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September 23, 2008

Pakistan: Building a Legacy of Trust

From Pakistan's violent birth, through earthquakes and wars, to the trials of today, TEAM missionaries have shared life with Pakistanis and lived the loved of Jesus.

  • Scenery

    The mountains of Pakistan stand as firm reminders that the landscape is resistant to change. In order to survive, it is the culture that has to adapt.

  • Water

    Sixty-five families will soon have a well from wich to draw clean water in the town of Attock. TEAM workers are covering the majority of the cost for the well construction.

  • Pesticides

    Three men from a farming community of Kawai overshadow a single root worm they are hoping will eat a piece of Furadan, a dangerous pesticide.

  • Faithful

    At 7:45am each morning, this doctor conducts a Bible study and prays with patients and visiting family members in the men's ward. "Sticking it out through terrorist attacks and earthquakes is earning us the right to be heard and have a presence," he said.

There is a place where images from the Bible live and breathe. Up where three of the world’s greatest mountain ranges converge – the Hindu Kush, the Himalaya, and the Karakorum – snowy peaks and crags loom thousands of feet over living creatures below. 

The dry, rocky mountains huddle together, leaving little room for fields or plains. Glacial rivers have carved paths for themselves around the base of the mountains, and along their banks, life springs.

Life for the people of northern Pakistan is much as it was hundreds of years ago. It appears to many visitors, as they follow narrow dirt paths, as if a story from the Bible was recreated before them. Buildings are formed from rocks and mud. Fields of wheat are plowed by hand and harvested with sickles in the fall. Men carry bags of fruit into town to sell on wooden stalls at the bazaar, while their wives at home squat by small wood stoves, slapping dough between their hands to form chapatis for the family’s next meal.

The palette is gray and brown, with pockets of green where farmers have carved terraces out of the hillside and anchored the soil with trees. Many of these plots have been farmed by the same family for generations.

Along with the land, the forbearers of today’s Pakistanis left them a culture and religion that are resistant to change.

The mountains of northern Pakistan have long attracted outsiders. Adventurers and mountaineers still come with the hope of conquering one of the world’s tallest mountains. Of the fourteen mountains that stand over 8000 meters (26,000 feet), five are in northern Pakistan.

Irish traveler and author Dervla Murphy wrote of this region, “None of the adjectives usually applied to mountain scenery is adequate here – indeed, the very word ‘scenery’ is comically inappropriate.”

On the southern flank of these mountains sits the district of Hazara, the wettest part of Pakistan, where moist winds sweep up from the Arabian Sea. Beyond Hazara are the fertile and populous plains of Punjab and the Sindh, a region that straddles the Indus River along the coast.


For much of recorded history, a series of migrants and conquerors have moved into or across these lands. Alexander the Great conquered parts of Punjab and Hazara in the 4th century B.C. Some people in northern Pakistan believe their blue eyes trace to Greek soldiers who visited the area. After Alexander’s failed attempt to conquer the whole of India, a succession of Buddhist and Hindu kings, rajas, and emperors ruled the subcontinent. Both Buddhism and Hinduism originated in India and have been the dominant religions among its people.

Islamic rulers in Arabia sent expeditions to South Asia as early as 660 A.D., only 30 years after the death of the prophet Mohammad. In 711 A.D., Muhammad bin Qasim conquered the Sindh and began converting its people to Islam.

This event, according to the Pakistani government, was when the “foundation was laid” for a Muslim homeland in South Asia.

The Muslim outpost in Sindh was relatively isolated. Islam did not truly expand until the 10th century when Mahmud of Ghazni, the “Sword of Islam,” led a band of Afghan raiders through the Khyber Pass into what is today northern Pakistan. Mahmud and his followers destroyed Hindu temples and waged a bloody war against the Hindus of India.

Alberuni, a central Asian scholar in the 11th century, writes, “Mahmud utterly ruined the prosperity of the country, and performed there wonderful exploits, by which the Hindus became like atoms of dust scattered in all directions... Their scattered remains cherish, of course, the most inveterate aversion towards all Muslims.”

Modern-day scholar Stanley Wolpert echoes this view of Mahmud: “The gulf of mistrust, fear, and hatred that was soon to divide India’s population from its martial Muslim rulers subsequently served to undermine all attempts to reunify the subcontinent.”

By 1290 A.D., South Asia was dominated by Muslim rulers.

Hindu conversion to Islam took place in some areas forcefully and in others peacefully, but Islam never could surpass the established religions. After nearly 600 years of gradually declining power, Muslims accounted for about one-quarter of India’s population, mostly along the western and eastern edges of South Asia.

