Summer 2005 was a time of finishing work commitments, selling the house, family visits, packing–and looking ahead to three years in Lahore, Pakistan, for Marianne Vermeer, Robert Johnson and their two sons, Nathan, 12, and Peter, 7.
They are newly-named mission co-workers with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for three years working at Forman Christian College in Lahore. Marianne will be an executive assistant to the principal (president) of Forman, Dr. Peter Armacost. Robert will be teaching at Forman and working with the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan in their seminary.
How does a couple decide to follow such an undertaking, such a calling?
Both Marianne and Robert were mature believers open to different possibilities for their work. She has an M.A. in business and higher education and had experience in administration on an executive level, operating until recently her own consulting firm. Robert recently completed Ph.D. work in history and theology at Union Theological Seminary-PSCE in Richmond. “Our skills were suited to Forman,” she says.
Their children were curious about living in another country. Other family members had a bittersweet reaction. It is difficult to take children such a distance from grandparents, aunts and uncles, Marianne observes. “This is going to shake us up a bit,” says Robert.
But the confluence of interest, training and experience, ages of their children and an opportunity to serve with their gifts led to their decision to go. “It was the right time to do it,” she says. “For the children it will be a formative experience. The timing, the opportunity to help build something for the people of Pakistan was very enticing.”
Both Vermeer and Johnson want to contribute to Forman’s future as the school reverts to Presbyterian governance after thirty years as a nationalized campus with an Islamic administration. One of Forman’s former students, now Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, opened the way for the school to be “denationalized.” In the two years since the school was re-established, enrollment has risen from 20 to 224 students.
Their family has enjoyed researching their new home. Lahore, according to Robert, is Pakistan’s second-largest city with 8 million people; it is a metropolitan, cultural center.
This is their opportunity to experience being a Christian in a place where Christians are a minority, Marianne adds.
They went out with the prayers of their local church, Second Church in Richmond, Va. Benjamin Sparks, its pastor and Outlook editor, observed in a recent church paper the church’s role in praying for and undergirding Marianne, Robert, Nathan and Peter. Congregations need an unfettered vision for all peoples, he wrote.