TEAM History: Pakistan

In the summer of 1947, communal riots broke out between Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus in India, and history would never be the same for the subcontinent. But I get ahead of myself.

Written by Dave Davis

The British East India Company

had functioned in the subcontinent for 258 years until August 1858. It had been taking the wealth of India in trade and sending it back to England and the rest of Europe. At the time, Queen Victoria began “direct rule.” Pax Britannica meant a viceroy was sent in her place to paternalistically “run the place.” Under the British Raj, the English were racially smug and were quoted as saying about the viceroy that “he belongs to a race, which God has determined to govern and subdue,” wrote Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre in the book Freedom at Midnight.

Meanwhile, the people of India began longing for independence. As the popularity of the idea grew, a student in Cambridge, England, named Rahmet Ali began promoting the idea of a separate homeland for Muslims on the subcontinent. By 1940, it had gained popularity among Muslims, and the champion for this cause was the Muslim League’s Muhammad Ali Jinnah. By the summer of 1947, the Hindus were peaking in their demand for independence, and Muslims were clamoring for a partitioned India to make a homeland in which they could practice their faith without persecution by the Hindu majority. Three hundred million Hindus didn’t want any part of the partition. One hundred million Muslims didn’t want to stay part of India. Jinnah flung down a gauntlet to the Hindu Congress Party and the British. “We shall have India divided,” he vowed, “or we shall have India destroyed.”

Into this mix walked Mahatma Gandhi. The title Mahatma means “Great Soul” and came from millions of adoring followers across India. His methodology to counter British control of India was initially non-violence between castes and religions of Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus. His fasting to force the British hand created a vast following. To the British, he was a “malevolent politician … shrewd, obstinate, domineering and double-tongued,” Collins and Lapierre wrote. To the Indians he was a saint. He pushed for freedom and independence from the Crown through nonviolent struggle and eventually civil disobedience. He was thrown in jail multiple times.

  • Russell and Dr. Phyllis Irwin

India became an independent country, but divided

The fuse had been lit. Riots in Calcutta and dozens of villages across India saw Muslims attacking Hindu minorities and vice versa. The Crown sent a war hero by the name of Lord Louis Mountbatten to become the viceroy of India and gave him the task of lowering the Union Flag in India and leaving it to the people to rule. He was given plenipotentiary power by King George VI, which meant he had power over every living thing in India. At midnight, Aug. 14, 1947, India became an independent country, but divided into the Dominion of Pakistan and the Union of India. Celebrations erupted across the nation, but within hours, riots also erupted with satanic, violent fury.

The partitioning of British India created a bloodbath in which an estimated 2 million people were slaughtered. One year prior and half a world away, God had been working in the hearts of two families: Canadians Dr. Andrew and Olive Karsgaard with their son David; and Americans Carl and Agnes Davis with their daughter, Judy and infant son, Dave (that’s me), who would launch a missionary work in the Nort-West Frontier Province of India during these volatile times. God was also working through missionary statesman Dr. Robert H. Glover to form a cooperative arrangement with the United Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, which would enable TEAM workers to be supervised in India.

The Karsgaard family joined the Scandinavian Alliance Mission and sailed by ship to what is now Karachi, Pakistan, to land on Thanksgiving Day 1946. The Karsgaards proceeded directly to Taxila Hospital, where they began medical work and language study. Carl and Agnes Davis traveled by train from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Gary, Indiana. There they waved goodbye to family and boarded a train for San Francisco. In San Fran, they climbed aboard the USS Marine Adder, a converted troop ship from the U.S. Navy.

Approximately 50 missionaries sailed to India across the Pacific Ocean for six weeks to arrive at the Gateway to India Arch in Bombay in March 1947. There they prepared ghurrahs (clay pots) with baking soda and hot water to cure them prior to boiling water for the five-day train journey by steam engine to Dehradun in the north of India. Steam engines required water every 100 miles. Workers would stop and fill up the water tenders, which was usually followed by “blowing their stacks,” creating a rainstorm of soot all over everything. Many prayers were offered to blow the soot sideways and not down the length of the chugging train. The final leg was on a bus “up the hill” to the 8,000-foot altitude hill station of Landour where missionaries studied the Urdu language for the summer.

