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Today in the Mission Yearbook

The call of Matthew 25 is heard in distant lands

 

The Sewing Center Project is launched in North Pakistan to help incarcerated people provide for their families upon their release

November 25, 2023

The Rev. Maurice Shahbaz (center) brings new fabric into the Abbottabad Jail in Northern Pakistan
for use by the new Sewing Center Project. (Contributed photo)

The Jesus call, “I was in prison, and you did not visit me,” is heard even in Pakistan, a Muslim country one-third the way around the world, where the sun rises nine hours earlier than it does in the Eastern Time Zone in the United States.

It is a country where Christianity, even as the third largest religion in Pakistan, makes up only 1.3% of the population. Pakistan is slightly larger than Texas, and densely inhabited, with a population of 241 million versus 31 million in the Lone Star State.

The Jesus call is heeded in this foreign land because courageous Christians living there have for centuries proclaimed the message of God’s love and forgiveness. They do so in harmonious cooperation with Islam, the official religion of Pakistan, protected by the country’s Constitution and practiced by 96.5% of the population. The remaining 3.5% practice Hinduism, Christianity, Sikhism and other religions.

This story relates to one brave, resolute man who learned the Jesus message the hard way.

Maurice Shahbaz was sentenced to life in prison at the age of 13. During his 12 years of incarceration, he experienced many difficulties and extreme trials, but he also acquired endurance and strength and managed to achieve a Bachelor of Arts degree. Upon release in 1998, he entered seminary and completed a Master of Divinity degree from the local Gujranwala Theological Seminary. He left the seminary with a biblical quote in his heart, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute” (Proverbs 31:8).

A sewing instructor brings a model dress into the Abbottabad Jail. (Contributed photo)

Now the Rev. Maurice Shahbaz is the founder and director of the Prisons Mission Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to prison outreach and education to equip the incarcerated to better face their future upon release.

With a well-trained, dedicated staff of well over 100 legal, health and educational professionals, under the inspired leadership of Shahbaz, the Prisons Mission Society provides much-needed outreach in several Pakistani prisons. Their offerings include lectures, seminars, religious services and educational programs, in addition to ongoing support to individuals upon return to society.

This year is the 25th anniversary of the release of Maurice Shahbaz from prison, and great progress has been made by his organization. Since Thomas the Apostle allegedly brought Christianity to the Indian subcontinent in the first century CE, tension has existed, and occasionally flares up between Islamic fundamentalists and the minority religions in the country. Last August, Shahbaz reported that a number of churches and homes of poor Christian families had burned down.

Despite these threats, the Prisons Mission Society, in good social entrepreneurship style, recently conceived and raised funds for a promising new prison outreach project. Possibly inspired by the old proverb, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” they started a prison sewing project so the incarcerated can learn how to make clothing and upon release earn a living for their family.

This September, the organization launched the Sewing Center Project in the district jail of Abbottabad in Northern Pakistan. Shahbaz explains the project this way: “This is a six-month course started with 100 students including male and female prisoners and some incarcerated youth. In this half-year program, the prisoners will learn the skill of design, cutting, and stitching, so after release they will be able to earn bread for their families.” He continues, “Our organization donates all the fabric, thread, and other relevant material, as well as ongoing expert teaching and guidance.” Based on his years of experience, Shahbaz is determined to extend this program to additional prisons in the active network of his organization.

This community outreach program in faraway Pakistan is a shining example of the Adopt-A-Prison (AAP) concept introduced in the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York in 2020. Since then, this program has become a successful vehicle for developing a symbiotic relationship between prison and the local community and has inspired several pilot programs abroad. AAP has proven to be a valuable tool for the manifestation of the universal law of love.

Dr. Hans Hallundbaek, Special to Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Sewing Center Project is launched in North Pakistan

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Corey Schlosser-Hall, Deputy Executive Director of Visioning, Rebuilding and Innovation, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Jeanie Schmuckie, Legal Assistant, Presbyterian Foundation

Let us pray

God of the harvest, you are in the midst of our arduous work. You manifest your tender care for us. We thank you for the privilege of being part of a church that welcomes us with our life stories, our pilgrimages and even our mistakes. Amen.