Samuel Akhtar to visit U.S. churches this fall for International Peacemakers
by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE – Ministers of all Christian denominations can tell you about the challenges of sharing the gospel in today’s world. For those who serve God in other countries, that challenge can be even more difficult. Samuel Akhtar knows this firsthand, having grown up in Pakistan.
Akhtar is the son of a Presbyterian minister who was also the first Pakistani home missionary installed by the United Presbyterian Church of Pakistan. As a child, his father preferred he attend public school where he was the only Christian student in the building.
“Initially, it seemed very tough to me, but later on, I adapted adequately and became immune to the biased behavior of the teachers,” he said. “But my confidence grew tremendously as a Christian. I worked very hard in studies and as a result, most of the teachers started liking me, except for a few.”
Having secured good grades, Akhtar was selected for admission to King Edward Medical College Lahore, one of the most prestigious medical schools in Pakistan. Later, he accepted God’s call and joined the theological seminary. Upon graduation, Akhtar served as an associate pastor at the Presbyterian Church of Sargodha.
Religious persecution was a daily struggle for Akhtar during his ministry years in Pakistan.
“Sharing of the gospel is totally banned and someone caught doing so would be rigorously punished,” he said. “The abuse of blasphemy laws has become a problem of greater concern. Most of the time, the majority of people abuse the laws to seek personal vendettas from poor Christians over land feud, social conflicts or malice. The victims of blasphemy laws are confined to jail long before their unfortunate fate is ascertained.”
Despite the setbacks, Akhtar says the church of Jesus Christ is still thriving. Through visiting various college campuses in Pakistan, he found receptive students.
“We mostly found atheist students unwilling to engage about the gospel, the second were Jewish and third, Hindus. The most congenial to talk to were Muslim students,” Akhtar said. “They would always talk about religion very nicely and openly. We developed good friendships with them and always attended their functions and programs held in the college or university.”
Akhtar now serves in the Chicago Presbytery, saying his stay in the United States was accidental. He was invited to preach at a religious convention and arrived just two weeks before Sept. 11, 2001.
“Consequently, the flight schedules were disrupted and my stay in the United States was delayed. I applied for and received an extension and joined United Christian Bible School in Philadelphia, earning a Certification in Religious Studies,” Akhtar said. “The liaison of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was looking for a pastor to organize an ethnic congregation in Chicago. I accepted and started my ministry in the fall of 2001. I have been serving God by serving God’s people in the United States.”
After settling in the U.S., Akhtar was able to bring his family and continue his work.
“We decided to stay in this free country, where we could make use of the freedom of speech, freedom of practicing religion, creating friendships that would ultimately lead to bridge-building,” he said. “We have been successful to some extent and a few converts and seekers have joined in our congregation who are very pleased with the balanced teachings of the Bible and respectful attitude extended toward them.”
Akhtar credits the PC(USA) for supporting him in his transition to the U.S.
“It is merely because of their trust and openness toward me that I still continue to remain loyal with the church, contrary to the other Pakistani immigrant congregations that left the church years ago,” he said. “I am invited to attend all meetings and the Presbytery has always been supportive of my ministry. I am proud to be a member of the Chicago Presbytery.”
Akhtar will be one of 16 peacemakers visiting churches and institutions across the U.S. between Sept. 22 and Oct. 16. He says his message will center around reaching and ministering to those in need.
“We have to present the salvation gospel in love and humility, respecting people’s faith traditions. Love is the prerequisite that gives us impetus to respect others’ belief system,” he said. “While presenting the gospel, we have to be as humble as possible. We cannot be proud of any qualification to earn salvation, which is the gift of God and received unconditionally. All human beings have been created in the image of God, Jesus atoned for everyone on the cross. The condition is to believe in him, according to God’s plan of salvation.”
Click here for more information about the 2017 International Peacemakers.
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Categories: Peace & Justice
Tags: compassion peace and justice, cpj, international peacemakers, pakistan, pcusa, peace and global witness offering, presbyterian, Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, Special Offerings
Ministries: Compassion, Peace and Justice, Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, Special Offerings