In 1858, Muslim political rule in India was officially supplanted by the British Crown.

British merchants and traders had been in South Asia since the 1600’s under the auspices of the crown-chartered East India Company. As the Muslim empire faded, the Company developed a bureaucracy to collect revenue and, over time, to administer law and oversee public works. The British had a difficult time ruling such a large population of contentious Hindus and Muslims. To protect the Muslim minority, British administrators created separate electorates for Muslims, but the Hindu-dominated Congress eventually opposed this arrangement.

At the same time, the British encouraged missionaries and Christianization in India. This occasionally caused trouble for the western rulers. In 1832, a large conspiracy to massacre Britons was uncovered in Bangalore. The leaders of the conspiracy had, according to historian Lawrence James, “exploited fears that the government was preparing for the mass conversion of Muslims to Christianity.” Authorities brutally executed the conspirators, which James believes exemplified the contradictions Britons faced in being at once despotic rulers and humane emissaries of western culture.

The idea of creating a separate homeland for South Asia’s Muslims grew out of British rule in India. It was first espoused by Indian Muslims studying in England during the 1930’s. As the British Empire began crumbling after WWII, this idea took hold.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah, a Bombay lawyer, encouraged the division between Hindus and Muslims. He believed that after “a thousand years of close contact, nationalities which are as divergent today as ever cannot at any time be expected to transform themselves into one nation.”

In 1947, the British relinquished power and South Asia divided into the Hindu state of India and the Muslim state of Pakistan. Jinnah became Pakistan’s first Governor-General. Partition, as the event became known, was one of the largest migrations in history. Since India’s Muslims were concentrated on the western and eastern edges of the subcontinent, Pakistan was formed out of those areas. However, the provinces of Punjab in the west and Bengal in the east were divided. Over 7 million Muslims moved out to Pakistani territory, while 7 million Hindus and Sikhs moved into India. Millions of refugees were settled into camps, where many died of cholera. Widespread violence also killed an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 people.

It was a traumatic start for the new nation of Pakistan.


In the chaos of Partition, few might have noticed a small group of people crossing the border on a train from India. It was a team of missionaries, with their children and belongings, moving to their field of service in the district of Hazara.

Missionary Carl Davis describes the “human river” they encountered: “First came four miles of ox carts with the animals straining at the heavy yokes of the carts piled high with all the possessions salvaged from a forsaken home. These were the fortunate… The unfortunates following formed a three mile line of trudging people carrying all their possessions in bundles on their heads. Babies carried by mothers, who were also balancing on their heads vessels for cooking, made apparent the fact that this was a trek of a whole nation.”

The missionaries were the first from TEAM to work in Pakistan. Their initial task was clear:  to inoculate against cholera in the refugee camps.

Even after the refugee crisis subsided, TEAM was committed to health care. There was little in northern Pakistan to help people with their medical needs, which ranged from cataracts to malaria. In 1951, TEAM opened a small dispensary in the town of Mansehra. Two years later, Dr. Andrew Karsgaard expanded the dispensary into a clinic.

He says, “We were unable to find quarters to rent, and we had no funds with which to build, and no land to build upon. So we gathered up the stones on the mission compound in Mansehra, mixed up some mud and straw for mortar, built two rooms, and fixed up two other mud rooms with mud plaster and whitewash, and started to see the patients that came.”

“We did no advertising, we had no elaborate set-up to see the patient… a few rickety wooden benches… but mostly they sat around on the ground under the mulberry tree and waited their turn, sometimes from 7 in the morning until 5 or 6 in the evening to be seen.”

Dr. Karsgaard was not entirely happy with the clinic. He longed for a hospital where they could keep patients and perform surgeries. The missionaries agreed with Dr. Karsgaard. Later that year, all TEAM missionaries voted to each put $10 a month (out of their personal salaries of $66 a month) into a rent fund to pay for hospital property. They found land halfway between  Mansehra and the town of Abbottabad, and broke ground in 1956. It took several years to fully construct the hospital, but patients came regularly. TEAM statistics in 1958 showed that one out of every ten people in Hazara had seen Dr. Karsgaard.

Today, Bach Christian Hospital is TEAM’s biggest project in northern Pakistan, treating nearly 50,000 outpatients a year, in addition to surgeries and deliveries. It recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.

For many of the early years at Bach, the hospital administrator was an engineer named Caleb Cutherell. Caleb’s son Luke Cutherell is now a doctor, and he and his family returned to Pakistan to serve in Bach Hospital. Dr. Cutherell believes he is where God wants him to be. He says, “This is what God made me to do, and He’s brought us to a place where we can do what He’s given us some ability to do. It’s been a blessing.”

