PAKISTAN -- Crumbling under the heavy pressure of his school work, Imran felt that he was failing to get the high marks his parents and others expected from him. He had been pushed into studying science, although his real passion was computers. When he begged a teacher to let him change subjects, it was not permitted. He was told that if he failed in school, he was wasting money and valuable resources.
Feeling hopeless, he made at least one suicide attempt.
While waiting for his exam results with a sinking heart, he was invited to attend a pastor’s prayer camp, along with his father, who led a house church in their home. They had joined the Church of the Nazarene after a Nazarene JESUS Film team preached and showed the film in their community around 2002.
Imran expected pretty girls to be at the prayer camp, which was the main reason he’d agreed to go. However, when he arrived, he saw only men – and one girl who was already married.
That evening, the lead pastor laid his hands on many of the people and prayed fervently for them. Feeling desperate for the love and presence of God in his life, Imran said to himself, “If God is really working, this pastor will pray for me.”
Yet, after the pastor had prayed for every person in the room – except Imran – he returned to his chair. Deeply disappointed, Imran concluded there must be no God.
“Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder poking me and someone said, ‘Someone is calling you.’ I went and there was the pastor who was praying for all those people. He [said], ‘I want to pray for you.’ He laid his hand on me and he started to pray and … he started telling me all the things I was going through.
“I was so overwhelmed by God’s presence, and I felt God’s love so much, and I cried there two or three hours. Like a baby, I cried. My heart was so melted, I cannot explain. It is more than feelings. I say only Jesus broke my heart and that was such an amazing moment.
“Before that, I was going to church, I was leading and presiding in the church. I was in the choir. I was leading them, but this thing totally changed me.”
Filled with a new, unquenchable thirst for God, he spent long hours in his room reading the Bible and praying, only coming out to eat. He became so zealous that for a time he was angry not to see the same miracles and divine movement of God in his church as he read about in the early church depicted in the New Testament of Acts.
After finishing school he found a job in a bank, but quickly became unsatisfied with the work and resigned in just a month. Instead he began volunteering in a Christian ministry. He dreamed of a great revival in which someday the people of his city and nation would seek God.
“I have big dreams,” he said, chuckling.
While working in ministry, Imran earned his Master’s in Business Administration.
One day, Pastor Aneel came to preach at his church. Aneel serves as the district superintendent for the Church of the Nazarene in the area. More comfortable preaching in English than the local language, Aneel asked Imran to serve as his interpreter during the service. Aneel was so pleased with his abilities that he took Imran along to other churches he was visiting.
Then, Aneel said, “We want to use you in our district.”
The district was planning to restart a learning center for South Asia Nazarene Bible College, and hired Imran to do it. They began with five students in May 2013.
Since then, four learning centers have reopened and 60 students are enrolled, with 50 attending classes regularly. A fifth center opened in September 2018.
Imran believes firmly in the importance of theological education for leaders and pastors in his country.
“In the rural areas, there are no Bible colleges,” he said. “But most of the churches are in rural areas. The pastors are not well-educated. Sometimes we are preaching by heart and passion but not with the right doctrine. So that is very necessary to be holistic and missional. Our education – what are our values – this is very important, not even for themselves, but for the church growth. A healthy church will give a healthy community, and a healthy community makes a healthy nation.”
Most of the students travel from three to five hours to reach the learning center for class, which means waking up as early as 4 a.m. to get a bus. Some of them must take time off work, giving up their wages to study.
“They are living hand-to-mouth. Some of them are sacrificing a lot for their education. They know the value of it.”
In November 2016, 12 of the students graduated. This year, more will graduate, including one woman who completed her pastor’s diploma.