Experiencing opposition can sometimes catapult us to our life's work. Ayra Indrias Patras is a prime example. Belonging to a lower-middle-class family in Pakistan, Patras' parents worked very hard to support her education.
"I received my initial education from a Church School in Rawalpinidi, Pakistan but I faced discrimination when I was not given a role in a Christmas play because of my brown complexion. Our teachers wanted to give the roles to fair (lighter) complexion students.
This experience created a sense of injustice in me and strengthened my resolve to stand against injustice and to speak up for the underserved." Patras tried to share her concerns about her experience but no one listened except her mother. Patras became aware that working to change the structures that support injustice would make a larger impact. She felt that she could become a change agent but she needed scholarship funds to defray the cost of her Ph.D.
After completing a Master's degree in International relations, Patras worked with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in the area of women and minority rights. "I have been facing a patriarchal mindset all around my work in Church structures and society at large. However my participation in the women's movement in Pakistan and my association with women rights organizations gives me a safe space to deliberate, discuss, debate on concerns and interests pertinent to the position of women in Pakistan, says Patras.
Patras' relationship with The United Methodist Church began in 2009 when she met Rebecca Asediallo, a United Methodist Women (UMW) representative in Pakistan during a Church Partners' Meeting. The United Methodist Church approved the Church Women Project that brought Patras in connection with UMW. The UMW has also supported the Women Welfare Project of Lahore Diocese where Patras works. She also participated in the St.Louis Assembly of UMW in 2010 and United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) with the support of UMW.
When she expressed her desire to pursue a Ph.D. program in Gender Studies, Assadialo helped her make a connection with the UMC's World Communion Sunday leadership scholarship team at General Board of Global Ministries. "The scholarship is enabling me to continue my studies without financial concerns. The tuition support is allowing me to focus on my studies. I strongly believe that my doctoral degree in gender studies will open up new avenues and allow me to be involved in academic debates, discussions, and deliberations as well as activism to promote and protect the rights of women and religious minorities in Pakistan, continues Patras.
Over the years, Patras has championed the rights of women in Pakistan working on many projects. "I have been working as Secretary, Women Desk Church of Pakistan Lahore Diocese since January 2007."
For Patras, her work is not theoretical but practical. While working on her doctoral studies, she has authored four articles that have been published in journals and conference proceedings. In addition to her church job in women welfare projects, she has been teaching women studies and involved in lobbying with government officials, bureaucrats, policymakers, parliamentarians to advocate for issues pertaining to religious minorities in Pakistan.
"I am already a board member of Christian Study Centre, which was created to promote contextual theology, interfaith harmony, and peacebuilding. After I complete my doctoral degree, I plan to acquire a teaching position in a university, do consulting work, advocate for the rights of religious minorities, women and promote citizenship rights, interfaith harmony, and peacebuilding. With God's grace I plan to continue this work and extend my sphere of influence," said Patras.
Elsie Cunningham, freelance writer, UMCom retiree, now living in Jamaica
One of six churchwide Special Sundays with offerings of The United Methodist Church, World Communion Sunday calls the church to reach out to all people and model diversity among God's children. The special offering provides World Communion Scholarships, the Ethnic Scholarship Program and the Ethnic In-Service Training Program.