Inspired to 'go and do likewise'
By Lynn Frith
"At times we have to take risks" says Khushnud Azariah, President Emerita of the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Women, and first woman ordained in the Church of Pakistan. "Risktaking means giving up privileges, stepping out into unknown frontiers of life, speaking out for justice," she said.
Revd Azariah was in New Zealand recently to be the keynote speaker at the National Convention of New Zealand Methodist Women's Fellowships. She knows what it is to be a risktaker. Khushnud was the first Pakistani woman to enter a seminary. To do this she had to leave home and family, as no seminary in Pakistan would admit woman students. She graduated from Trinity College, Singapore in 1977. It was another 23 years before she was ordained. This did not deter her from carrying out an innovative ministry with intellectually disabled children in Pakistan.
Khushnud Azariah addressed the theme of the Convention, 'Growing Together in God'. She reminded us that growth is a sign of life and vitality, and is not an isolated phenomenon. Growing together in God, she suggested, means constantly drawing our source of vitality from God while living with each other in community. "Let us not forget that the person standing on the other side is also made in God's image,"she said, "and without their active participation we are not whole". Further, "As a body of Christ we are bound to share the pain and suffering of our sisters and brothers around the world".
Kushnud Mussarat grew up the daughter of the second Bishop of Silakot and the fourth Moderator of the Church of Pakistan."Khushnud Mussarat is the name given to me by my parents. Both names mean happiness, so many call me double happiness" she explained.
Rev Azariah, who is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Claremont School of Theology in Los Angeles, describes herself as a minority woman, born and brought up in a predominantly Moslem country. "What does it mean to grow together in God in this context?"she asked. She knows first hand what it is to be intimidated, rejected, and marginalised. Her passion for justice and her deep faith were evident in all her conversations. She described her ministry with intellectually disabled children as teaching her what no university or seminary could have taught, that life is a constant struggle and full of surprises, which we live well only if we trust in God and trust each other.
Of the current tensions in Pakistan, she said that Christian and Moslem women are working vigorously to change the system. The women of Pakistan are called to be agents of change. And of people everywhere she said that to defeat violence we have to overcome silence. There is no compromise. "Either you speak or you do not speak. There is no such thing as neutrality" she declared. Fighting violence and injustice is not a charitable act. It is a transforming, active solidarity.
The Biblical tradition itself reminds us of the necessity to speak and act for justice. The Canaanite woman, Khushnud said, did not come to Jesus to receive charity. She came so that her daughter would live.
Implicit in all that Khushnud Azariah said was "Go, and do likewise."