Shattered by the smiles in Pakistan’s brickyards

Only smiles

By Michael Ashcraft –

I visited Pakistan’s brickyards once. What would I see new on this visit?

Pastor Sarfraz Masih insisted he take me to the clay fields where the poorest of the poor of Pakistan – mostly Christians – squat over a single mold and slather in a lump of clay soil, turn it over to form an earthen brick one by one to be baked in the sun.

It’s knee-popping, sun-bleaching, dirty work. The people who fall into the brickyards almost never make it out because they make so little money they become indentured servants – their mounting debts to the owners never allow them to leave. Even their kids must work there to make ends meet. Consequently, they won’t go to school. They will be condemned to generational poverty.

Covered in dust but also in happiness.

But I saw some new things on my second trip to the brickyards that moved me deeply.

I saw a 65-year-old man hobbling among the rows of bricks. He’s too old to work, too poor to retire.

I saw a 5-year-old girl flipping bricks so they sun would bake them. Then, in her father’s arms, she sang about Jesus.

I saw a 60-year-old man invite me to tea. They were poor but generous, more giving than most rich people I know in the United States.

I saw people who didn’t know to be ashamed of their poverty.

I saw only smiles.

The smiles shattered everything I thought. Here were people living evident misery, but nobody had ever told them to feel miserable. The joy and radiance of Jesus beamed through them, undiminished.

The reporter of this article and the sexagenarian who invite him to tea.

In every article I had read about Pakistan’s brickyards, I had seen pictures of people who looked glum and downtrodden. The picture matched the subject matter.

But when I got to the brickyards myself, I didn’t see any frowns. In fact, the suspicion came over me that whatever journalists reporting from the brickyards had told the people to stop smiling. Could the photos have been staged?

Because these people have joy.

Meanwhile in America, we are crushing antidepressants to cope with our First World problems.

This is the power of any short-term mission.

In my 44 years of being a Christian, I have seen some argue against the usefulness of short-term missions. Basically, they call them a waste of resources, like just playing at being a minister instead of really being one.

Four or five, Kinza Masih turns the bricks over to bake on the sides. Child labor is a reality in Pakistan, especially if they are Christians.

But I would argue in their favor. Short-term missions make a long-term impact on the people who receive the missionaries – and those who go as missionaries. I’m not the only one who has seen things that cannot be unseen.

I was one. I went on a short-term mission trip to Tijuana when I was recently married. I caught the bug. Later I went as a permanent missionary to Guatemala. I stayed for almost 16 years.

My pastor, Rob Scribner of the Lighthouse Church in Santa Monica, went on a short-term mission trip to the Philippines. When he saw poor Filipinos give him their week’s worth of food out of gratitude for his visit, it left him changed. After playing in the NFL and a period in business, Scribner became a full-time pastor. He impacted my life.

Our Christian school in Santa Monica regularly sends high school students on medical missions to Africa, South America, Asia and recently Jamaica. It changes the students forever.

Kinza sang in Urdu. My translator, Pastor Sarfraz (left), said she sang, “I am not alone. Jesus is with me always.” She has joy, despite being exploited for child labor.

Some people may focus on stats: how many converted, how many baptized, how much buildings. But these metrics don’t show the whole picture of what God is doing: they don’t show who among the faithful in the foreign field was flagging but took courage because of a visiting short-term missionary. They don’t show who got zeal by seeing how important they are by the visit of people from the First World.

In regard to my trip to Pakistan, I don’t know how many salvations there were. But our time was not wasted. To the contrary, the spirit moves in unseen ways, but what I was able to see inspired me to pray more fervently for revival and transformational change in Pakistan.

Pakistan will always be with me. I hope I will be with them.

To learn more about a personal relationship with Jesus, click here

About this writer: Michael Ashcraft pastors a church in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles.


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