Portraits of Courage | Profile #61: Pastor Aziz, Pakistan

His son was kidnapped when the boy was only five years old. It has been more than a dozen years since that time. There has never been any note demanding ransom. And the father has known all along who holds his son. It is the same people who disowned the father when he was a young adult: members of his own family.

Aziz, the father of the kidnapped boy, grew up in as a member of the proud Zehir tribe in the far western reaches of Pakistan, along its border with Afghanistan and Iran. Both Aziz and his wife, Ruhab, earned black belt status in Tae Kwon Do, and Aziz increased the pride of his tribe by competing in the sport at an international level. But the clan’s pride turned to disappointment when Aziz abandoned Islam and placed his faith in Jesus Christ through the testimony of a foreign follower of Christ and studying the Scriptures with him. A year later, Aziz’ relatives’ disappointment swelled to rage and violence when Aziz and his wife were baptized.

At first, the persecution came in the form of Aziz losing his job in a government agency. But when his family began to physically attack him, he and Ruhab decided to flee with their eight-year old daughter and five-year-old son and move to Quetta, the capital of the Balochistan province. But relatives learned of their plan and managed to kidnap the son, forever splitting Aziz’ family. To this day, Aziz and Ruhab have not been able to see their son or share the joy of their salvation with him beyond the memories he may hold from his childhood.

Following Aziz’ arrival in Quetta, some Christian leaders sheltered him and Ruhab and their daughter and connected Aziz with the JESUS Film ministry. He eventually became a JESUS Film team leader for a while and then later attended seminary to help prepare him to serve as a church planter inside Pakistan.

With his passion for sharing the gospel with Muslim seekers, Aziz’ church planting ministry has flourished. He now pastors three congregations around Quetta! About 75% of his church members have, like him, come out of Muslim backgrounds to embrace Christianity. He understands the spiritual and practical needs they face. “They have lost their jobs, have faced abuse from their family members, and have needed emergency shelter, just like I did,” Aziz explains. In just the first three months of 2018, Aziz was privileged to lead 50 people to faith in Jesus Christ and baptize 25 of them. Sometimes these baptismal services are held in a cold stream inside a cave in order to minimize the risk of riling up anti-Christian sentiments among the local population. (Balochistan is a hotbed for Islamic extremism and attacks against Christians in Quetta are increasing. At Christmastime 2017, three suicide bombers stormed a church, resulting in the death of a dozen worshippers and injuring 50. More recently, there has been a spate of targeted murders of Christians in the streets. Even Aziz has been brutally attacked while sharing the gospel in with a group of people. He suffered a dislocated shoulder as a result, but he says such attacks do not shrink his desire to engage in ministry.)

Aziz also continues to have a large heart for the villages along Pakistan’s border with Iran – the area where he grew up, and so he travels about 18 hours by bus each month to engage in pioneer evangelism there. Aziz must make about 10 different bus connections for the round-trip, which takes him along arduous routes. “Transportation is a large challenge for me,” he reports. After enjoying the flexibility and fitness that had come from years of practicing Tae Kwon Do, he explains that “now I have spinal issues,” so each bus ride over bumpy, mountainous terrain brings frequent bouts of pain. “But it is worth it!” he says with a quick smile. He has established three new churches along the Iranian border and ordained deacons to oversee the congregations.

Aziz perseveres in ministry despite emotional heartache and physical pain. But he urgently needs help. He is a partner in the gospel in a difficult field who needs regular financial and prayer support. Will you stand with him? Your monthly sponsorship of $120 or one-time gifts in any amount, through FMI’s Overseas Partners account, will help empower Aziz to lead his congregations to maturity.