Monday, January 23, 2006


Posted in Pakistan on Sunday, January 22, 2006
By Amber Johnson, Metro Marketing
& Communications Director for Chicago

The road from Mansehra to Abbottabad is 40 minutes of stomach-churning twists, tight corners and busy traffic. I traveled it this morning with several World Vision team members in Pakistan on our way to church.

Though Pakistan is a 95% Muslim country, there are a handful of Christian congregations; this morning we joined the members of an Anglican church in a liturgy offered in both English and Urdu, the local language. Worshipping with Christian brothers and sisters in a Muslim country was a beautiful moment of shared faith, and also an illustration of the paradoxes Pakistan offers.

Later in the afternoon I witnessed another paradox: the beauty of the sun setting over Pakistan’s mountains, and the valley below, where survivors of the October earthquake are settled in chilly temporary shelters among the ruins of their homes.

Our last stop of the day was in Balakot, where virtually no building is left standing. We drove past camp after camp of tents (most just tarps covering metal or timber frames) where survivors moved following the earthquake. Women and children carried empty bottles to small streams to gather their drinking water; men sifted through the rubble of crumbled homes, looking for salvageable materials.

Though I had seen many photos and often imagined what the devastation of this earthquake would look like, I was still shocked by what I saw in Balakot. Children walk across rubble, bricks are piled two stories high, tangles of metal rods poke through crumbled concrete; the few intact buildings stand at unnatural slants.

Government officials and aid experts estimate it will take three to four years for this town to return to the way it was before the earthquake. How many winters, I wondered as we drove past, will these families live in tents?

The sun was setting as we left Balakot to return to Mansehra, and we stopped along the way to take pictures of the light as it settled on Pakistan’s mountains. In the distance, we could see peaks covered with snow and a sparse crop of trees. In the foreground the hills almost glowed with the color of the setting sun. And in the valley below was yet another settlement of tents -- warmed, I hope, by the last rays of the day’s light.

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