to understand and communicate what I delivered. Of course, I’ll never know what he really said!
I made it through the sermon, occasionally sipping water, and hanging on to the pulpit. I gave the altar call about 11:15 and we began to pray for those who responded to the message.
Following the service, I met a man from Yorkshire, England who is visiting Pakistan with another Pakistani man who was formerly a bishop with the Anglican church in Leeds, England. It was interesting to see such diversity in such a distant place. I believe there is nothing that happens by accident. I am believing that something from the message, “What is Jesus to you?” will speak to their hearts and they will receive a revelation of His deity!
After visiting with a few of the people we and our Lahore hosts retired to the pastor’s home on the property for tea and cookies (biscuits). We were also able to visit some of their family from England who were in Pakistan for a wedding. We engaged in a very interesting conversation and debate, mostly in English so we could understand and interact. Of course the accent sometimes presents a challenge to decipher the words!
When we left the pastor’s home we drove to a very nice hotel in Lahore to eat lunch from their Sunday buffet with our Lahore hosts. There was a variety of foods, including Pakistani, Chinese, Thai, and Italian selections. We were advised to avoid all salads because of uncooked vegetables that are frequently carriers of unfriendly bacteria, sometimes resulting from being washed in unsanitary water. We drink only bottled water, Cokes (no ice), or very hot tea or coffee. The service was excellent and the food was some of the best we have had on this trip.
By the time we reached the house I was exhausted and excused myself to take a nap. I set my alarm for an hour and a half so I would not sleep all evening and then be awake all night. When the alarm went off at 6:00 PM I woke up groggy and wishing I could just stay in bed. We managed to get up and we visited with our hosts for a while sharing international travel stories. They shared the circumstances of their calling to Pakistan and how God had arranged their lives to this point. It is wonderful to hear younger couples who have totally committed their lives to the service of the Lord.
Week of teaching
Our first week of teaching at the Bible school began the next day. The sessions I taught were translated by the local pastor. I taught two sessions each day, the first was from the Old Testament prophets and the second was an overview of the Historical books of the Bible. Gayla taught a session each day and her’s was interpreted by Asia, a wonderful young Pakistani mother who was an excellent translator.
Each day we became more comfortable with our classes and got better acquainted with the young men who were in the classes. A few could speak enough English to try to talk to us. When they were able to communicate with us you could tell they were excited with their use of the language.
While we were there we celebrated our hostess’s birthday. She wanted to go shopping so we all went together. We hit several stores including a visit to Liberty Center, a very active market area. Tiny shops were cramped side by side, with many offering a wide variety of fabrics. We went to “Selenia’s" and Gayla bought fabric for another “shalwar kameez,” the traditional garment worn by women. We also went to “Khussa” shop where they have authentic Pakistani shoes. Gayla bought several pairs for gifts. They are like lightweight house shoes. After all the shopping the men were exhausted, the women were ecstatic!
For a birthday dinner, we went to a wonderful quiet restaurant on a side street that was very upscale, called Tiramasu, the style of dining completely unexpected in this part of the world. Every dish was a masterpiece and reflected the obvious culinary training of a chef. It was absolutely delicious and was very reasonably priced. The cost was comparable to a dinner at Denny’s.
Wednesday evening we planned to go to a service in a suburb area of the city. I tried to study and get direction for the service that night, but kept falling asleep on my notes. I hope that’s not a sign of the response I will receive when I preach it. I finally felt some direction to preach a message, “Come and See.” The missionary who arranged for our visit drove down from Islamabad today to take care of some business for the construction of a new building for the Bible School. We were able to visit for a while at our hosts home before leaving for the evening service. The ladies stayed home this evening and did not accompany us to the service.
The conference site was about 30 minutes away. One of the local pastors coordinated the meeting as an annual conference each year. This was their 27th year to host the meeting. They constructed a large tent in a courtyard area of their neighborhood. It was a colorful red fabric tent and bright red carpets covered the platform and the altar area. They had bright flood lights illuminating the seating area and strings of decorative Christmas style lights strung around. It was awesome. They had living room floor lamps at the entrance and strings of lights between them. We were pelted with rose petals in entry as their traditional welcome for honored guests.
When we arrived we were escorted to a small house nearby for dinner. We were seated on a small sofa beside the master bed and small end tables were placed before us to hold the food they had prepared. They brought glasses of juice with chunks of ice floating in them. One of the men with us reminded them that we could not drink the ice made from local water. They brought more juice. Bro Shalm drank it down while Curtis and I held our glasses and swished it around a bit.
