Since first coming to Ashland in 1887, the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has built three church buildings and now they are almost finished with their fourth. The first church that was built was on 17th Street and is still used to this day as a house of worship. The second building was on the corner of 20th Street and Winchester. The third, which is used today, is the familiar edifice sitting on most of the 1900 block of Winchester Avenue. It is expected that the fourth church will be ready for dedication on May 22, 2011. A modest brick building with no pews and costing about $20,000, the most unusual aspect of this new church is the neighborhood. Located in Hussain Khan Wala in Pakistan, the new Christian Church becomes the eighth church founded by Pakistani Christian pastor, Dr. Saleem Massey.
Since returning to Pakistan in 1989 after completing his studies at Cincinnati Bible Seminary, Dr. Massey founded the Pakistan Christian Evangelical Services with the goal of planting churches throughout the country. To date, the eight churches now have a membership of over 3,000 Christians. Many of these congregations provide Christian schools for children. Additionally, medical camps are conducted with the aid of visiting medical teams from the United States where anyone in need, Muslim or Christian, is able to receive free medical care. This spirit of service has allowed Dr. Massey to minister effectively to the Pakistani people. The World Convention of the Christian Churches, the world organization with representatives from the churches of Christ (accapella), the Christian Church and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), has recognized Dr. Massey as a partner for evangelism in Pakistan. His funding efforts are endorsed by the World Convention, the International Disaster Emergency Services organization and the Christian Restoration Association. “That means he is a man of integrity. He uses the funds wisely and his covenant accountability with Christian Churches in the United States is above reproach,” said the Rev. Ike Nicholson, Senior Minister of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) became involved with the ministry of Dr. Massey after one of the own members, Dr. Greg Widener, professor of preaching at Kentucky Christian University, returned from a preaching tour of the Christian Churches in Pakistan. “I remember when Greg started growing a rather rough beard over a year ago,” Nicholson said, “I asked him about it and he told me he was headed to Pakistan to preach the Gospel. I believed that he had either lost his ever loving mind or he truly was called by God to embark on this endeavor.” This was during the time that attacks on American convoys had increased in Pakistan. “When he returned from his trip, I could tell he had been profoundly moved by the experience,” Nicholson said. According to Widener, over 150 new Christians were baptized. The church at Hussain Khan Wala was meeting outside of the village under a tree when Dr. Massey decided that a church building needed to be constructed. Widener approached the Outreach Department of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and plans were laid to begin a campaign during Lent. “The 40 day period of prayer and repentance seemed like a perfect time to raise the $20,000 to build the church building,” Nicholson said, “to date we are only $3,000 away from our goal.”
The land of Pakistan has been ruled by many different nations, including the Persians, the Greeks and the Moguls of Asia. It was during this time that Buddhism became the prominent religion. Ironically, there is also evidence that Christianity had come to the area during the second and third centuries. Tradition taught that Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples, took the Gospel to the subcontinent of what is today India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In the 8th century, Muslim traders came to the region and many were converted while the area east of Pakistan became solidly Hindu. When the British arrived in the 1600’s, the area was unified and generally referred to as India. Anglican Christianity became prominent and the effort of Protestant missionaries soon took hold in India. The region that is now Pakistan remained decidedly Muslim. In 1940, the region won its independence from the British and divided into three sovereign nations based on religion. India remained Hindu, while Pakistan and Bangladesh were Muslim.
“As is the case in many predominantly Islamic countries, other religions, including Christianity, are often the target of discrimination and attack,” said Nicholson, “Most recently, a Christian woman was arrested for allegedly blaspheming the name of Mohammed, and Shehbaz Bhatti, a Christian government official, was gunned down by Al-Queda militants for supporting her cause. Our congregation’s Lenten theme this year was “Lift High the Cross.” I remembered Dr. Widener telling me that each church would mount a cross at the top of the Church building, a rare sight in Pakistan. It hit me: these people are lifting high the cross in a place that could cost them their very lives. The least we can do, with our safe homes, padded pews and SUVs was to raise the money for them to build their church.”If you would like to learn more about the ministry or how you can help, go to the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) website at www.fcc-ashland.org.