Unlikely Texas Minister Helps Bring Hope, Help to Children of Pakistan
As Pakistani-native, Pastor Afzaal Firdous, finishes up an email in his office, he hears the laughter and excited chatter of 18 children outside of his door. He gets up from his desk and greets the boys and girls he is now helping to raise in the orphanage he helped to establish after hearing of devastating bombings in his home country.
Although he is now living most of the time in his native country, and is making a lasting impact on these orphaned children, he also made his mark on the Lone Star State during his years as an ordained Methodist minister.
His life began in a bustling city in Pakistan, where he was raised in a Christian family.
“Our ancestors were Muslims from Aghanistan, but my ancestors left [the country] long ago in search of truth and peace,” Firdous said. “They found those things in Pakistan when they found Jesus Christ.”
Firdous’ ancestors settled in West Pakistan and became evangelists, telling the Good News to others who were in search of truth and peace.
“We lived right behind the church,” he said. “I was raised and baptized in the Presbyterian Church, I did my schooling, and then I went to Christian college.”
But because of financial struggles, Firdous had to leave college. But the future pastor didn’t let that keep him from learning and using the education he already possessed.
“During that time, I started writing poetry and prose. In a few years I became a known poet and intellectual.”
But while Firdous was establishing his career and soaking up knowledge, a new regime, more violent regime took over the country and its leaders began persecuting Christians and all those who opposed their primitive viewpoints.
“I prayed that I wouldn’t be arrested,” Firdous said. “Then I prayed that I would be able to go to a country where I would not be persecuted for my faith and that I could worship without fear.”
In 1985, the Pakistani-native secured a business visa to the US and landed in Fort Worth, TX.
“Coming here was just a miracle. It was not easy to get an American visa, even then,” he said. “But got my visa without a problem. I came here and I never wanted to go back.”
Several years went by and the violent regime in Pakistan was toppled and Firdous decided it was safe to return to his homeland. While he was there, he married his wife and in a few months, the two returned to Texas to start their lives.
“During that time I worked as a pizza delivery man, I worked in gas stations, I worked in a convenience store. I did all kinds of jobs,” he said. “And then I was able to start my own businesses.”
But as he began to see profits, he heard the call of the Lord. At this time, he was supporting not only his wife, but three young daughters.
“I told my wife that I wanted to go to seminary,” Firdous said. “Then I made my wife and daughters sit down and have a family meeting. I said, this is what I want to do, are you with me? My wife and children said, yes, we are with you. We are with you until the end.”
Soon Firdous began attending in a seminary program, while his wife struggled to run the family businesses.
“After six months my wife said, I can’t handle it. Come back and take care of your businesses,” he said. “But I told her that my hand was on the plow and I could not hold the oxen by looking back. All I can do is go forward.”
He told her to sell the businesses, and that they would trust God to provide for them financially. Even though the family lost more than $100,000 in income that year, they managed to survive and stay the course towards a life a ministry.
A few years later, Firdous graduated from SMU Dallas and was appointed in southwest Houston at Bethany United Methodist Church as the associate pastor. Although the family was happy living in the city, Firdous was then asked to come and be the senior pastor of the First United Methodist Church in a small East Texas town called Newton.
“[The town] was just a few miles from the city of Jasper where a racist, white man dragged a black man behind his pickup truck. My family was very fearful,” he said.
Before Firdous moved his family to Newton, he drove there to scout it out.
“There was one Dairy Queen, two gas stations and a grocery store called Brookshire Brothers. I parked my car in the parking lot of the grocery store and said, Lord, why did you bring me here? This is a racist area. My skin is brown. I am Pakistani. I have an accent.”
Despite his apprehension, he felt the Lord telling him that he would be safe.
“The Lord said, ‘I have come before you and I have prepared the way. Do not fear. Nothing will happen to you or your family.’”
In a matter of weeks, Firdous and his family were settling into their new home in East Texas. On their first night in the unfamiliar town, the pastor received a call from one of his new parishoners that a woman in the church had been sent to the hospital after suffering a heart attack.
“I said, would you please drive me to that hospital? He said, are you sure? I said, I’m sure. I’m her pastor tonight and if something happens I need to be there.”
Although his wife and children were uneasy about being left alone in the forest-lined parsonage, they agreed to let Firdous travel to the hospital.
“The man drove me to the hospital and I saw the lady and I knew she was not going to make it,” he said. “I have her final [rites] and talked with the family and stayed there until 11:30 at night. At that time, family members and church members started coning. They said, this pastor is a wonderful person.”
Three days later, Firdous, who had yet to unpack his belongings, conducted the woman’s funeral and the town and church members fell in love with him. His willingness to jump in and be who the congregation needed him to be was how he became well-loved in every church he served for the next ten years.
But, after helping to grow churches in three different towns in a little over a decade, Firdous decided God was calling him outside of Texas.
"At that time, a bomb had gone off in a church in Pakistan and 187 people died,” Firdous said. “Many people were injured. Many children were orphaned. I saw those images and I cried and said, Lord, take me to help those children. It would be my privilege.”
The seasoned pastor was soon on a flight to his native country where he met with survivors and helped pay for their treatments. He also visited with the orphans of those who had been killed, and decided to build an orphanage that for these children which he called the House of Peace. His purpose was to not only to fill basic needs, but to also teach them in the way of the Lord.
“If these children are not raised properly, then they could be vulnerable to becoming terrorists,” he said. “My passion is to provide for their needs, send them to good schools, and raise them like my own children.”
He funds the orphanage through fundraising and through speaking and preaching engagements in Pakistan and the US. But, despite the great work he’s doing to heal the wounds of war and persecution, he does not want recognition.
“I don’t appear on TV anymore. I live a very low-key life,” he said. “It’s more important to me to minister to those children and come back alive to my family.”