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Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Founders of the Asian Christian Community in the UK

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In the 1960's 3 brothers Mujeeb, Najeeb and Waheed Chowdhry living in Dalston London at the time with their sister Naema Chowdhry (now Naema Gill) felt a longing and a desire for church worship in their language and fellowship with brothers from their homelands of Pakistan and India.

The brothers were all established travellers to both countries (which had been one state in their youth). Mr Mujeeb Chowdhry studied and lived in Delhi away from the rest of his family - singled out as the prized eldest son who eventually went on to study at Cambridge University in England. It was also on the invite of Mujeeb Chowdhry that the rest of his siblings (listed) journeyed to this wonderful island.

The desire they felt drove them to create strong networks with established Christians in the UK and they enquired about others, through the contacts they made. There desire was to bring to fruition an Asian Christian Church that would be a beacon for a beleaguered community, many of whom had difficulties with speaking English and all of whom had suffered some type of racist abuse in a time when confrontation, naivety and prejudices were prevalent in British society.

The initial intention was for such a church to provide full church facility for all Asian Christians, such as services, a community function, fellowship opportunity, well designed discipling practices and outreach, testimony and witness to the large numbers of Asians of alternate faith. It was meant for the church to be a remote entity that would , however, compliment the plethora of English Churches in London.

The brothers would hold services in their homes, the homes of others and in private halls and eventually, they worked with the wider brothers and sisters in the growing community to raise funds and sponsored Pastor Johnson from Pakistan who then led the early church from St Marys Church, Upper Street, Islington (approx 1968). The brothers who did not seek a crown left the church in the hands of a new administration (approx 1973 they moved address) in the capable hands of the then full time pastor. What many people did not realise, was that large donations were made by the 3 feverish brothers invigorated and frenzied by the potential church and a new ability to outreach to Asians outside the Christian world.

The Anniversary events of the church became major Asian Christian Conferences and our community would travel from across the country to be there. The church eventually moved to All Saints Church, Holloway and then ended abruptly in the 90's.

My father Waheeb Chowdhry one of the 3 brothers also established an Annual Asian Christian Convention at Ilford, that became a well known, well attended and well loved event within the Asian Christian Calendar. Funding much of the event from his own pocket, fuelled with the desire to promote his community amongst the wider Christian community and faith organisations with interesting, peaceful and intelligent debates with Muslim, Hindu and Sikh leaders facilitated within the two day whole day event. This was the only event of its type that was as wide reaching and had input from African, Far Eastern and other Continental Churches. Waheeb Chowdhry carried on his courageous efforts (often faced with a barrage of condescension) to educate our people against preconceived prejudices, isolationism and promoted Christian edification and outreach until he lost his mobility after a series of 3 strokes in one day in 1996. In his lifetime he organised the first ever Asian Christian Community Centre in 1984, this was a beacon project at the time as the services it provided such as learning opportunities, creche facilities, events, dance classes, health sessions where typically the domain of council led organisations - yet the "Redbrige Asian Christian Community Centre" (funded by a Manpowers Services grant) led the way for other faith and community centres to develop on the same model. Waheeb Chowdhry also started several Youth Clubs one of Which is still called Asian Club (focused on Outreach) and is running today at Clementswood Baptist Church. He passed away on the 3rd November 2006

Najeeb Chowdhry was a gifted musician and passed away in October 2005.

Mujeeb Chowdhry is still a lead voice in our community and has done as much for our community as any other leader - a part of the organising committee for the recent protests.

To date these pioneering heroes, ahead of their time and dedicated to the advancement of Christ's kingdom throughout their lives, have not been acknowledged for their sterling, essential work for the development of our community through its nascent phase.

I received an award from the Federation of Pakistani Christians for my Progress in Business, and spoke then about the need to recognise the works of our forefathers. Dr Peter the Chairman of this Group kindly spoke about his memory of the first Church and confirmed he would look into addressing this matter. At the time I asked if a posthumous award could be given to Najeeb and Waheeb Chowdhry, who have both now passed away without the recognition they deserved. Perhaps this could be collected by the remaining founder Mujeeb Chowdhry who still lives and as my "Taia" is a lead figure for our family. If you like the idea please share your comments...

I hope this history lesson has been worthwile, only you can advise?

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