The magnificence of the historic Saint John’s Church becomes clearer as one gets on to Circular Road from Dera Ismail Khan’s Topa Wala Bazaar.
Sharing the place’s history, Mujahid Masih, the church’s caretaker, explained that Christian missionaries of the city set up St John’s church in 1886, adding that the present building as we see it is 97 years old.
On Sundays, he shared further, around 300 residents of the city come for prayers, including women and children.
While sitting inside the church and basking in its glory, it did not feel like one was in the center of the city’s busiest locality — thanks to the calm radiance emanating from the place.
Tracing the advent of Christianity in DI Khan, Masih explained that their ancestors arrived looking for water from River Sindh around 2,000 years ago and settled here. “Many invaders came and went, while others came and settled in. Hence, the sociological makeup of the historic city has been changing constantly.”
Before Partition, Hindus were in majority in the city and mostly involved in operating businesses. Ahmed Kundi, a provincial lawmaker from the area, informed that before Partition, the city was the region’s business center where people came from faraway lands as it offered all essential items. DI Khan also featured its own cultural ethos which the locals owned with pride.
Kundi asserted that inter-religious violence was never a problem as everyone lived with acceptance of the other, adding that the Hindus who left after Partition were bid farewell with heavy hearts by their Muslim counterparts.
Sahib Rasul, a local administration official, stated that at present around 5,000 Christians reside in the city, with most being followers of the Church of Pakistan. Other than Saint John’s Church, the city also features another — Saint Thomas Church. Moreover, Saint Thomas High School and Saint Helens are two educational institutes where most of the city’s Christian community sends its children.
While most of the city’s Christians are employed with the district municipality as sanitation workers, the government has started hiring Muslims for the posts as well.
“If the education and job quotas are implemented, then our children can compete with others on an equal footing,” hoped Masih.
Masih said that as is the practice elsewhere, the city’s Christians are often invited to come into the fold of Islam. He claimed that in the last 40 years, around 35 Christians have converted to Islam.
Saint John’s pastor Father Chand Masih stated that Christians have been living here for centuries, adding that one of the city’s prime land near the Cantonment belongs to them but most of it has been encroached upon illegally, thereby depriving them of much-needed revenue.
Aurangzeb Khan, a local researcher, said that the city’s Christian residents, owing to their historic roots to the city, speak the dialect of Seraiki exactly as their ancestors did — something which one can rarely witness in the city now.
“Unfortunately, since they are minorities, their historic and cultural ties are ignored and those of the majority reign supreme.”