Following the division of India and its independence, Christian workers, including the Davises, who were finishing their Urdu language study in Landour, now needed to get to Pakistan. The Karsgaards were already there, working at Taxila Hospital and studying the language. The only way to get to Pakistan was by train. And thousands of Muslims were also fleeing to enter Pakistan. “Down through this turmoil and horror God led seventy national Christians and missionaries, including our own, through a five-hundred-mile journey of miracles,” wrote J.F. Swanson in Three Score Years … and Then. “Three times they were refused permission to attach their railroad car (third class) to trains going through. Later they learned that all three of these trains were either wrecked or shot up. They arrived in Lahore to find that God was to undertake for them again in a manner that so eloquently spoke of His loving care for His own. Their car was attached to a freight train leaving Lahore early in the morning. Only one train had time to follow them before the tracks along the way were washed out by flood waters.”

Cholera and typhoid broke out among the refugees. Dr. Karsgaard and Carl Davis, along with the Christian Committee for Relief, tried to help. They were inoculating thousands of people. In one week, Carl Davis recounted a team of five people inoculating 35,000 refugees. Each worker had a kidney basin with alcohol, one glass syringe and two needles. They would fill the syringe with serum, put on a needle, give the injection, take off the needle and drop it in the kidney basin. They then picked up the second needle from the basin put it on the syringe and gave the next person his shot. They repeated this process all day.

In one camp, 100,000 people huddled together in open fields with only torn blankets propped on sticks for shelter from the sun and rain. They were dying at a rate of 150 a day, according to one report. Early in 1948, Dr. David H. Johnson, general director of TEAM, visited Pakistan, along with the Rev. Willie Sutherland of the United Presbyterians. They toured the Attock and Hazara Districts, which had been allocated to TEAM by the Presbyterians. They toured the area to get a feel for the territory where TEAM hoped to develop the work. Hazara District at the time was home to 800,000 people — most of whom were Urdu-, Pushtu- and Hindko-speaking Muslims.

After two tours of relief, the missionaries began further Urdu studies, living on the compound of Gordon College, Rawalpindi. Presbyterian missionary Mrs. Cummings gave the following directions to Agnes Davis: “Here is your cook — give him money, and tell him what you want for lunch. Here is your maid — give her your children, and she will care for them. Here is your gardener — tell him what you want done in the yard. Your tutor for Urdu will be here at eight — he will teach you till noon.” With those instructions, she turned on her heel and walked off. Agnes did what she said.

In 1950, the Davises and newly arrived workers Don and Mabel Fredlund were assigned to the town of Abbottabad. In it, they established a “reading room” for literature and discussions with Muslim men. They also began systematic evangelistic preaching in the villages around Abbottabad. They put a PA system on the back of their motorcycles and drove off to a village. They played some music to attract a crowd and then preached the gospel and handed out literature. In a return visit to Pakistan in 1973, Carl Davis recounted as we drove north to Abbottabad that he preached in all those villages on the other side of the river. We were driving past about 20 miles of villages.

About this same time, a vision was birthed to extend medical help to villages north of Abbottabad. New arrivals Karen Pietsch, Mabel Fredlund and Nazir Bai began a small clinic in a newly purchased mud house, called Jabri, sold to TEAM by the Pattersons in the town of Mansehra. Dr. Andrew Karsgaard returned from furlough, and very soon, he was seeing 100 patients a day. Land and a hospital needed to be established in the region. Through some key Pakistani contacts and intervention in a serious bus crash, land was secured, and Carl Davis, who had an engineering background, built the first clinic building in 1955, on land at a junction of two village paths, eventually to become Qalandarabad.

The Davises were living in Mansehra, six miles to the north of the hospital location. Carl drove his 1940s vintage Harley-Davidson motorcycle back and forth to Qalandarabad daily and chatted with Muslims in a newly established reading room in Mansehra. Sultan was a young man in those early conversations, who put his faith in Jesus. When it became known, Sultan’s father ended up at Davis’s gate with a shotgun, demanding to know where Sultan was. In truth, Carl Davis told him he didn’t know because Sultan had fled for his life to a different location in Pakistan. At that time, New Zealander “Baba” Jack Ringer was providing jobs for such believers by teaching them how to make soap and then sell it on the street.

