A prominent Sunni Muslim parent in Lahore, Pakistan, came to Veeda Javaid seeking to enroll his daughter in a Presbyterian school in the city. At home a short while later, the girl — now a student at the school — heard a shouting match going on between Sunnis and Shiites in her family’s living room.

“She marched into the room,” Javaid recalled in an Oct. 24 presentation at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s World Mission Celebration ’09 here, “and said, ‘My teacher has taught me that we are all children of God and should be living in peace.’ The shouting stopped.”

Two of that girl’s sisters are now also students at the Presbyterian school, said Javaid, executive director of the Presbyterian Education Board (PEB), an agency of the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan (PCP) which oversees a network of more than a dozen Presbyterian schools in the overwhelmingly Muslim country.

“Through our schools, we aim to rebuild Pakistan,” Javaid told the crowd of 700 mission-minded Presbyterians, “to make a difference, to stop terrorism, and education is the key.”

The flagship of Presbyterian educational mission in Pakistan is Forman Christian College (FCC), founded in 1864 by Presbyterian missionary Charles W. Forman. Current FCC President Peter Armacost told the group that Forman “is widely regarded as finest higher education institution on the Indian subcontinent.”

The school’s motto is “By love, serve one another.” Over the years it has produced scores of national leaders of Pakistan, from presidents to supreme court judges to business leaders. “No other college in the world has had as much influence on its country as Forman,” Armacost said.

But Presbyterian schools in Pakistan are just now emerging from a dark era. Religious schools in the country, including all the Presbyterian institutions, were nationalized by the Pakistani government in 1972.

In 1998, recognizing that the system of totally government-run schools was a disaster, the Pakistani government under former President Pervez Musharraf — an FCC alumnus — began returning the schools to the churches.

Former General Assembly Council Executive Director David Stoner served as chief negotiator for the PC(USA) and the PCP. To date, 14 Presbyterian schools, including FCC in 2003, have been returned to the church. Three more are in process. 

A massive PEB reconstruction effort is currently underway, trying to restore the physical structures, which had fallen into severe disrepair under government control, and the faculty, staff and academic programs that were dismantled in 1972.

The return of the schools was “an answer to prayer but there are many needs,” said Javaid, herself a product of the Presbyterian mission schools. “Major renovations and repairs have been needed everywhere just to make for a safe environment.”

Though many parents provide labor and other “in-kind” contributions, the need goes far beyond physical repairs. “In our majority Muslim country, most of our students belong to really poor families,” Javaid said.

“Scholarships are essential,” Armacost said, adding that “there’s no real measure what one student’s scholarship means because that one student, by increasing his or her earning capacity so dramatically, can help educate entire extended family and community.”

FCC’s current scholarship fund totals $1 million, about half what is needed, Armacost said.

PEB also stresses the education of females. “The literacy rate in Pakistan is really low, 30 percent among girls,” Javaid said. “But if we educate a girl, we are educating a mother, which pays off for generations.”

Perhaps the greatest difficulty in Pakistan, Javaid said, is interreligious conflict. The Presbyterian schools, she said, “provide a model that proves you can live and work together in an atmosphere of mutual respect.”

In a video presentation at the conference, the Rev. Vic Pentz, pastor of  Atlanta’s Peachtree Presbyterian Church — which contributes heavily to FCC — noted that all FCC students sign a covenant that commits them to respect the dignity of all, maintain good moral values and to value tolerance as well as education. “Muslim students [who make up three-quarters of the FCC student body] are well aware that their education is due to Christian witness,” he said.

Armacost said the four goals of the “new” Forman Christian College are to create a model of interfaith harmony, to improve higher education in Pakistan, to prepare leaders for the country and to serve Pakistan’s Christian community. “It’s working pretty well,” he said.

FCC’s values and goals were illustrated recently, Armacost said, when a team of FCC students, Christians and Muslims, traveled to the troubled Swat Valley after Pakistani government forces routed the Taliban from the region. The students went door-to-door, assessing the needs of civilian families, then raised 1 million Rupees ($12,000), created a distribution center and delivered supplies to the most severely affected victims of the conflict.

Demand is so great for the education FCC offers that Armacost said the college has “started an evening school to make room for them all.” More than 200 Christian high school students participate in an FCC-sponsored pre-college program so they can earn admission.

And once in school, students are offered a comprehensive Christian Life program, that includes daily chapel services, regular Bible study, and numerous service opportunities. “Ninety-six percent of  our students, Christian and Muslim, say they’ve grown spiritually during their time at FCC,” Armacost said.

“All the students at FCC are grateful for what you have done to restore their school as a quality educational institution,” he told the PC(USA) crowd. “You are the powerhouse behind this. We are building more schools all the time, which is building our society. People at places like FCC can help counter anti-American sentiment in Pakistan by their witness to what you have done for them.”

“The future of our schools is bright, with plenty of room to grow,” Javaid added. “There is a long road ahead, but in Pakistan, we live on trust, hope and faith.”

Help support PC(USA) educational ministry in Pakistan.

To help support Forman Christian College, contact the Friends of Forman Christian College.