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Persecuted in Pakistan, now pastoring in Vancouver

VANCOUVER (BP) — Pastor Gavaha* received the alarming news while he was visiting South Korea for a leadership conference. A group of men, claiming to have come to deliver a magazine at his family’s home in Pakistan, had forced their way past an armed security guard and taken Gavaha’s wife and four children hostage.

A few weeks earlier, Gavaha had led Christian mission teams into areas in Pakistan that had been severely impacted by floods in 2010 and 2011. He and his team brought both flood relief and the Gospel message of Jesus.

“We had been calling those places ‘target areas,’ and then the floods affected them badly,” Gavaha said. “We were able to show the love of Christ through our service, our lives and our prayers.”

As they helped clean and rebuild homes, Gavaha’s team also started to see lives transformed and remade by the power of the Gospel.

Gavaha and his co-laborers brought a pair of these new believers back with them after finishing the recovery work. They trained them and sent them back to help believers grow in their faith.

One day, as Gavaha was baptizing people outside a village, a reporter noticed that some of the people being baptized were Muslim, which was not allowed in Pakistan. The Christians were eventually forced to leave.

“Reporters started spreading the news,” Gavaha recounted, “and they realized that Christian organizations were converting people as they were conducting their relief activities.”

Some odd things started to happen around their organization’s headquarters where Gavaha and his family lived. Six men came to his home late one evening, asking to see Gavaha. The guard checked with Gavaha’s wife and went then back to tell the men to come back the next day, but they had left.

“We didn’t think someone was trying to do anything to us,” he said.

Then, weeks later, the group — presumably Islamic extremists — broke into Gavaha’s home. They tied up his family and held them at gunpoint, including his 2-year-old daughter, until they received confirmation that Gavaha was out of the country. Then, they let the family go and left the home.

While they were there, the attackers stole Gavaha’s laptop, jewelry and money. They did not cover their faces. They showed no fear, no shame.

When he heard the news, Gavaha canceled a planned trip to Toronto for another conference and started the trek of more than 3,000 miles back to Pakistan. “That day, my kids, by God’s grace, were spared, but next time maybe they would not be,” Gavaha said. “We worried about them going to school.”

Returning home, Gavaha took more security measures and moved to another house, but since he was leading the ministry, extremists continued looking for him and he could no longer move around freely. Gavaha and his family discussed what they should do with their ministry’s leadership. Since extremists were making threats on his life, everybody suggested that he leave. So, he packed up and headed for Toronto where a friend of his would allow him to stay.

“Everything was going smoothly. My kids were studying in Pakistan, and ministry was flourishing and going well,” Gavaha said. “I was feeling that I was in my comfort zone when everything changed in one day.”

Gavaha had to leave his family behind because traveling with them would have raised suspicion. In February 2012, they moved to a different city in Pakistan and tried to live a low-profile life while he flew to Canada, surrendered his passport at the refugee office and quickly became an official asylum seeker.

The process, however, would not be so smooth for his family. It would be more than four years before Gavaha’s wife, daughter and three sons finally landed in Toronto.

During those four years, Gavaha worked days and nights, sending money back to his family. Then a church that he occasionally visited asked for help and he started preaching on Saturdays and Sundays while continuing his other job.

As he started making friends and developing connections in Toronto, he was introduced to the North American Mission Board and heard about church planting.

“I was in Toronto for more than four years…. I was building relationships and feeling a little bit settled when God directed me to plant a church.”

As Gavaha talked through the process with NAMB leadership, he learned that a significant population of Punjabi-speaking people, people he had been reaching in Pakistan, lived in the Vancouver area. “Many of them did not have a church, and there was a need,” Gavaha said.

Once his family had joined him in Toronto, the pressure associated with making a major move made Gavaha anxious. His family had just come to Toronto from Pakistan. Now, the call to plant a church in Vancouver had them contemplating a 2,700-mile journey across Canada.

“We said that if God wanted us to move, we would move,” Gavaha said. “When I was visiting Vancouver, God showed me the need.”

Ultimately, they stepped out in faith as God’s call became clear to him and his family. After completing the application process with NAMB, Gavaha called Ray Woodard, NAMB’s Send City missionary in Vancouver, to say they were moving.

Even when some of the financial details had not yet been squared away, Gavaha responded simply, “We are coming. Since God is calling us to plant a church there, He will provide everything.”

Gavaha and his family left Toronto on June 25, 2016, and on July 1, they moved into a basement suite in Vancouver. God proved faithful and provided for their needs. They initially expected to spend a year settling into the community and preparing to plant, but “in the first three months, God did miraculous things,” he said.

His church had their first meeting on Sunday, Sept. 4, 2016, with 34 people in attendance.

“Their obedience to God’s calling led them to sacrifice,” Woodard said, “and that obedience resulted in five baptisms [last] fall for a congregation of about 30. In difficult times, [Gavaha’s story] encourages my heart to persevere another day.”

Gavaha’s entire family helps serve the church. The kids are involved, and his wife interacts with the women of the church.

“God is bringing people to Christ,” Gavaha said. “Wherever God wants us to minister, we will go. My boy asked me on our way to Vancouver from Toronto, ‘How long will we stay here?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. We will stay as long as God wants us to stay.'”

*Name changed.