They brought platters and bowls of food. There was Chinese chicken soup, fried rice, chicken curry, and cucumbers. There was another dish of meatballs and boiled eggs in a curry sauce. I started with a little of the soup. The base was a thick red tomato sauce with chunks of vegetable and chicken. It was cool and not too unusual tasting so I was able to eat that with some of the fried rice. The rice was quite good and the curry chicken was not too spicy so I ate a wing with the rice. I took a boiled egg from the other dish. My favorite part of the meal was the bread. They fix a naan here that is like a large thick tortilla and it has sesame seeds in it. It is called chapatti. Very tasty.
My secret to survival eating in places where I’m unsure of the safety of the food is to first of all follow the lead of the missionaries. Most of them will caution you of things that might cause problems for you. Eat none of the raw vegetables; so we skipped the cucumbers. Eat more rice and bread; it has all been cooked and will not be as spicy as other foods. Take small portions of other cooked dishes and smear it around a lot. Mess up the plate and eat what you like or what you can. Look pleasant and protest that you can’t eat more when they try to insist on seconds. Compliment the wonderful meal. (They probably wonder how Americans can be so fat when they eat so little!)
Around 9:00 we gathered at the doorway of the tent and they introduced us with great fanfare. They had a video camera man with a huge blinding spotlight attached. They videoed as we made our way into the tent with music, drums, and a very loud announcement on the sound system. Though I couldn’t understand what he was saying I heard my name a couple of times as well as “America” and “California.” They had a place of honor for us to sit at behind a glass top coffee table.
Another ceremony was designed to honor all their guests. One by one the names and accomplishments were recounted and a guest was invited to the platform. There were about 6 or seven guests of honor lined up across the platform. Then some of the local pastors stood before each and placed a garland around the neck of each guest. We returned to our seats and the service continued.
Peter interpreted when I preached and the missionary came up to give the altar call. He invited those who needed healing to one side and those who needed the Holy Ghost to gather on the other side. It looked like the women lined on one side and the men on the other regardless of their needs! We prayed for them all in a mass prayer of faith and then the pastors were instructed to pray for them individually. Ten received the Holy Spirit. We prayed for many people and many needs. We left promptly after the service and made our way to the car and made the trip home. We were back by 10:45.
The next morning my stomach was feeling the adverse effects of the food we had last night. However, I was able to continue and complete our last day of classes this week. That evening we had dinner with host missionary at the home of the newly appointed missionary family. After dinner and a nice visit we returned to the home of our Lahore hosts and retired for the evening.
Weekend in Islamabad
Friday morning we left Lahore with the host missionary for Islamabad. He picked us up at 9:00. Fridays are the Muslim holy day and there was no school. We rode in a new SFC vehicle, a SUV crossover type vehicle made by Toyota. The country side was unique, but not unlike some parts of the states. Leaving the city of Lahore the land was river bottoms and fields of agriculture. Sugar cane and rice grows in abundance in this area. Small villages could be seen from the motorway and we stopped on a few occasions to take pictures of scenes along the road side. There were about five service areas spaced along the route. They were anywhere from 20 minutes to 39 minutes apart. Our host was very accommodating to me and I was unsure how long I could make it between bathroom stops. However, I survived with only one stop! The midway stop is his usual pit stop and I welcomed the opportunity to use the washrooms and walk around a bit before continuing to Islamabad.
As we started climbing out of the valley into the hills it the scenery looked very much like parts of Arizona or New Mexico. It almost made us feel at home. The motorway slows down and the road climbs to an elevation of about 2000 feet. The terrain then plateaus until you reach Islamabad. The city sprawls along the base of some higher mountains and provides a beautiful backdrop for the city. Traffic is much more ordered and traffic laws are enforced here. Much of the area looked very much like a western city and didn’t seem so foreign. One noticeable difference was the presence of security forces and frequent checkpoints. Since a hotel bombing at the Marriot a few years ago there was heightened security in any location where there are groups of foreigners assembling.
Islamabad is the capital city for Pakistan and is home to the Parliament, supreme court, and national offices. There is a large dedicated area for foreign embassies. We were able to see that area up close. After we arrived and got settled at our weekend home, our missionary hosts took us to the Canadian club for lunch. Since they are Canadians they belong to the Canadian club and take advantage of the local services provided to their members. We went through checkpoints, barricades and personal screening to get inside of the area of the Canadian embassy where the club and restaurant are located. We had to show our passports and were recorded as guests. Once inside it was a beautiful park area and it was such beautiful weather that we ate outside by the swimming pool. It was mid afternoon and we were the only ones on the terrace. We had a light lunch and planned to eat later when our Lahore hosts arrived. I ate breakfast because it seemed like it would be a little more mild on the stomach. .
