Bob Chambers talks to Bishop Michael about his life and ministry and how he sees his new role as Feba UK’s first-ever Patron.

During a recent visit to Feba’s office in Worthing, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali kindly sat down with Feba’s Chief Executive, Bob Chambers. Here are some insights into Bishop Michael’s background and why we feel privileged he has become our Patron.

Can you share something of your background and upbringing in Pakistan?

“I come from a Syed Shi’a family. My father became a Christian as a grown-up, he passed his faith onto us his children but most of my family are Shia Muslims. My first memories of the Christian faith are of him telling me about the Bible, the characters, the prophets, and Jesus’ parables. He was quite the storyteller! His was a somewhat private faith, influential at home yet in public he was cautious not to give offence.

How did you come to know Christ?

“I attended Catholic schools in Pakistan and I often thank God for the way I was educated. I came to a more personal faith in Christ when I started university in Karachi where I was studying economics, sociology and history. “Religious leaders were forbidden from coming onto the campus. This was not being anti-Christian, but had more to do with preventing radical Islamists, which were even then at work, from radicalising students. “Remarkably, an Anglican chaplain had managed to get onto the campus by registering as a postgraduate student! I’ve often reflected on this and how God always makes a way, as Feba well knows. “The chaplain was very active. He set up a small student body and brought many to personal faith in Christ. He also provided a model for ministry and was fearless and yet friendly in engaging with both Muslims and Christians.”

How did you make the journey from campus life to ordained ministry?

“After graduating, I did some student work with the Anglican chaplain. I then trained for the ordained ministry in Cambridge. After completing postgraduate studies in Oxford, some research and a little teaching in Cambridge and Valerie and myself getting married, we moved back to Pakistan where I worked first in parishes and theological education before becoming Provost of Lahore Cathedral – of which the church building is in a very strategic location in the city centre. I was then appointed a Bishop of a rural diocese in Pakistan.”

How did your move back to the UK and appointment to Bishop of Rochester come about?

“We had no intention of moving back to the UK, but I got into some trouble after I agreed to write a paper in response to President Zia’s plan to Islamise the country and to support mainly Muslim women struggling to retain their freedom. A little later, we were reaching out to the brick kiln workers. As soon as the owners realised we were not only interested in taking services but also working to release the workers from the bonded labour (voluntary enslavement in payment of a debt) that they were working under, then all hell broke loose,
including threats to my wife and children. “On a visit to England around that time, I met with Robert Runcie, the then Archbishop of Canterbury and he told me that I should come out of the situation for a while ‘to cool things down’ and he asked me to help him organise the Lambeth Conference as he said he needed someone from outside England to assist him. For Valerie’s and the children’s sake, I felt I had to accept. “After that, I became General Secretary of the Church Mission Society and from there I was appointed Bishop of Rochester – the first Bishop of a diocese in the Church of England who had been born overseas.”

When did you first hear of Feba’s ministry?

“In the late 60s, just as I was coming to active faith and discipleship, I remember Malcolm Fidge setting up Feba in Pakistan. I can recall some of the early studios and the excitement about making programmes. It is brilliant to see that this ministry continues to the present day in Pakistan. "Feba serves the church well, in our mission to share the good news of Jesus, and not just in Pakistan but in many other countries. It has helped to bring the gospel into the public sphere rather than just keeping it in Christian ghettos.”

What was the key reason you accepted the invitation to become Patron of Feba?

“Feba can get to places that pastors, missionaries and literature cannot get to. In an increasing number of places, there is hostility to the Christian message. Yet audio media can still get through. Feba’s media ministry is very important in a media age.”

How do you see your role of Patron developing?

“I want to be an engaged Patron. I want to continue learning from Feba, as previously the ministry in Pakistan, the UK, and elsewhere had been so helpful in showing me how to share the good news effectively. I look forward to opportunities to share my skills and experience and to build friendships with the UK staff, leadership and those in the field across Asia, Africa and the Middle East.