In 1897, Miss Mary Campbell, a United Presbyterian (UP) missionary, began caring for girls orphaned by plague and famine in central India. Avalon Girls High School, Pathankot, grew from this nucleus in 1901. In 1930, a new UP missionary, Miss Marian Peterson, went to teach at the school, after a year of language study. In the winter of 1936, there was a spiritual movement among the students and some of the senior girls said they wanted to become evangelists. They asked where they could get training. While praying about this matter, Marian felt God calling her to start such a training programme, although she felt very inadequate for the task.
She returned to the USA for further study in 1937, and on her return the following year, she joined an Indian lady, Mrs Mary Samuel, to gain experience in women’s work. They were based at the Saddar Church in Rawalpindi, where Rev. Davis Sian Das was pastor. As they prayed about a suitable location for the training school, Rev. David requested them to open it within his area. The Bible Training School opened on 4th January 1939, in the garage and servants’ quarters of 128 Burton Road, Rawalpindi, with five students, of whom two were converts. They called themselves after the five rivers of the Punjab, desiring to bring streams of living water to their spiritually thirsty land.
In 1944 a sub-committee of the Christian Council began considering establishing an interdenominational training centre for women. It was decided that the Bible Training School would form the basis of this new centre, but that it should move to a more central location. Its name was changed to the United Bible Training Centre and its management put on a cooperative basis. In 1946 Marian Peterson retuned to the USA for furlough and on her return began looking for a suitable site. In March 1947 the Centre moved to Gujranwala, to four family quarters in the Theological Seminary. From that date, the three-year part-time training course for the wives of seminary students began, which continues to this day.
A maximum of sixteen students could be accommodated in the Seminary quarters, but there was not enough room for the refresher courses of various types that the Centre wanted to offer. The Seminary presently notified the UBTC that they needed the quarters for the increasing numbers of their own students, so building plans were set out in 1950, at a cost of 30,000 rupees. In 1952, the Centre moved to its present site, not far from the Seminary, where a small one-storey building was ready. Over the years it has been added to, to meet the needs of expanding student numbers.
Mary Samuel retired in 1951 and was replaced as Matron by Miss Annie Budh Singh. Miss Vivienne Stacey joined the staff in 1955 from the UK, under the Zenana and Bible Medical Mission Mission (ZBMM) which later became the Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship (BMMF) and is now Interserve. Miss Jean Mullinger, also from the UK and with the BMMF, joined the staff in 1965. Jean Mullinger had previously worked as a teacher in Kasur and Lahore, after arriving in Pakistan in 1960. The various cooperating missions seconded teaching staff to the Centre for short periods of time.
The original requirement for enrollment on the two-year full-time course was Middle (8th class) pass, with a more intensive one-year course available for those with a professional qualification. Approximately 100 women completed the two-year course and went out to serve as Bible Women in Christian hospitals and rural and city congregations. By 1965, however, fewer suitable candidates were presenting themselves for training. In that year the Centre was closed for six months because of the war with India, as the Pakistan army occupied the campus. Marian Peterson was on sick leave in the USA at the time; Vivienne Stacey was on furlough in the UK and Miss Budh Singh was visiting her relatives in India, where she was interned.
On reopening the Centre in 1966, it was decided to complete the training of the existing students but not to admit any more unless there was a good number of suitable applicants. In fact, there were none, which the staff took as a confirmation from God that the time had come to discontinue the two-year training programme. By this time Vivienne Stacey had become Principal, although Marian Peterson remained on the teaching staff.
From 1966-1971, the UBTC ran a one-year Christian Education course for teachers, introducing and instructing in the use of a new Christian Education syllabus produced by Miss Catherine Cox. In 1971, the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto nationalized many private schools, including many Christian schools, and thus the demand for Christian Education training decreased.
From the early days, the Centre had offered a variety of short courses for nurses, teachers, adult literate village women, pastors’ wives, college students and girls who had just appeared for their Matriculation exams and were waiting for their results. After 1971, the number and type of short courses increased.
Jean Mullinger succeeded Vivienne as Principal in 1975, and was followed in turn by Miss Christine Sorensen, of InterServe New Zealand, in 1990. In 1991, at the request of the Women’s Christian Hospital, Multan, an intensive three-month training course in the Foundations for Bible Ministry was started. The hospital had appreciated the ministry of its Bible Women, who had trained at the UBTC in the early days, but these women were due for retirement and the hospital wanted the UBTC to train up some replacements. After a few years, a need was seen for a similar course for students with Matriculation, and the one-year Discipleship Course began in 1998.
Graduates of these courses have served and are serving in Christian hospitals, schools and hostels, with para-church organizations and in their local congregations, in Sunday Schools, Women’s Fellowships and Youth work. The courses have a special emphasis on personal discipleship and Christian character formation; on biblically-informed thinking and transformation of attitudes as well as Bible knowledge and ministry skills. Mentoring is important and learning takes place outside of the classroom as well as within. The Discipleship Course students do a one-month fieldwork placement during the summer, usually in Christian hospitals.
The teaching staff is now predominantly national, with a two-year in-service training programme for junior staff. The first national Principal, Mrs. Salma Andrew, was appointed in 2003.
UBTC remains in the minds and hearts of many women all over Pakistan as the place where they came to a new understanding of their faith, and learned to help others grow in that faith.