In this article we interviewed Uzma Ashiq. Uzma is a vibrant Christian who lives in Lahore. She recently joined the PAK7 International Council. Her life’s work is with children who are neglected and abused. Uzma is a member of the Salvation Army.PAK7: We are grateful that you would take the time for an interview with us.
Uzma: You are welcome, and greetings to everyone. Here is my Christmas wish: Celebrate Christmas with all your heart – especially in this year of the pandemic. This will be a big testimony, that by God’s grace we still are safe, we still are living, we still are serving people as before. May God give you a good life. He is giving us a New Year!PAK7: Thank you so much. Uzma, why is Christmas so important to the churches of Pakistan?
Uzma: Truly Christians are the most enthusiastic about Christmas. We celebrate our faith in Jesus. We focus on how Christ was born and has brought us salvation. He came, died for us and will come again. In the Asian style and as minority Pakistani Christians, we are all the more passionate to celebrate Jesus’ birth. At this time we revive our faith and relation with Jesus. We proclaim His grace and salvation, and share the love of God with others. Christmas reminds us that God is with us forever during challenges, pandemic or troubles.PAK7: So how do Pakistani Christians celebrate Christmas?
Uzma: Like Western Christians, we also sing familiar carols. But we also love to worship with songs in Urdu and Punjabi that reflect our own culture. We especially love (translated) “Christ Came and Brought Salvation to Us.”
In our churches we observe Advent, the four Sundays before Christmas. We light candles of hope, peace, love and joy. Our pastors preach on the significance of Christmas and the word of God particularly share prophesies about Christ written in Isaiah.
At Christmas our children wear new clothes. Our girls and young women decorate their hands with henna. They wear beautiful dresses, jewelry and bangles. In Asian Culture new clothes are part of participating in the joy! In many cases Christians in Pakistan who are poor, so this is the one time of year that many children receive a new set of clothes, pair of shoes and toys. Christmas puts smiles on their faces!
In the Salvation Army, part of our celebration of Christ’s birth is remembering the poor, needy, orphans, patients and prisoners. We take them groceries, gifts, food and cloths. Prison visitation is now closed, but there are many other people whose lives we can touch.
We all celebrate. We sing openly in the streets and have caroling services. To do this we cross boundaries that we ordinarily must observe. We light stars that we put on our rooftops. Our churches do the same. In Christian colonies (within cities) and rural villages, many decorations appear. We decorate churches, homes and streets with lights. Christmas joy gives us a sense of unity, revives communities and our fellowship. Many family members who live abroad come home to celebrate Christmas.PAK7: Many readers won’t know you can do these things in the country, where you live as a minority.
Uzma: From my childhood, I remember these things. We were fearless when I was a child. We never thought that there would be terrorist attacks. But nowadays there is an element of fear. We feel fear about terrorist attacks, especially at Christmas. Still, we celebrate.
During Terrorists attack in Army Public School 2016 all Christmas events were canceled. Only worship on 25th was open. In 2013 during Easter days, a terrorist blast killed 127 people at All Saints Church in Peshawar. The next Sunday more Christians than before were there worshipping. Christians did not stay away. I had been counseling children there. The children were so resilient about it, willing to go back to the same place.
Resilient faith and strong family ties play a vital role in strengthening our people. These give people courage to come worship in threatening situations. The Government now supports churches by providing complete security at these times. We are thankful, and continue to trust the Lord to keep us safe.PAK7: In your celebration of Christmas, is there an element of Christian witness to those outside the Christian community?
Uzma: Oh, yes! Many people of other faiths love to hear us sing carols, and they come to our Christmas programs, especially to see our nativity plays. The message of love and peace resonates strongly. The good thing is that when Christians celebrate Christmas, the celebration is open for all. We do not discriminate at our gatherings. Many others love to participate. At this special occasion people from all faiths celebrate a cake cutting ceremony to ensure interfaith harmony.PAK7: Uzma how can we pray for Christmas in Pakistan?
Uzma: I would love to answer this question.
First, pray for peace and security in Pakistan. Pray for peace from prejudice, discrimination, and especially for justice and equal rights for everyone. Every individual matters, no matter what race, gender, caste, or religion.
Second, pray that for the sake of our witness, we Christians love others. The most important thing is to extend our love to the majority. So we listen to others, speak kindly and truthfully, help and pray for them.
Third, pray for the many children who are orphans because of the pandemic it was not sickness but its effects. I have heard 3 suicide stories within Christian families because they could not provide for the family.
Lastly, pray for PAK7. Pray that God provides the right people for the right work. Pray for wisdom and resources so that PAK7 can reach more churches and uplift the people, to become a voice for those who have no voice. Everyone is in distress nowadays, feels helpless, disconnected, and losing hope. PAK7 can give words to them.