*By Claus Grue
Since a small scholarship got her involved in the ecumenical movement, Sana Jennifer’s future has been staked out. She started as a bishop’s secretary and office administrator at the Diocese of Raiwind, Church of Pakistan, in Lahore three years ago and was appointed youth programme coordinator this year.
With a master’s degree in communications from the Forman Christian College - the only Christian university in Pakistan - she feels well-equipped to take on more responsibilities in the future.
“This is what God has prepared me to do. Once you get into the ecumenical movement, you’ll stay there”, she says.
Living in a country where only 1.5 percent of people are Christians and where religious fundamentalism is a reality, her main challenge is to convince younger Christians to stay in Pakistan and pursue an education.
“Some consider leaving the country because they don’t feel safe here. If they leave, there is a likelihood that they will get involved in drugs, trafficking or other bad things. We must reach out to them, make them realize that God loves them and that their prayers will be heard. Hope is the key to faith,” Jennifer points out.
In more concrete terms, her church also supports young people financially to acquire the skills needed for employment, be it technical skills or university studies, for instance in theology. Youth programmes are advertised through social media.
Another priority is peace building through interfaith dialogue and to ease tensions between Muslims and Christians.
“We bring Muslims and Christians together: We train young people, religious leaders and women in interfaith dialogue, so that they can pass on the message of peace. It is a question of building mutual respect and enhancing tolerance - to come out as friends and co-exist”, Jennifer explains.
One way of doing so is sharing each other’s traditions, such as Christmas and Ramadan.
“Our message is that we don’t disturb each other’s faith and that we are strong in our respective faith. So, let us invite each other to celebrate traditions together”, Jennifer continues.
Inspired by participating in the Asia Ecumenical Youth Assembly in Manado, Indonesia, recently, she is now preparing a national youth gathering under the same theme, “Lord, send your Light and Truth to lead us,” in Lahore this summer, where 150 youths from Pakistan’s eight dioceses, as well as other denominations, will be invited. The objective is spiritual, physical and emotional development.
“That will be yet another important step in our ecumenical journey”, Jennifer concludes.
Flowers of the church and agents of change gather in Indonesia (WCC press release 10 April 2018)
“Asian Ecumenical Youth inspired and equipped to face challenges” (WCC news release 13 April 2018)
Unifying faiths in peace and harmony through dialogue (WCC news release 10 April 2018)
*Claus Grue is communication consultant for the World Council of Churches