St. Petersburg minister, wife living in uncertain times in Pakistan

ST. PETERSBURG

The telephone call was urgent: Get back on campus.

Myron "Pat'' Miller and his wife, Betty Lou Miller, couldn't have chosen a more uncertain time to be Americans in Pakistan.

He, an ordained Presbyterian minister and former president of the St. Petersburg Theological Seminary, is chairman of the philosophy department at Forman Christian College in Lahore. She welcomes students to their English manor-style home for chats over tea and her much-loved chocolate chip cookies.

In recent months, though, as relations deteriorated between the United States and Pakistan and one of Pakistan's most prominent Christians was assassinated, some of the Millers' friends grew concerned.

Across the United States, they have been praying for the couple's safety, but more so for their "effectiveness to do what God has called us to do,'' said Pat Miller, 73.

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Home for the summer, the Millers spoke enthusiastically about the hospitality of the Pakistani people and life at Forman Christian College. In fact, Miller described the campus where they live as "probably one of the safest places in Pakistan."

Fallout from the killing of Osama bin Laden "was subtly felt" at Forman, he said, but he and his wife were never in any danger.

"One of the first things we saw (on TV) was a picture of the people gathered outside the White House," he said. "I wondered, 'what are my Pakistani students going to be thinking?' I was reminded of the psalmist's remarks, you don't honor your enemy by triumphing over his death. You dishonor yourself."

"My reaction, too, was mixed,'' his wife said.

"The remarks that I got from my household staff was, that's good they caught him. He was a bad man."

Mostly, though, the Pakistani people were outraged.

"It was a teaching moment for me,'' Miller said, adding that he "threw his syllabus aside" for his classes to discuss the issue.

Some students said that America had lied in the past, was doing so again and that the raid had been a setup to ensure President Barack Obama's re-election.

It's the type of open discussion Miller is trying to encourage in the philosophy department he was hired to re-establish at Forman. The college, founded by an American Presbyterian missionary in 1864, earned the reputation as "the Oxford of the subcontinent'' by the 1940s. It boasts distinguished alumni, among them two presidents of Pakistan. The college was nationalized in 1972 and returned to the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 2003.

Miller was recruited by former Eckerd College president Peter Armacost, now in his final year as president of the South Asian college, where the vast majority of the 5,000 students are Muslim.

• • •

Before settling in, the Millers attended orientation classes. "If you're walking down the street, you're not supposed to look the men in the face,'' said Betty Lou Miller, 75. "When you're sitting, you are to keep both feet on the floor."

She wears the traditional shalwar kameez — loose fitting pants and long blouse or tunic — with a dupatta, or scarf, when she goes out. She said she had to get accustomed to the spicy foods, a diet heavy on rice, the lavish use of oil for cooking and people dropping by without warning.

Sometimes her husband is invited to preach in outlying areas, where they are greeted with garlands and feted with a meal afterward.

"The men are always fed separately from the women, and first,'' he said, noting that men and women sit on opposite sides in village churches.

Recent assassinations have targeted leaders who called for changes in the country's blasphemy law, which carries a death penalty for anyone who appears to insult the prophet Mohammed. Miller said he feels no pressure to adjust his preaching or teaching.

"I communicate to the students that I think that Mohammed functioned as a prophet, that he contributed to the liberation of the people,'' he said. "I communicate no criticism for Mohammed, for his leadership."

The incident that prompted his urgent summons back to the Forman campus came after the governor of Punjab — the province in which the college is located — was gunned down for speaking against the blasphemy law.

With each troubling episode, the Millers and other expatriates have heeded the advice to remain on campus.

"It's just a precaution," Miller said. "You're not required to. It's just good advice."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

St. Petersburg minister, wife living in uncertain times in Pakistan 07/26/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 5:30am]

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