For supper our host fixed baked chicken, dressing, potatoes and gravy, a regular Thanksgiving meal! It was delicious but I was still filling the consequences of my stomach virus and excused myself shortly after dinner. I went to bed about 8:00 and slept very good, a little over 8:00 hours. I awoke early, but I felt better than I had since I had arrived from the States and I began to have an appetite again. Between jet lag, exhaustion, and stomach virus, it had been a difficult 10 days.
Saturday was another shopping day! When you get Gayla and other women together, they can shop! We all went together and just enjoyed spending time with them. I bought a book about Pakistan with some pictures. Gayla loved the scarf place (Mughals). She bought several gifts and started thinking about Christmas gifts as well. We bought a couple of blankets there. They are thin but very warm. They also had Persian carpets and our host was a rather expert when it came to these. We took a break from shopping in the afternoon and had some wonderful Tomato soup at the home of our hosts. This break the men a chance to recover.
About two hours before sundown we took a trek up the mountain. There is a switch back road leading up the side of the mountain to a beautiful scenic park about half way up the mountain side. We saw monkeys in the wild along side the road toward the park. We strolled around the park and took pictures of the city of Islamabad from this elevated vantage point. There was a great view of the Faisal Mosque which once held the title of the largest mosque in the world (until a larger one was constructed). Back at the house we enjoyed a supper of homemade lasagna. We visited awhile and retired for the evening.
Again, I awoke early, about 5:00, and enjoyed the quiet of the morning before everyone began to stir. We had breakfast together before leaving for service at the church in Islamabad where a local Pakistani is the pastor. It was in a market area and we walked up a steep flight of steps to the small auditorium where people filled the seats and others sat on a mat on the floor. This church was totally into technology. They videoed the service, had the words projected on a screen for worship and have their services archived on their website. After a time of worship, the host missionary greeted the people and then introduced me to preach. The pastor interpreted for me. I preached about 30 minutes and then yielded to the pastor to conduct the altar service. The place was so packed you could not call people forward for prayer, they just prayed where they were unless someone came with a special need.
We stayed for a few minutes to visit with the pastor and family. We had Coke and a cookie before leaving. As a special treat we took our host families out for lunch today at the Hotel Serena in Islamabad. It is a beautiful hotel with first class gourmet buffet. They had a wide range of international foods as well as the Pakistani menu. I tried to be very selective and not eat too much since my stomach was still not back to normal! The security was just as intense coming into this hotel as other similar places we visited.
Back to Lahore
Francis came up from Lahore to drive us back for our second week. There was no sleeping on this trip! We got back to the house about 8:30 and we did not stay up late because we all had school again on Monday.
Our second week was similar to the first with classes, shopping, and a variety of meals. Our Lahore hosts prepared spaghetti one night. We wanted to try to make Taco soup for them but found it impossible to find the needed spices and beans that we find in the States. I guess it was more like a bean soup. We had more visits with each of the missionaries and assisted with some communication tasks. We also had to do some more shopping to get another suitcase to take gifts and purchases home. Our last evening with the Lahore hosts we treated them to another visit to Tiramisu restaurant. After our last classes we took pictures with all of our students and a group photo to commemorate this incredible experience.
The trip home
About 12:15 AM Friday we left for the airport in Lahore. Traffic is much quieter after midnight but Francis still found it necessary to flash his lights and honk at random moments. Every ride is an adventure with the dancing car. We had a lot of fun with him most of the time. He scared us more than a few times. Our host went with us to help us through the protocol at the airport. He told us what to expect from the porter and how much tip is expected. The guy really helped us through the process and earned his tip as far as I was concerned. Coming in we paid 200 rupees (the established fee for a porter). We went through the initial security screening and customs inspection. Of our four check bags and two carryon bags only one raised some question to the screener. There was something metal that the man didn’t recognize. They asked to go through the bag and looked for the items that were showing on the Xray. I had completely forgotten about the brass nativity that we had received from our hosts. The ladies learned that Gayla collected nativity sets and went together to get us the set on a brass plate. All the little figurines were cast brass and about two inches tall. They didn’t know what it was and I was trying to think how to explain a nativity set to muslims. I said it was for Christmas. Little images of people and animals. I’m not sure if that made sense at all. He directed me to follow him to the customs officer with the little box of nativity figurines. Gayla stayed with the porter and our bags. The customs officer looked them over, tapped them together, and finally nodded his approval. I think they thought they might be made of gold! .... Haha, if only!
