Afghanistan: Land of Wars or Opportunity?
By William Stark
01/25/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – I can still remember the first time I placed Afghanistan on a map. I am confident that this may be the same time many Americans did the same thing. It was September 11, 2001.
As I watched the coverage of the terrorist attacks, I remember a map of Afghanistan coming onto the screen. I remember feeling that Afghanistan was a faraway and dangerous place. A land of war.
Twelve years later, I found myself stepping off a plane at the airport in Kabul. This was my first trip to Afghanistan and, honestly, 9/11 and that “land of war” perception still colored my thoughts about the country.
However, this perception changed dramatically after I met members of Afghanistan’s underground Church. Through my interactions with these faithful Christians, my perception changed from Afghanistan being a land of war to Afghanistan being a land of opportunity for the Gospel.
Recently, I sat down with Jon, an Afghan church leader, to discuss the shift in my perception of his native land. When I first posed this dichotomy of Afghanistan to him, he agreed.
“It’s true,” Jon said. “People have definitely been suffering for the past 40 years. There are families now that have suffered for at least three generations with members having been killed or disabled.”
“You mentioned 9/11,” Jon continued. “This was the time when the world’s eyes were open to Afghanistan. Afghans got more opportunities than ever following the invasion. Money, aid, education, and new technology helped to bring society forward.”
Despite the changes that technology and foreign aid brought, many in Afghanistan continued to suffer the effects of war. However, this suffering did not turn people away from the Gospel. By living in a war-torn nation, many Afghans have become more open to the Gospel.
“Because of the suffering, the next generation is looking for something different,” Jon said. “At least one-third of young people in Afghanistan are agnostic, as they are unsure of what to believe. This means that there is some openness towards the Gospel.”
This new openness towards the Gospel sparked a conversation about Afghanistan’s underground Church. Christianity is officially unrecognized by the government of Afghanistan. It is a true underground movement. This means that, according to Afghan law, Christianity does not exist within the country’s borders.
Despite this lack of official recognition, Jon argues that the Church in Afghanistan is both an underground and public movement.
“People know that we have Afghans that have converted to Christianity,” Jon said. “There are some Afghans today that are able to share their faith with their friends and family. Even with complete strangers. However, there are still challenges.”
Even though the people of Afghanistan are becoming more open to the Gospel, Christians in Afghanistan still live in danger.
“You can lose your job or even your life,” Jon explained. “If you become known as a Christian, you can also lose your spouse, custody of your children, your inheritance, your house, and any other property you own. The government can confiscate anything because you are now considered a threat to national security.”
Jon went on to explain that Christians in the past have been charged with “corrupting the national religion.” This is considered a crime against national security in Afghanistan. Ironically, these are the same types of charges that were leveled against the perpetrators of 9/11.
In the midst of these challenges, however, Jon reports that the underground Church in Afghanistan continues to grow.
“There are a good number of house churches across Afghanistan,” Jon reported. “The number of members varies between three to 25 Christians. Around Christmas and Easter, some gatherings might be as large as 60 to 70, but this is generally only once or twice a year because of security concerns.”
Looking forward, Jon and other underground leaders in Afghanistan are hoping that the Afghan Church will continue to grow in both size and maturity.
“Afghanistan is going to be very challenging over the next two years,” Jon said. “As we figure, there will either be a number of changes made to the current regime or there will be strife.”
“On the church side, however, I really believe that in the next five to 10 years we are going to witness a huge movement in Afghanistan,” Jon continued. “There are going to be hundreds of Afghans coming to know Jesus.”
“Afghan Christians are taking the courage to teach and to share their faith,” Jon said. “Looking forward, I really want to see Afghanistan become known as a country for honoring and loving God, not the country responsible for every evil that happens in the world.”
With Christians like Jon helping lead the Afghan Church, I have little doubt that this vision for Afghanistan will someday come true. There will be challenges along the way. But the enduring faith I have witnessed as a common trait among Afghan Christians, I believe, will help transform the country from a land of war to a land of faith.
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