The medical needs in northern Pakistan are immense. Many people live in isolated villages with no health care available. The lack of modern conveniences makes daily life a struggle.

“The clinic is just an unending stream of misery,” Cutherell says. “People wandering in, coming so far… Sometimes it just really is crushing to see what these people put up with. A lot of the women here have aches and pains, and they have every reason to have them: they squat on the ground to cook; they’re washing with cold water. It’s no wonder they have arthritis and they just hurt all over carrying heavy loads and hauling wood and hauling water. Many of them have a very hard life.”

Being the second generation of a family dedicated to helping others in Pakistan, Cutherell feels he has a stronger connection to those he serves.

“It’s a privilege to be able to come back,” he says. “And in this culture, where there’s a high value on family relationships and generational relatedness, it’s been a real privilege and a real advantage. There’s something special about having that heritage in being long-term here. We’ve been through the ups and downs, we’re tied in to this place. That’s one of the blessings of being a second generation: my father’s friends are my friends and their offspring are my friends because our fathers were friends. With each generation, it spreads out, so there’s a huge group of people.”

It is a legacy Cutherell and his wife seem to be passing on to their four sons. Two are currently working in Afghanistan with different development organizations. The youngest two are students at Wheaton College in Illinois where one is studying art, and the other, medicine.

Over the years, several children of those early TEAM missionaries have returned to a country they love in order to serve in the medical field or to assist in the development work of various NGOs (“non-governmental organizations”).

Dave Davis was a baby when his parents, Carl and Agnes, moved to India just before Partition. In 1950, the Davis family moved onto the compound of the Abbottabad Christian School (ACS), where Agnes became TEAM’s first headmistress for the school. While the Davises worked in a variety of places during their time in Pakistan, Dave attended Murree Christian School and was one of three students in its first graduating class. Carl and Agnes left Pakistan in 1967, but Dave and his wife, Mary, returned a few years later to work in development.

Education has been an important aspect of TEAM’s service in Pakistan since the beginning. ACS was opened in 1923 by the United Presbyterian Mission as the Abbottabad Mission School. In those days, Pakistani students sat beneath oak trees for instruction. Buildings were later added, and TEAM was given charge of the school in 1950. For the next twelve years, both Christian and Muslim students were admitted. Muslim families allowed their children to attend, despite Christian teaching, because of the school’s high standards.

Then, in 1962, Pakistan enacted a new constitution, which included a number of provisions for Islam. One provision required Islamic instruction for Muslim students. Unwilling to offer Quranic teaching, TEAM closed the school and reopened it as the Abbottabad Christian School. It continues today as a boarding and day school for minority Christians.

Christians have always been a very small minority in Pakistan. Of the 163 million people in the country today, only 1% are Christian, and this number is falling.

Over the past few decades, some Christians have felt a growing sense of hostility toward them. This may be due to a misunderstanding of Christians and Christianity, resistance to “foreign” ideas, or perhaps pressure from Islamic fundamentalists. Whatever the cause, early TEAM missionaries noticed a change. In his 1962 report, TEAM-Pakistan’s chairman writes, “For the first time in Pakistan, we felt a nation-wide animosity against Christian missionaries, which was heralded in the public press, radio, and speeches for nearly eight months. Our position here at times appeared very uncertain.”

Security is an issue of concern for members of TEAM in Pakistan. Despite suspicion and even animosity among certain Muslim religious leaders, as well as threats from extremists, TEAM remains in Pakistan to maintain its service institutions, such as the hospital, and to fund and manage various development projects.

Dave and Mary Davis left Pakistan in 1989, but returned this past year for Dave to work as interim director of TEAM’s development organization. As director, Davis feels responsible for minimizing risks to their employees.

“We work in this environment where the process of risk assessment to our property and lives is a constant thing,” he says. “We are always evaluating news, events, speeches, Friday prayers… We wouldn’t be here if we thought it was too risky. A bomb could go off in our office today. We don’t know; the potential is there. The likelihood of that happening, in our view, is not real high.”

In April, attackers killed four men at the Mansehra offices of another NGO. As a result, the police are asking all NGOs to move south to Abbottabad, where they can be better protected. Davis says this is “not a preferred option.” Since most of their development projects are located north – along narrow, bumpy mountain roads – the move south will add cost and time to all of their activities.

“It’s not just driving to an office and working there,” Davis says, “but you start at the office and go 30 to 100 miles to do any part of your job.”

