Bishop Jens Christensen spent a lifetime working among Muslim Pathans in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan.
Bishop Christensen was consecrated Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Pakistan (PLC) in 1955.
Jens Christensen was born on the 24th of August 1899 in Chicago, of Danish parents. His grandparents had immigrated from Denmark to USA in the previous century. The one couple hailed from Thisted in Jutland, and the other from Copenhagen. They probably all settled in Chicago on arrival and there met each other. They had a common background in the pietistic revival movement in Denmark. Jens’ father, Christen Christensen (died 1944), an engineer in the American Telegraph Service, and his mother, Margrethe Poulsen (died 1947), were members of the Presbyterian Church, and their children grew up in a very pious home.
During the First World War, America came to the rescue of France by sending troops to the French–German border. Jens volunteered for service and joined a regiment bringing provisions to the front line. Back home in 1918, he resolved to become a pastor/missionary abroad, and at once started to prepare himself for the task at the New York Missionary Training School in Nyack. It was founded in 1882 as the first Bible School in USA. Affiliated to this school was the ‘Christian and Missionary Alliance’—the CMA mission. Jens was sent to India by this society in 1922, together with another young missionary T. Wiley. They were sent to the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) to learn the language and start mission work there. Here it is worth looking at the luggage J. Christensen chose to bring along. The allowance was mainly spent on books bought second-hand: ‘The Church Fathers’, Calvin’s ‘Institutes’, commentaries on the Scriptures, the Greek language, dictionaries and grammars. Also handbooks on technical subjects, such as drawing and construction work, and on top favorite American poetry. At Mardan in the NWFP they were met by an old CMA missionary, Mr Robertson, who gave them quarters.
Mardan was a well-known township in the NWFP for two reasons: (i) it was the home of the famous British regiment ‘The Queen’s Own Guides’, who had subdued unruly Pathan tribes, making part of the NWFP habitable for ordinary citizens; and (ii) the Danish Mission, Zenana Hospital, founded by a Danish lady doctor, Marie Holst. The hospital was supported by the ‘Danish Tent Mission’ (later called the ‘Danish Pathan Mission’), and run by Dr Anna Bramsen, assisted by Danish nursing sisters and a local staff. The Danish missionaries at the Zenana (women) hospital had long felt the need for work amongst men, and the Home Board agreed.
So when, in 1925, Jens applied for work in the TM/DPM mission, he was happily accepted, so much more because he had become engaged to one of the nursing sisters, Margrethe Rasmussen! They were married in January 1926. Because the CMA had changed its plans and wanted to strengthen other parts of their mission field, Jens was free to join another mission-society. However, he wanted very much to stay on in the NWFP. From the very start, he had wholeheartedly studied the Pushtu language and the Pathan way of life, and had come to respect and like the proud and self-reliant people. His first book in Danish was about the Pathans and Islam. He also felt at home with the Danish Lutheran Mission and its teaching. He was given the tasks: to preach the Good News at Mardan and in the surrounding villages, to take care of the pastoral work in the small Christian community, and to produce Christian literature in Pushtu. In his introductory letter to the chairman of the Home Board he wrote, ‘I am and intend to be first and foremost a preacher of the Word, because the Bible says that “it is through the foolishness of the gospel that men are saved”’.
He divided his work into three categories: Evangelisation, Instruction of the Christians, and Literacy Work, that is, comprising tracts in Pushtu about the Christian faith, translation of the Bible, and opening of reading rooms for distribution of the literature, and as meeting places for personal talks and dialogues.
In 1927 the ‘Pushtu Literature Committee’ was formed; six missionary societies were involved and Jens chaired the committee. The reading room at Mardan, called ‘Dar ul Tabligh’ (house of learning), became the center for printing and distribution. Books from English, Danish and Urdu were translated, including: ‘The Passion of Jesus Christ’ and ‘The Life and Teaching of Jesus’; the Altarbook, with prayers and texts for the Church Year; Luther’s smaller catechism; several hymns in Danish; and ‘Why I became a Christian’ by Sultan Paul from Urdu. Books with titles like ‘The Best Friend’, ‘The True God’, ‘Conciliation’, ‘The Difference between the Death of Christ and the Death of Prophets’ were translated from English sources. In the Old Testament we find com- mon ground with Muslims, so books about the Patriarchs and about Ishmael were found. ‘Stumbling Blocks’ only in English and Danish was Jens’ answer to a young student who had demanded a logical explanation of the Christian doctrines. In 1931 Jens began the translation into Pushtu of Matthew’s Gospel, followed in 1936 by the translation of John’s Gospel, followed soon after by a new edition, versified by Taib, and with a commentary by Jens, pre- sented in the best tradition of Muslim religious writings—a tradition which was respected in the publications from Dar ul Tabligh. ‘The British and Foreign Bible Society’ met the cost (as it later did with the translation of the whole New Testament).
Taib, working as a librarian, kept a record of the distribution of tracts, booklets, and Bible portions. It made the annual reports Jens’ sent home interesting reading. In 1938, after 10 years with the committee, it showed that 37 different books and tracts by 14 different authors had been pub- lished. 148,000 copies had been printed, which had been widely distributed through the province and even across the border to Afghanistan, the closed country. Taib also studied theology with Jens and in 1938 he was ordained pastor by Bishop J. Sandegren, from the Lutheran Swedish Church in South India. In 1939 the church building at Mardan stood ready and was consecrated by the Anglican Bishop, George Lahore, in April. There were now two congregations: one Pushtu and one Urdu at Mardan, as well as small ones at Malakand and Swabi. Taib became a travelling pastor, now meeting his fellow men in new situations, giving rise to many questions as a Christian Pathan serving poor Christian communities.
When the Second World War broke out the Danish Mission was cut off from its home base and its support. It required some rethinking and Jens received a commission as recruiting officer at Mardan in the ‘Allied Cause’, that is, the united forces against Hitler, his regime and confederates. The office was in one of the old hospital buildings, so Jens just had to cross the road to find himself in his own office, where he also chaired the committee for the translation of the New Testament from Greek into ver- nacular Pushtu. It was done very thoroughly under the auspices of ‘The British and Foreign Bible Society’, and was finished in 1945. Jens’ concern about church leadership and the work of evangelists and missionaries found expressions again and again in letters, articles, reports and lectures. From 1950–60 he worked steadily on a correspondence course comprising 37 lectures. There were students in several countries. We now find the lectures in the book ‘The Practical Approach to Muslims’, edited by a mission society in North Africa.1 The book has also been printed in German as ‘Christuszeugnis für Muslime’. The Danish title is ‘Konfrontation. Islam og Kristendom’. To help young preachers, Jens published his sermons for each Sunday in a church year. In 1955 he prepared the Constitution for the Lutheran Church in Pakistan (PLC), and in 1959 ‘The Book of Common Worship of the Pakistani Lutheran Church’, with the Creeds and the Augsburg Confession, was published. He was consecrated Bishop of the PLC in 1955.
Jens Christensen was a soldier in the Church Militant, and at the frontline. He was loyal to the last in spite of much illness and many trials. He was an inspiring leader and a good friend of many different people, who enjoyed the cheerful hospitality of his and Margrethes’ home. He was only 67 when he died in 1966. At his side was his faithful wife and secretary Margrethe who, until her own death in 1983, very actively supported and promoted his work.