Young people from all over the city chatter excitedly in the main hall of the technical college in Gujranwala. Cameras are already filming as a procession of young women carry candles to the stage and the tension mounts as the audience of families and leaders from 7 different churches wait for the contest to begin.
This is the first heat of PAK7's Sana Gao - a carol singing contest where young, talented christians from across many churches in Pakistan are invited to perform and worship in a hunt for new talent. This is just the first of many TV shows designed to give the church a platform and a voice in Pakistan.
Some singers perform traditional carols, but many, especially here in Gujranwala, are singing songs they have written themselves, or which have been composed by members of their churches. All of the songs are in their heart-languages, Urdu and Punjabi, many of them performed with traditional instruments, and all of course, celebrating Jesus and his birth.
Imran Azhar, PAK7 International board member, hosted the Gujranwala competition in early December. He speaks enthusiastically of how rare this kind of opportunity is for Christian young people and the joy that they experienced in being able to display their talent and their faith.
‘The pastors who accompanied the participants were thankful that they were given a chance to take part in a program of such high quality and standard and the participants were extremely happy. They said they had never performed in a program of this scale.’
Heats also took place in Martinpur, Faisalabad, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Abbottabad, Wah and Peshawar. And all across the country we heard a similar story. Gulnaz Edwin, creator of the Sana Gao program and competition, tells us of the surprise and joy of the churches in being given an opportunity to shine. ‘In one town they said to me: “This is the first time somebody came”’, she says, ‘they were really encouraged that PAK7 was interested in them.’
Gulnaz tells us how for many Christians growing up in Pakistan, even really talented ones, their faith (often revealed by their surnames) is a real barrier to success. There’s little opportunity for them to be seen, to be valued or to use their gifts to proclaim their faith in Jesus.
Sana Gao in Urdu means ‘Sing Praise’. Young Christians in Pakistan want to have their praises heard, in their communities and in their country. Sana Gao has been a step towards making that happen.
PAK7 is really delighted that Sana Gao has given us the opportunity to find some of these gifted young people and the church is both encouraged and excited at the prospect of PAK7 as a platform for their young people to be able to speak from in the future.