“Sir, please…I need to talk… I had this dream last night about Jesus!” yelled my young Afghan friend Abdul as he raced to meet me. Catching his breath, he struggled to get out the words to describe his dream.
“I was in a boat… there were sharks swimming and circling around me. I was afraid. Then I saw Jesus with his hand reaching out saying ‘Come to me – don’t be afraid.’ … I don’t understand this dream, please help me understand.”
This was the first spiritual conversation I had in Afghanistan after arriving in the war-torn land more than fifteen years ago.
Needless to say – I was floored and knocked back on my heels. I remember thinking to myself – They didn’t teach me how to handle this in Seminary! Yet, here I was in front of a young Afghan man that I had only been friends with for a short while being asked to interpret a dream of Jesus. I thought to myself – where am I?
It might seem a bit odd to start a post about Afghanistan with this story, considering the current state of affairs – but if there is one thing I want you to know about this great land is that God is moving mightily in Afghanistan.
Beyond the Burqa
When news hit of the Taliban regaining control of Afghanistan, I was mostly hit with shock and disbelief. My Afghan friends and loved ones in the country were hit with so much worse – especially Afghan women – the very people group whom God first called me to serve on the mission field.
I went to Afghanistan while my home country, the U.S., was at war there. While I couldn’t work directly with women, I could support a group of Christian workers already there who were looking for ways to make connections.
So we started a women’s gym.
We got some donated Russian equipment, so old that it barely worked. There were expatriate women there who taught them how to work out with weights and do pilates.
The women would fall over at first – but they would laugh and have fun, drink tea, and spend time with the trainers. We talked about exercise holistically with the physical, emotional, and mental benefits of connecting to the body.
After 9/11, when Iraq and Afghanistan were thrust into the consciousness of Americans, images of burqa-clad Afghan women filled our TV screens. And many of us could not believe what we saw.
But when I first settled in the country, what struck me the most about Afghan women was that, even though they were covered by a burqa, they often wore colorful shoes or painted their toenails in such a way it was hard to miss.
What I learned was that the women longed to express themselves and be free – so they did it in little ways like toenail colors – since they had no other way to do it.
In so many ways, Afghan women are oppressed and live under complete subjugation to men – and this reality was especially intense under the Taliban. They are treated poorly and often viewed as second-class citizens and imprisoned in their own homes. They are unworthy. It’s no surprise then that, when they learn they are loved and have value from Jesus, it is utterly transformative.
The gym received a tepid response in the general community. It took a while to explain to the local council and while we were tolerated, we certainly weren’t celebrated for creating the opportunities.
But in the community, I saw what God was doing first-hand.
An Underground Movement toward Jesus
According to reports on global Christianity, Afghanistan is one of the fastest-growing countries for Christ in the world.
Having a business also allowed me to build friendships with Afghan men. And I was surprised to learn that there is a lot of curiosity about Jesus there, like the man I mentioned earlier.
They want to know about Jesus, but the church is so underground there that they don’t know who any other Christ-followers are. I would be at a table with two men, and I would know that both of them are Christians but they wouldn’t know that about each other.
In the underground, outside the noisiness of social and mass media, and away from the consciousness of the rest of the world, many Afghans are coming to Christ.
My wife also lived and worked alongside Afghans and she says she never saw such radical transformation in any other unreached people group she has worked with. She describes the first time she first stepped on Afghan soil. Coming across a long bridge from Uzbekistan into the country, she said her heart literally lept in her chest as she first walked into Afghan territory. “I have never had an experience like that before. I knew this place was something special at the moment. I knew God was here.”
There is a thriving, reproducing, irresistible movement towards Jesus among the Afghan people.
And this should be the catalyst for the most important thing we can do right now – mobilizing both prayer and action for our Afghan brothers and sisters who live in fear, persecution, and imminent danger.
Seeing God’s Love Transform Women’s Lives
My call to serve Muslim women eventually became a call to serve oppressed women.
And now in South Asia, our current ministry, in a very real sense, has been carved out of our experience in Afghanistan.
We now work with dozens of women rescued from one of the most notorious red-light districts in the world – employing them through businesses for transformation.
Like the women in Afghanistan, these women were also treated poorly, in fact, they were told that they were made to be exploited and trafficked. But by providing jobs, training, and education to these women, we’ve been able to communicate about a God who loves these women.
Just like at the gym in Afghanistan, we see the change as day after day that they are treated well and valued. The intentionality of a daily routine sets the stage for loving relationships. They are providing for their families and sending their children to school. They are smiling and even laughing. God has brought their humanity back to them.
They have jobs they can be proud of. They have dignity. More than that, they have a community that loves them and which they love in return.
They spend time in the gospels, reading stories of women and how Jesus treated them and loved them, and it shows the women we work with their worth as women loved by God.
And when they are shown that they have worth and value – their lives are transformed.
The church in Afghanistan will grow through women – and we ought to be laser-focused on praying and interceding on their behalf with the recent rise of the Taliban.
A Call to Love Our Afghan Brothers and Sisters
Over the last twenty years, without the Taliban calling all the shots, Afghan women have made huge strides in their country. They are going to school, they are starting businesses and entering public service, and enjoying more and more freedoms.
Now there is uncertainty as to whether all this progress will be stepped back. And it is a legitimate concern.
The Taliban is promising it will be different and we have been hearing reports that it has been. But it is early on and no one can say for sure what the future holds.
The women of Afghanistan are loved and created in the image of God. They are humans who need love, mercy, and compassion.
We need to pray for God to protect and uphold them. We need to pray that the Taliban would allow them to continue their journey towards freedom and rights.
In the face of overwhelming circumstances, it is important we turn to Jesus in prayer and keep our eyes and hearts fixed on hope. However, we can and must go further.
My mentor says it like this – when confronted with the sin, evil, despair, and hopelessness in the world it can be easy to throw our hands up in the air and yell to God, “Why don’t you do something about this!?!?”
But, if you listen carefully in your spirit and heart, you will hear Him answer… “I DID do something – I made you.”
With this truth, reality, and call to action, how is God moving in your heart to love your Afghan neighbor as yourself?
Here are some ideas to consider:
- You can pray – pray for Afghanistan. Pray for the underground faith community. Pray for the people – especially the women and children. Pray for refugees. Pray for peace. And pray for the Taliban.
- You can ask – ask your church if they have any ties to Afghanistan and see how you can help.
- You can serve – as refugees are arriving at military bases for immigration processing, you can find out if there are groups near you and pray if God would use you to extend the welcome of Christ to these displaced people.
And please pray that God would reach out His hand, as he did to Abdul in his dream, and deliver His loved ones in Afghanistan.