In 2005 I wrote an article for the Plain Truth entitled Saving Starfish. I looked back on the years I spent in India in the 1970s. Working with a team of local Christians, I toured the countryside, preaching and handing out literature about Jesus Christ. I wrote about my meeting with Mother Teresa in a refugee camp near Calcutta, and described how moved I was by my various encounters with poverty. I wrote about the difficulty I faced giving to beggars. I discovered how unfair the world is: the rich, the poor and the suffering -and our responsibility.
And finally I wrote about my personal crisis which led to the decision in 2003 to found a charity to serve the poorest of the poor among the Christians of Pakistan. It would be called Starfish Asia, in recognition of our need to do something to directly help the poor. The story of the starfish told me that I could not save the whole world, but I could make a huge difference to some.
The story of Seher
In 2005 when I wrote that article, we were already helping 1,000 Christian children from very poor homes to go to school. Pakistan has a very poor record on education, especially for Christians who are a small minority in country dominated by Muslims. Many thousands of children do not attend school, mainly because they cannot afford it and because they are afraid of prejudice against them.
I wrote about one family whom we knew well. Here is the story:
Hanifa lived in a simple one-room home with her husband and eight children. As we sipped tea together I asked how many of the children went to school. “Go to school?” Hanifa said. “We could not afford to send the children to school.” I looked at little six-year-old Seher hiding in a fold of her mother’s clothing. “Would you like to go to school?” I asked. Her gleaming eyes and broad smile told all, and now she and two of her sisters proudly put on their simple uniform and join the children at a small private Christian school.
The Ghauri Wisdom School
That was the beginning of an amazing tale. We helped Seher, her two sisters and four others to go to Mr Ghauri’s school. Actually, it was not much of a school; it was Mr Ghauri’s own house with a few benches and lots of good will. We paid about 50 pence a month for each one to study there. But Mr Ghauri was a retired Government school teacher and he had ambition. He wanted to open a proper school to serve his Christian community.
To cut a long story short, two years later we helped him to move to another rented property and the school grew. It continued to grow and grow, both in numbers and in success. Mr Ghauri retired and his son took over the leadership. It now serves 600 students from very poor Christian families. They charge a small fee, but many cannot pay and Starfish Asia is still helping to subsidise the teachers’ salaries. It is a success story –600 starfish rescued!
March 15th began as a normal Sunday in the Christian area close to the Ghauri Wisdom School. The churches were full of worshippers. As the services came to a close in St John’s Catholic Church a man wearing a suicide belt tried to climb over the gate. He was stopped by a young man called Akash. They were both killed when the bomb exploded. 17 people were killed in two suicide bomb attacks on local churches. Akash was a student at Ghauri Wisdom School.
So… what happened to Seher?
It is now 15 years since Seher began at school. Shortly before her Matric exams (GCSE), her mother and father died within three days of each other. The girls were thrown into depression, and for the next three years were not able to continue their studies. But God still has a plan for them. In the past year, Seher has begun to study again and we are helping her again. Sheis determined to become a nurse –and she will. Another starfish…
The stories of Seher and the Ghauri Wisdom School are just a glimpse into the thousands of lives (starfish, if you like) that we have been able to rescue.
Have we made a difference? When we started this charity Pakistan’s population was 140 million, of whom about 3 million identified themselves as Christian. Today – 21 years later – Pakistan’s population has swollen to 225 million, with maybe 5 million Christians. About 60 million of them earn less than £2 a day. Poverty is an awful thing. It means they have no bank account, no money to feed the family properly or pay for health care, nothing to pay for school fees.
Looking back… looking forward…
I look back now on 21 years, to that day when a close friend, a Pakistani Christian leader, said to me: “Mike, if you really want to help our community, help us educate our children.” Thanks to some generous support from a local Christian businessman, we helped him open a school. The Lahore Christian High School still serves about 150 ambitious students.
At about the same time we visited a blind friend called Alice in a Christian home for blind girls. Mrs Khalida who looked after the 12 ladies, told me the home was going to close. “Why?” I asked. “No money,” she replied. I asked how much she needed to keep the home open. “About £200 a month,” she replied. We were hooked. So little to achieve so much. Now, 21 years later, we still support the Ananias Home for about 20 Christian girls.
We look back on the past 21 years –you can read many of the stories in the book we want to send you as a gift, the Starfish Asia Story. But we also look forward to the next 21 years. Today 46 schools and six homes –and about 10,000 children –look to us for support. We are not just concerned to give them a future. We give training to their teachers, and we give them textbooks –and a Bible Curriculum so that they can grow in faith and the knowledge of Christ.
Mike WakelyStarfish Asia 1200 627
9 August 2022
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