The Rev. Emanuel Nasir is a Christian living in Washington Township, Gloucester County. Shakila Rani, who is Muslim, lives in Gujranwala, Pakistan.

Together, they are trying to improve the lives of Pakistani women who are being abused inside the home, are being denied educational and other opportunities, or have become the victims of violent attacks.

Rani directs the Rehab Project, a provider of counseling and educational services, as well as legal and medical information, to about 50 women - most of whom are Muslim - annually.

The 10-year-old project, which also provides micro-loans for women to start sewing businesses and similar home enterprises, is supported by Presbyterian churches in South Jersey and elsewhere.

"If the life of women is better, the life of the entire nation is better," says the Pakistan-born Nasir, 69, a Presbyterian clergyman who emigrated to the United States from Gujranwala in 1969.

He founded Asian Christian Ministries, the Rehab Project's parent organization, in 1988. The project is one of ACM's "peacemaking" missions.

"Why would a Christian pastor help Muslim women?" Nasir says. "Because I see them as human beings."

Rani, a Gujranwala resident currently on her third visit to the United States, says she wishes she could import American freedoms to Pakistan.

"Here, there is happiness all around," says Rani, 46, a married mother of three. "If my daughter were here, she could do whatever she wants."

In Pakistan, interfaith efforts between Muslims (97 percent of the population) and Christians (2 percent) are unusual, and tolerance of the country's religious minorities is often tenuous at best.

On Sunday, at least 15 people were killed and 70 injured in suicide bombings at two Christian churches in Lahore, Pakistan's second-largest city.

Rani plans to speak about the Taliban attacks Tuesday at a Pitman meeting of the West Jersey Presbytery, which oversees 60 Presbyterian churches in the state's six southern counties.

Rehab "is one of a variety of mission projects [we] support locally and internationally," notes the Rev. Deborah Brincivalli, chief executive of the presbytery.

"People often throw up their hands and say, 'What can I do?' In this instance we can do something by continuing to support Shakila," Brincivalli adds. "She has a powerful and moving story."

I meet Rani at Nasir's home in the Turnersville section of the township.

Her manner is gracious, her praise for her reception in America ("so caring, so loving") heartfelt. She credits her mother, Khurshid Begum, with inspiring her to go to school and work, despite the secondary status customarily accorded women in Pakistani society.

"If someone comes to the door, and no men are in the house, the woman will say, 'There's no one home,' as if she is not a person," Rani says. "Women don't have any education. They don't have any information."

Rani's husband, a carpenter working in Saudi Arabia, had to be persuaded to allow his wife to visit the United States the first time. Her sisters are caring for the couple's children while she is here, trying to raise money for a proposed Rehab Project service center.

Although the program keeps a low profile - and its clients must obtain family permission to use its services - the very notion of empowering women can inflame extremists.

The Taliban "kills indiscriminately," Nasir says. "People going to work or the store can't be sure they'll make it home alive."

After Sunday's church bombings, Rani prepared a statement to be read at the presbytery meeting Tuesday.

"Christians were killed as they worshipped, and many more were wounded," she writes. "It saddens my heart. . . . I pray that God may have mercy on Pakistan, and that in the very near future we'll become free from terrorism and religious bigotry."

For information, visit www.acm1990.com

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