  • The 1958 dedication of the Abbottabad Christian School; Marge Montgomery is pictured with two teachers at the school, Natu Mall and Matias

  • Murree Christian School bus with kids, 1961

  • Dr. Bob Blanchard and tiny patient in operating room at Bach Hospital in 1968

In the mid-50s, God answered the prayers of many by sending new families to join the work in Pakistan.

In the mid-50s, God answered the prayers of many by sending new families to join the work in Pakistan. The annual conference in 1950 showed only eight workers. By 1955, it had grown to 37 adults and 27 children. New workers were asked to bring $100 extra to cover costs of the first year of language study. The Daltons, Rasmussens, Tranthams, Christiansens, Rocks, Cutherells, McMillans, Thompsons and many single ladies (Sodemann, Bleeker, Erb, Stewart, Steves, Bursma, Hawton) joined the work.

With these families came the need for education for the children. TEAM began a two-room day school in Mansehra, then a boarding school on Link Road in Abbottabad, run by Don and Garnett DeHart. Finally, in 1957, the Murree Christian School was organized as a multiple mission-run school, including boarding for kindergarten through 12th grade. It was established in a deconsecrated British Army Garrison Church in Gharial in the Murree Hills. Boarding facilities were established in the Sandes Soldiers Home, once used for military R&R in the village of Jhika Gali.

In 1957, TEAM was officially asked by the United Presbyterians to take charge of all work in the Attock District. Sutherland and the Gene Glassmans turned over the compound in Campbellpur to Davises and Daltons. In 1961, the field accepted a two-fold objective: the evangelism of the lost and the establishment of the indigenous church as the basic and all-consuming objective of the ministry. In the 50s, TEAM took over the management of a Christian school for national children and in 1962, had to continue it for Christian students only because the government required Muslim students be taught Islamiat by a certified Imam.

We began using the Light of Life course from India to begin a correspondence school. In the 60s, we began Camp Mubarak in the Murree Hills and began starting our own churches. Until then, we had been contributing to the Presbyterian churches in our area. The formal relationship with the United Presbyterians was changed, and church planting work launched fresh apart from their umbrella. In the 60s, a number of our men went trekking into the northern valleys, staying with local Khans and sharing literature and the gospel. Much seed was planted in those areas in those years.

In the 70s, a bookstore and bookmobile distributed large amounts of Christian literature, community health projects began in the north and the Hindko Bible translation was completed. I remember the day when I took a box of cassettes up to a village and was asked to give them to Bashir. We did so, and the next morning, mountain guide Bashir was back at our door. He exclaimed, “Do you know what was on those tapes?” I told him I did not. He then smiled a huge smile and said, “That was the Bible in my language!” It affirmed the importance of mother tongue communication. Radio work was launched and blossomed in the 70s and 80s on FEBA shortwave radio.

In these same years, a church association was birthed to encourage church planting among the nominal Christian community and also in outreach to the majority Muslim community. There are currently more than a dozen such churches in this association pastored by trained Pakistani leaders. In the 80s, refugee work among Afghans fleeing from the Russians inside Afghanistan provided TEAM, through an NGO called Hayat Services, a unique opportunity to minister in Jesus’ name. We began an ESL program, did relief work and set up a factory to compress and heat rice husk to make burnable logs for refugee camps. We were able to supply these logs for one camp of 10,000 refugees for a couple of years until the UN money ran out.

At one point, we had two acres of land covered 14 feet deep in rice husk to supply this factory. A robust community health training program in Hazara built latrines and taught health and hygiene principles in more than 80 villages. In the year 2000, a new strategic focus was agreed to for our expat workers to focus on direct outreach and discipleship work among the majority community. A focus on reading the Word with seekers was established. Institutional work (schools, hospitals, etc.) was being amply run by national Pakistani leaders. Time will tell when and how this investment will pay off — there are first fruits in evidence. In 1947, all our workers were told, “You have six months and the government will kick you out.” Here we are 69 years later and still going strong. May God be praised.

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