Still, Davis agrees the new location would be safer. He also has an historical attachment to the area: it is where he lived as a child and, many years later, with Mary when he returned to Pakistan as an adult.

Davis also does not believe these attacks and threats are from local villagers, but, rather, from extremists. “This is a wonderful culture to grow up in,” he says. “It’s a wonderful culture to work in. You can do anything in Pakistan, really. The security issues are relatively new in this country, and they’re just as much a problem for Pakistanis as they are for us.”


In October of 2005, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck northern Pakistan. Nearly 75,000 people died, over 100,000 were injured, and millions were left homeless in one of the deadliest earthquakes on record. TEAM members in Pakistan decided to create a new NGO to be more efficient in their relief efforts. It was named Salamat-e-Hazara, or Peace to Hazara. Salamat-e-Hazara (S.e.H.) is directed by Matthew Dalton, whose parents first moved to Pakistan in the 1950s. Dalton partnered with local men to gain legal recognition for S.e.H. and to learn where the needs were greatest. Relief efforts included food parcels, blankets, bedding, and shelters for the winter.

Now that the relief and aid stage is over, S.e.H. is transitioning to long-term development work. As interim director while Dalton was on leave this past year, Dave Davis helped oversee the transition and the start of several new projects.

“There is no end to the need,” Davis says. “We could do relief work forever, but we won’t have the money to do it, nor do we have the time or the personnel to do it. So, we are trying to move our whole agency into doing community development, which is to help the community identify what are their needs and then assist them in the process of meeting those needs. Rather than us doing it for them, we’re hoping that we can help them do it for themselves.”

S.e.H. still receives frequent requests for more aid, be it a tent, a road, or a well. But they only accept projects in villages where they have existing relationships, where they can further those relationships, and where the community is committed to helping with the process over months and years.

There are a number of projects ongoing at S.e.H. The newest endeavor is an attempt to help farmers improve their crop yields.

Davis explains, “It is in this community where we decided we would like to bring agricultural expertise to bear and make it possible for them to generate more income. Basically, we asked for permission to rent two plots in this village in two different fields. … The test plots are designed to show them that a few changes in methods of planting corn and applying fertilizer should yield a greater harvest. We won’t know that until October [at harvest time], when it’s all said and done. We are trying to change just one or two things in their process, not just say, ‘throw money at this and you can get a better harvest.’ It’s a matter of changing more of their thinking and their methodology.”

S.e.H. consulted an agricultural expert for advice in the project. The expert noted that farming methods used in northern Pakistan today are similar to those used in North America one hundred years ago. Since nearly 70% of people in the region live and work on a farm, improving farming methods and crop yield can make a big difference for communities. It will add income, allowing farmers to feed their families and send their children to school. “A wealthier farmer is a happier farmer,” Davis says.

Perhaps the biggest and most important project S.e.H. has undertaken is the creation and building of a school in the isolated mountain village of Naran. Villagers are migrant, moving their families and animals down to the village of Shinkiari during the wintertime, which can make consistent education difficult, even if government schooling is available.

The school was envisioned by a local Christian man who spent years asking God to show him a way he could help his community. Rahim was in Shinkiari after the earthquake and he noticed the children. “I saw 150-200 kids playing around, having nothing to do,” he says. “They couldn’t go to school. And this was after the earthquake, which affected these kids a lot, having had people die in their families.”

Mary Davis adds, “The worst thing to do after a trauma like an earthquake is to do nothing.”

Rahim wants the children to have opportunities that were not available for himself and his generation. Having only received education to the 3rd grade, Rahim can barely read or write. For the next generation to be able not only to improve their lives but also to protect themselves, they must learn how to read and do math.

Dave Davis says, “As Pakistan is changing, illiterate people are more and more getting taken advantage of in any situation. If you give your money to a shopkeeper, he’s going to give you the wrong change back, and if you don’t know the colors of the notes, and you can’t count – even that basic a level of math – they’re going to take advantage of you.”

Rahim especially wants the children to be able to think independently and know how to distinguish true and false teaching.

“Illiterate people believe what they are told without being able to determine if it is true or not,” he says.

With the help of TEAM, Rahim and S.e.H. set up a primary school under tents in Shinkiari. When the villagers migrated back to Naran, S.e.H. built a dozen corrugated steel huts and continued teaching. In the youngest grades, thirty to forty children would pack into a hut, each of them sitting on the ground.

“You could hardly walk,” Mary Davis recalls, “They were just body to body.”

