THE MAKING OF A MISSIONARY: Missionaries to America Khurram and Farrukh Khan
The blog today is about two brothers who learned life was not about accumulating riches for themselves; there was a higher purpose for living. These brothers grew up in Pakistan, and were raised in an affluent Christian family. The Khan family owned a cotton factory, and a small oil mill. They lived a pleasant life, not easy for Christians in the Muslim majority country where most Christians lived in poverty.
Before 1970 Christians and Muslims lived, studied and worked side by side in peace. They aspired to be engineers. Good education was available, both public and Christian schools prospered, and Khurram and Farrukh Khan progressed in their studies. The Khans were good Christians, but had never thought of becoming missionaries. Their lives were about to change.
In the nineteen seventies an armed revolution began and a more authoritarian government came to power in Pakistan. Refugees , many of them religious extremists, fled the Russian invasion of Afghanistan to settle in Pakistan. Zealots from western Russian States joined them. Christians began to suffer.
Muslim fundamentalism took over, and spurred on by the
zealots; mob rule was all too common. “Law 295.C” required the punishment of death for blaspheming Mohammed, or the Koran. Local fanatics used this as a cover, taking the law into their own hands, to persecute, jail and kill those with whom they disagreed. That is when Khurram and
Farrukh decided to find a better life, a life outside of Pakistan.
Offered positions as engineers with an American oil company, they accepted the offer and began work in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government was no less repressive, but at least the law was observed in Saudi Arabia – and besides, living in company quarters, the brothers and their families had opportunity to live openly as Christians. As long as they did not share their beliefs they were safe. The brothers had no plans to push their beliefs on Muslims; they were ordinary Christians, not missionaries. Until the Bible studies.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to ban Christian worship. In Saudi Arabia it is against the law for a group to study the Bible, even in your own home. Khurram and Farrukh and their families needed to express their faith, and, though it was against the law, they joined a clandestine Bible study conducted in a private home.
One of the members of the Bible study was an engineer from southern Illinois who not only knew the Bible, but knew grace, the kind of grace Paul celebrates in Ephesians, 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not your doing, (salvation) is a gift of God, not by human efforts, so no one can boast.” When Khurram heard this he says it was “like scales falling from my eyes.” The brothers and their wives had their eyes opened to the undeserved, full, complete forgiveness and love of God, apart from anything they might do to earn God’s love. Hearing this, they could no longer keep silent.
They were impelled, not compelled, impelled, by the Holy Spirit to share this life saving incredibly good news with all people, but especially Southeast Asians. When the Lord calls someone into ministry it is hard to stay away. He keeps coming after you, opening doors no one ever thought could open; He chooses people who never believed they could be a missionary, who never had training, or funding. As St. Paul counsels (Romans 9:21), “After all, the man who makes the pots has the right to use the clay as he wishes, and to make two pots from the same lump of clay, one for special occasions and the other for ordinary use. ” Missionaries are for special occasions.
Knowing that sharing Christ was not going to be possible in Saudi Arabia, Farrukh Khan wrote to the mission department of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod with a request: we want to come to America, to go to seminary, and become missionaries to America. Many Southeast Asians were coming to America. In their home countries, many could not hear the gospel of grace, of undeserved love from God; the Khan brothers believed they could share Christ’s love with these immigrants in ways American missionaries could not. A confession at this point is required.
The letter written by Farrukh was routed to the office of the vice president of our denomination, Dr. August Mennicke. At the time I was serving in the position of head of mission work in America for the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. But when Auggie Mennicke brought the letter to me, I scoffed: “We do not know these men; they could be spies; they have no missionary training and we have no way of knowing how they could or would succeed as missionaries in America . Besides, (at that time, the early 1990s) the two seminaries in our denomination required candidates to have been Lutheran for ten years before they could attend. “Auggie, forget about it.” But he did not. He wrote a reply to the letter from Saudi Arabia, and contacted Farrukh by telephone.
Two weeks later Dr. Mennicke came back to my office.”Bob, I believe these men are sincere. Isn’t there anything we can do?” Well, the week before I had received a request from a group of churches in Toronto. They wanted a missionary to bring God’s love to new Canadian immigrants. We decided if Farrukh was willing to move his family to Canada, we would find money to support the ministry. Farrukh paid his way to St. Louis to be interviewed by mission leaders. The interviewers were deeply impressed and recommended Farrukh be installed as a missionary in Toronto. In Toronto the churches discovered that there was not one Khan, but two who were called to missionary work. Khurram became part of the mission.
It is not easy to leave behind your work, your house, your friends – to let go of the comforts enjoyed by engineers working for an oil company. The courage, the faith, the sacrifices asked of missionaries is not only required, it is tested. Many who have the basic talent are not able to succeed. As Malachi says, “He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross” (Malachi 3:3). The Potter works the clay and fires it to make it useful.
The Khans made tremendous sacrifices, not only of reduced income, but of prestige and comfort to begin a successful mission among Southeast Asians in Toronto. After a while, they were asked to do the same in Detroit. They scraped together funds to begin People of the Book Lutheran Outreach (Muslims call Christians and Jews “People of the Book). These were hard times. Bills were not always paid on time but they persevered, like missionaries from the beginning, like the apostles, like the women and men driven as refugees from Jerusalem to Antioch. Like Paul and Barnabas. Refined by fire, they trusted, they worked hard, they prayed and asked others to pray. They never gave up.
At times they were depressed: many Christians have difficulty trusting immigrants from Pakistan, difficulty believing they are not in the ministry for themselves. When they began, they had no training in how to be missionaries. Most pastors going through seminary do not have that training; they are prepared to take care of Christians, not taught how to build a mission. Our way of forming church workers attracts women and men who can be successful at higher education, not necessarily as entrepreneurs. The Khans refused to give up; they learned on the go, sometimes with the help of their church, sometimes in spite of that church.
Early on they seriously considered returning to the Middle East. Then, in the next few weeks, there were sixteen baptisms at one mission they’d help begin, and eighteen at another. They stayed. Other missionaries were attracted to POBLO. At one point, after going together through a distance education program at Concordia Theological Seminary, fourteen POBLO recruited men were ordained at Faith Lutheran Church in Troy, Michigan.
Today, POBLO is a million dollar ministry, and, including ministries begun in Pakistan, over twelve thousand baptisms have occurred. POBLO owns a commercial building where they have their offices and missionary training center. Income from rental of other space helps pay the mortgage. People Of the Book carries on mission work in eight districts of the LCMS, with plans in place to begin two to three new mission fields each year.
Before that Bible class in Saudi Arabia, if anyone had told the brothers they would become missionaries to America, they would have been incredulous. Only the Holy Spirit would not have laughed. You see, “Christian missionary” is not a career goal, it is a calling. If the Lord wants you a way will open. You may fight it, but the Spirit keeps coming back, opening some doors, shutting others, shaping and molding, giving faith, and courage and love – all the components for the making of a missionary. The Potter is still at work, creating new clay jars for His special use.