The officer was very polite and tried to help repack the case. We proceeded on to a station where they have a machine that wraps the suitcase with a nylon band. It was the same process I had seen in Ethiopia. Next stop the ticket counter where they weighed the bags and put the appropriate labels checking three of the bags to Dubai and a “quick transfer” tag to get them on our flight to Los Angeles (LAX). We were just praying they made it okay. The porter put our bags on the final X-ray machine and conveyor that would take them back to the baggage area for loading on the plane. We paid the porter an additional 300 rupees and we continued alone to the passport counter. The officer asked to see our boarding passes, scanned our passport page and took another webcam shot of our exit. He stamped the passports and we continued on.to security after a second officer looked at the passport that had just been stamped.
In the personal security screening they had a separate line for “ladies” and “gents.” There was no waiting for the ladies so Gayla went through her screening. They had a curtained booth where a female attendant patted down the women after they came through the metal detectors. As we went through the security they punched an Emirates baggage tag that we attached to each piece of carryon bags. After we cleared this screening a woman sat at a counter at our final stop. She stamped each security tag and the back of our boarding pass. All the process seemed like overkill, but I was thankful that they were so thorough in double checking people flying out of the nation with a reputation for terrorism.
We still had a couple of hours to wait once we got to the gate. It wouldn’t have been so bad except for the late hour. By 1:30 all we had to do was sit for two more hours. One unique practice of this airport was the men in the gate area who were constantly offering to bring coffee, tea, or soda. Of course they were working for a tip in the process. I don’t know how many times they came by to offer tea or coffee. I finally ordered another water just to give one persistent guy something to do!
The flight from Dubai and the plane we were waiting on was about an hour late, which in turn made us wait longer and delayed our boarding and take off. With only two hours to connect in Dubai, I was some concerned about our luggage making the connection. I am writing this at 34,000 feet in the air on our way to LAX. I hope, down in the baggage hold somewhere there are some bags with our tags on them!
Dawn over Dubai
I just wanted to sleep on the three hour flight to Dubai. There wasn’t much left to our night and we still had a 16 hour flight coming. They had a handy “do not wake “ sticker that I placed on my neck pillow so they wouldn’t wake me to offer the in flight meal. By this time I just didn’t want to be disturbed for more spicy foods. When I awoke it was beginning to grow light in the eastern sky. I got a Pepsi from the attendant and Gayla took some water.
This arriving flight was unloaded on the tarmac rather than at a gate jetway. We walked down the stairs in the morning light to nice Emirate buses, where the passengers stood and hung onto overhead straps or bars while we motored to the terminal. We unloaded at Terminal 3, the new exclusively Emirates terminal in Dubai and went through another security screening. None of these require removing the computers or the lotions and gels like we do in the US. You only have to remove your shoes if they ask you. We walked through without setting off the sensors and were not asked to remove our shoes. We collected our things and followed the signs to our new gate #218. We went down a couple of escalators, then back up another set that brought us around to the correct floor. It kind of seemed like a maze, but it is a beautiful spacious terminal. When we arrived on the departing gates level, I recognized the shopping area we had seen on our way to Lahore The duty free shops gave the appearance of a mall. When we arrived it was only about an hour before departure and the gate was opened. They screened passports and boarding passes before we were admitted to the departure gate area. We proceeded down another escalator and were met with a final security area where they were hand searching any carryon luggage before boarding for the USA. We found everyone to be courteous and patient as they performed their assigned duties.
We didn’t have to wait long before they began the boarding process. Here is where it was really evident how different people can be The flight to Pakistan and the one out of Pakistan, the boarding process was chaotic. They announced the different zones for boarding, but no one pays attention. They just crowd the gate trying to get on before everyone else. Sometimes the attendants allowed some to cut the line which just added to the confusion. If they acted important enough, or impatient enough, it looked like they got through. Once we reached Dubai and began boarding for the US there was a marked difference. Some still went to the gate before their zone was called but they were not admitted. They lined along the side and others were able to pass them to board. We were in zone D so we were sort of in the middle. It was nice to be able to board the plane in an orderly fashion and get our carry-ons stored without so much drama!
We made it to LAX without incident, collected our baggage, and transferred to the terminal where we caught our Southwest flight back to Phoenix. After a great trip, wonderful people, and many experiences it was great to be home.