Pakistan

In the first century, Greek traders used Barbarike, at the mouth of the Indus, for the export of Chinese silk and leather, Persian turquoise, and spikenard from Kashmir. The Acts of Thomas,* written about 230, is clearly fiction, but may contain echoes of a tradition that Thomas followed this trading route, and it is possible that he preached at Taxila during the reign of Vindafarna (Gondaphoros), about a.d. 20-48. About 196, Bardaisan speaks of Christians among the Kushans, whose empire included the Punjab. Attendance records at synods of the (Nestorian) Church of the East between 410 and 775 show an organized church in Afghanistan, with a metropolitan at Herat, and seven bishops south and east as far as Kandahar, but give no such proof of bishops in West Pakistan. Cosmas Indicopleustes writes of Christians among “the rest of the Indians” in 525, after speaking of Malabar* and Kalyan. In 1321 Friar Jordan does not speak of Christians further north than Broach in Gujarat, but in 1430 Niccolo di Conti states that “the Nestorians are scattered all over India, as the Jews among us.” Probably there were unorganized groups of Christians in West Pakistan, engaged in trade, but there is no evidence of an organized church, and no certain Christian remains.

Armenian traders, soldiers, and artisans settled in Lahore from 1601, built a church, and for a time had a bishop. Lahore had an Armenian Christian governor in the 1630s, and in 1735 Armenians were “the elite of the Mughal army.” An Armenian founder made the famous Zam-Zammah (“Kim's gun”). After 1750 the community dwindled, and there is no trace today of the organized church. From at least 1714 there were Armenians in Dacca, and their beautiful church (1781) is still extant. They were pioneers in the jute trade, but after 1947 most of them left East Pakistan.

Before 1600, Jerome Xavier and other Jesuit missionaries followed the court of Akbar the Great when he moved to Lahore. A church was built and many converts made, but in 1632 Shah Jehan closed the church, and it cannot be traced today. Louis Francis began Carmelite work in Thatta, Sind, in 1618, built a church and monastery, and in four years baptized some converts. Augustinians followed in 1624, but with the waning of Portuguese power all missionaries were withdrawn by 1672, and no trace of churches or Christian communities has survived. In East Pakistan there were chaplains in Chittagong from 1534, but Jesuit missionary work there (1598-1602) had to be abandoned because of political opposition to the Portuguese. Evangelism carried out in the Dacca area by Antony, an enslaved Rajah's son liberated by a missionary, was followed up by Jesuit missionaries in 1678-84, and though the missionaries had to withdraw, and many converts reverted to Hinduism, a church was established which has remained to this day.

In more modern times William Carey* preached in Dinajpur District between 1794 and 1800. Baptist work was begun in Dinajpur in 1800 by an ex-Catholic; in Jessore and Khulna in 1812; and in Barisal in 1829. The Church Missionary Society began work in Kushtia District in 1821, and about 5,000 baptisms followed a severe famine. Other missions followed. Since 1947 there have been small tribal movements in the Garo Hills, Sylhet, and the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The typical East Pakistan Christian (now, of course, a citizen of Bangladesh) is a clerk, artisan, mechanic, or small trader. In 1961 there were about 100,000 Roman Catholics, 40,000 Baptists, and 10,000 Anglicans in that area.

In West Pakistan, American Presbyterians began work in Lahore in 1849, followed by the (Anglican) CMS (1851), American United Presbyterians (1855), and Church of Scotland (1857). Roman Catholic work was resumed in 1843 in Karachi and 1852 in Lahore. The events of 1857 led to the death of Thomas Hunter, the first Church of Scotland missionary, with his wife and son, in Sialkot. In the mid-1870s a mass movement began among low-caste people in the Punjab, which brought thousands into the church, but slowed down after 1915. Since 1947 there have been group movements, especially among the Kohlis in Sind, and the Marwaris in Bahawalpur. In 1961 there were 584,000 Christians in West Pakistan, of whom perhaps three-fifths were Protestants.

In 1970 Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans, and some Presbyterians united to form the Church of Pakistan, which claimed a membership of 200,000 in both sections of the country. The other main Protestant denominations in West Pakistan are Presbyterian, Salvation Army, and Seventh-Day Adventist. The church is drawn mainly from the lower stratum of the population, and though it has an increasingly educated leadership, it plays little part in the political life of the country.

The former East Pakistan became at the end of 1971 the independent state of Bangladesh (“The Land of Bengal”), and this densely populated area with seventy-five million people presented a new challenge to Christian missions. There were only 200,000 professed Christians in the country, half of them Roman Catholic. There is a Muslim majority, a Hindu minority. There were fears that the new state would be influenced by India's hostile attitude toward missionary work, but there have been reports also of a growing interest in Christianity, especially among Hindus. Many missionary societies were heavily involved in the extensive relief operations mounted after the end of the nine-month struggle.

A.J. Dain (ed.), Mission Fields Today (2nd ed., 1956); V. Stacey, Focus on Pakistan (1969); W.G. Young, “The Life and History of the Church in Pakistan,” in Al-Mushir (May/June 1971). See also bibliography under Missions, Christian.