If you’re planning on building a church or Christian facility in Pakistan, first you’ll have to construct a boundary wall with barbed wire at the top.
Next, you may need to set up a house for a watchman and his family, to keep the property secure. Only then can you start on the actual building itself.
At least, that’s the experience of Dr Saleem Massey, head of Pakistan Christian Evangelical Services, who has been planting churches and helping the poor in his home nation for almost 30 years.
Dr Saleem spoke to Hope Media while visiting Sydney, to raise support for his vital work in what is a mostly Muslim nation.
He said Christians in Pakistan have suffered serious persecution since al-Qaeda’s September 11 attacks on the USA in 2001.
Christians Murdered, Churches Destroyed
The historic events sparked a wave of persecution in which churches, schools and hospitals were burnt or destroyed, and Christians were terrorised.
At the time of writing, Islamic extremists are increasing their persecution of churches and believers. Dr Saleem has faced opposition to the building of new churches, and members of his church network have been falsely accused and even murdered for their faith.
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“Even just this March, two churches in Lahore were attacked,” he said.
Yet despite the persecution and the risks, Dr Saleem says God has called him to continue his work.
“We are called to love,” he said. “Our Lord Jesus said “you’ve heard you should love your neighbour, but I say love your enemy”.
“Because Pakistan is an Islamic nation, we’re very careful about how we communicate the gospel, but by the grace of God we’re still going.
The Journey From Pauper To Pastor
Dr Saleem Massey was born and raised in a poor Syrian Catholic family, living in an impoverished village of Lahore, Pakistan’s capital city.
In his teen years in 1972, he committed his life to Jesus.
He never had a chance to go to school as a child. Yet against the odds, he grew up to become a psychologist, with a Masters in Psychology, and to gain a Doctorate in Comparative Religion in the UK, specialising in Islam and Christianity.
He has taught Introduction to Islam and Cross-Cultural Psychology courses in Bible colleges around the world, teaching Christians how to build relationships with their Muslim neighbours.
But his great passion is working among the poor, something that was instilled in him through his childhood experiences.
“I never went to school, but by the grace of God I can now read at least nine languages,” he said. “This is why I have a heart for the poor people to have education and economic advantage.”
Meeting The Needs Of The Poor
The majority of Dr Saleem’s social and pastoral work is among the “bricking people” of Kasur, a rural district that is home to 5 million people, 100km south of Lahore.
The Christians there live on the fringe, working in slave-like conditions as brickmakers.
“Their life’s work is in Egyptian-style bondage,” Dr Kasur said. “We work to set up schools for children, and sewing machine centres for girls, to help them gain education and independence.
“First we build a church, which becomes a school, and a medical centre, and a sewing machine centre. If they have education and skills it increases their status in society. Life for Christians over the last 25 years has been improving, by the grace of God.”
A Hospital To Bring Compassion, Love And Mercy
The next big project of Pakistan Christian Evangelical Services is to build a Christian charity hospital in Kasur. Despite a population of 5 million, the district currently has no medical facility.
For 22 years Dr Saleem has been running medical and eye health camps in the district, but has always dreamed of having a permanent hospital.
He said it is a great way to reach the Muslim community with the gospel.
“We want to meet a need with the love of Christ,” he said. “It will be a great contribution to the Kasur community. We want to share the love of the Lord with them.”
The facility will be called the Good Shepherd Christian Hospital and its motto will be “Compassion, Love And Mercy”.
With the support of a number of churches around the world, the land was purchased last year, and a boundary wall has been built.
Next step will be to build a house for a watchman and his family on the land, followed by the first stage of the hospital, which will cost $500,000.
Christian Faith In A Muslim Nation
In nations where persecution and opposition are the norm, the faith of Christian believers is often very strong.
That’s the case in Dr Massey’s homeland, where around 97% of the population are Muslims.
“In Pakistan, Christians are very downtrodden,” he said, “but very strong in the faith. Those who hear the gospel get very strong.”
- To support the work of Dr Saleem Massey, email Tony Roe of the Independent Church of Christ at Dapto, firstname.lastname@example.org, for details.