Publishing despite risks in Pakistan

Interview with Peter Calvin, general manager of MIK publishing house

As a child, Peter Calvin spent most of his pocket money on storybooks, encouraged by his father’s love for reading. Peter aspired to become an engineer, never fathoming he would one day devote his life to publishing. Now a father himself, Peter’s love of stories is reflected in his leadership of the nation’s largest publisher of Christian books for Urdu speakers, Masihi Ishaat Khana (MIK).

MAI presented its first Robert B. Reekie Global Publisher Award to MIK, with Peter and three of his staff on hand to accept it, at our LittWorld 2018 conference in Singapore. Named for MAI’s founding president, the newly-established award recognizes ministry excellence by a Christian publisher serving in a challenging context. We recently interviewed Peter about his vision for publishing in Pakistan:

How did you feel receiving this award before Christian publishing staff from 52 nations?
It is very humbling for us to receive such a prestigious award—something we could have hardly dreamt of. I thought, Who are we, professionally speaking, to get this kind of award? I find it very encouraging to see how the Lord has worked in and through us.

Peter Calvin (left) and three MIK staff, Imran, Azeem and Daud, were on hand to receive the Global Publisher’s Award at LittWorld 2018 in Singapore. Photo by Jeam Wong of Singapore.

Many publishers outside the West find it simplest to translate well-known Western authors. But you’ve been investing in local writers since 2006. Why?
When I started working as an editor here in 1990, I checked the translations. I would wrestle with a manuscript, asking, How could we present it in the best cultural form? Despite all our efforts to adapt non-Pakistani books to our culture, they still didn’t meet the heart needs of our readers. The real solution was local writers. So, in 2006 MAI trainer Larry Brook (right in photo below) led a workshop to train children’s writers. It yielded rewarding fruit. Since then, we have not published any translations for kids or youth, only stories by Pakistani authors.

Tell us about one of your successful children’s authors.
Pastor Robinson Samuel Gill is a great storywriter. The way he describes settings and uses idioms is all Pakistani. We publish six or seven of his stories in a small booklet almost every year and market these to parents:  “If your children want bedtime stories, read these good Christian stories to them in 10 to 15 minutes each.”

About four years ago, he and I were discussing the popularity of horror stories among youth. “Why can’t we write a Christian horror story?” Robinson asked. So, he wrote one based on his experience, and we published After Midnight. It describes a Christian family who moves into a haunted house where one son is bothered by an evil spirit. The story became very popular among readers ages 12 and 13.

Have you found it more expensive to train local authors?
It’s a pity but we’re just paying peanuts to our local writers due to budgetary reasons. As we grow, we need to pay them properly. It’s easy to raise funds to publish books from the West in Pakistan, but it’s financially difficult to publish books by local writers.  Within five years, my hope is that 70 percent of our titles published each year will be locally authored. This year 25 to 35 percent of our published titles are by local writers. The Lord has boosted our morale, and we are encouraged to do more.

MAI trainer Larry Brook (right) led a children’s writer workshop in 2006.

What kind of training are you doing now?
Last December we held a two-day workshop for very select writers, only 10 including myself. They came with a researched topic. At the end of Day 1, they evaluated each other’s outlines in a group discussion. By the end of Day 2, seven writers had nearly completed a first draft of an article or manuscript. We challenged them to send us their completed work by December 30. We exhorted them, “You are the people who will help shape our Christian theology in Pakistan.”

Tell us about the books or articles they’re developing.
One is writing a story of a pastor who became a porn addict. Another is an article about how to disciple new converts from the majority background, including findings on failures and successes. One woman is writing an article in response to the “Me too” movement, about sexual harassment in churches. Another article explores why Pakistani Christianity has become mistakenly viewed as a Western religion. Before the next writer workshop, we’ll publish these in a Reader’s Digest-kind of magazine called Rays of Light (Kirnen in Urdu).

How can we pray for you and your team?
Most of the books we publish are for Christians. But whenever we write, even a story, we also want it to reach the majority community.  Yet we have to be very careful. We sometimes feel our hands are tied. We fear that if we publish something it could somehow be twisted and used against us. The extremists still pose a challenge and threat for us.

Writers at a training workshop of MIK. The publisher has been equipping local writers since 2006.

Do your employees fear for safety?
We always face the fact that a mob could attack us. It’s happened with other Christian organizations and can happen anytime to anyone. We can’t say that we are never afraid.  Fear still exists somewhere in the back of our minds. On the other hand, we’ve been so desensitized, we don’t get anxious anymore. If it happens, it happens.

Nobody wants to die at the end of the day, but if that happens, if the Lord wants us to die as martyrs, let it be so.

You’ve encouraged us and many Christian publishers around the world.
The Lord has used us as treasures hidden in earthen vessels. Praise God!

Peter Calvin has served as general manager of MIK Publishing house for the last two decades. He also taught at the Brethren Church Bible Institute in Lahore for many years. He is former board chair of Open Theological Seminary, Chair of the Trustees of Women’s Christian Hospital, a former board member of Pakistan Bible Society, and the volunteer director of Care Channels International.

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