In October 2007, S.e.H. decided to use some of its earthquake donation – money donated to help rebuild schools – to build an actual school building in Naran. It was a logistical challenge, as Naran is several hours by road away from any town with construction supplies. They also had a short time to build, as snows of eight to nine feet make construction impossible during winter. After a flurry of last-minute activity, the school opened on time on the 2nd of June. Davis loved watching the excited children enter their colorful new classrooms with brightly painted desks and chairs.

“Their lives don’t have color in them,” she says, “but their rooms do now at school. They have beautifully painted desks with bright colors and pretty things hanging all over the walls and Letter Land... And the kids just go crazy. And the parents that come to visit cannot believe it. They all want their kids to come to our school.”

 More important than a beautiful building, however, is the quality of education. Davis was put in charge of developing curriculum, and she soon realized the best tactic was teacher training, since it is very common in Pakistan for teachers to do little more than make students memorize the words in a book.

“No matter what subject it is,” she says, “all they do is memorize the book. So [the students] can’t think, they can’t use that information for anything else.”

Davis found an effective primary school curriculum and, with the help of a well-educated Pakistani teacher, began training their teachers. First, she had to convince them of the need to change their teaching style. Davis says, “I think many of them – I’ve done this in five schools – many of them have caught the vision of yes, we need to change the way we are teaching.”

The community in Naran is not entirely sure what to think about the new school. Though many parents are excited for the quality education offered, others question the motives of S.e.H.

“We’re in this very conservative Muslim context,” Dave Davis explains. “We’re clearly foreigners, clearly understood to be Christian foreigners… We talk about honor, integrity, character, not lying, not cheating, and that these are good principles to live by, because that’s also Quranic teaching. … Whatever we do in public, we really have to be careful in this community because they’re watching us to see how we do it, and it’s being reported all over the community.

“Now they wonder why we’re doing this school. They just think we’re doing good because we’re trying to earn merit with God. That’s why they would do it. So we keep telling them, no we’re just doing this because we want to help the kids, we want to help the kids in your neighborhood get a good education so they can get ahead, because there’s no chance for them if they don’t get a good education. They’ll be stuck here doing the same old, same old for the next 30 years.”

S.e.H. must especially be cautious in its interaction with female teachers and female students. But education for girls is a very important part of the project, since Pakistani girls will never be sent away for education and so are limited to what is available in their village. The Naran school was established as a primary school (through 5th grade). Rahim has a vision for it to include high school (through 10th grade), though it may take years to accomplish.

However, the school recently added 6th grade at the request of one girl.

Mary Davis recalls the last day of classes in Shinkiari, before the villagers migrated back to the mountains and the school opened for the summer in Naran: “This one little girl, very last, she hung back after school the last day I was in Shinkiari and she just stood there with these big eyes and said, ‘Madam, please, please have 6th grade. I don’t want to stop studying. Please have school for me.’ And then I found out that there was no other option for her in Naran. Either we had school for her, or she didn’t study anymore.

“Well, we have school for her now, and it is so exciting to see it going and to see these children coming. … There’s much better hope of them becoming educated people and making something of themselves than there was before. And they’ve tasted education, they’ve tasted learning. It is so exciting.”

For those who have long-term, deeply rooted connections to Pakistan, the projects underway offer an opportunity to see changes – good changes – that could free people from poverty, illness, ignorance, and misery. It may take years, even decades, to see results.

Dr. Cutherell is unconcerned about the speed of progress. “We’ve had hard times, but I’m optimistic,” he says. “We haven’t seen what we hope to see, but there is hope. Maybe it’s the hope that comes from faith – the substance of things not seen. And I’m still optimistic.”

In Naran, Rahim looks with joy at the children in school. He says, “The real meaning of why I want to have this school is so they become good human beings, and they’ll do that by getting an education. And just the fact that they’ll become good human beings and get a good education has to be to the glory of God. God has to be happy with that.”

“He’s got a generational view,” Dave Davis says. “It’s a long-term view, clearly: that the community will be different in 25 years because these children are in school. … If this project could end up helping multiple communities in the years to come, we will be right in line with what TEAM has been trying to do here since day one: to help people with real felt needs. Leaving something behind that will keep going will be a dream come true.”

Rahim is praying for the school, and asking others to pray with him.

“I want these people to become good people,” he says. “I want them to have a better life. [Pray] that they have a good life, and learn to obey God.”

And he hopes this small, colorful school in the dry and dusty mountains may be the beginning of a much larger influence throughout the region.

“This is the way a foundation is laid.”

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne;
Lovingkindness and truth go before You.
How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!
O Lord, they walk in the light of Your countenance.  – Psalm 89:14-15

- Written by Megan Darreth
- Photography by Jimi Allen

[Originally published in TEAMHorizons, September 2008]

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