Afghan forces capitulated; Ashraf Ghani has left the country and the Taliban have established themselves in the presidential palace. Thousands are internally displaced; thousands have fled the country. Although their rhetoric is conciliatory, Taliban actions on the ground are reminiscent of the 90s with forced marriages and reprisals for those deemed anti-Taliban. A return to a strict shariah regime seems inevitable. There is great fear among women who have enjoyed education and career possibilities; among those who have helped the allied forces in any way; and among those who have found faith in Christ.
Seeking the Lost
It was December 2006 when I visited Afghanistan. I’d been at a Christmas party where some ladies in Kabul heard the story of Jesus’ birth for the first time. They heard how his name means ‘Saviour,’ how he came to seek and to save the lost. Susan gave me a lift back to where I was staying, but when we arrived my bag was not beside me in the car. We’d dropped off three local women at their homes; it must have fallen from my lap when I got out to kiss them goodbye. Oh dear, we couldn’t remember where exactly that had been. It was late and everywhere was dark; there was no electricity and no street lights. Everywhere looked the same, dry mud roads without pavements and high mud courtyard walls rising up on either side. We decided to try to retrace our journey.
My bag was precious to me. It was a purple suede shoulder bag, a 15th birthday present from my grandmother. When the colour faded my mother covered it in colourful Afghan crochet squares. I was emotionally attached to it. Not only that, the contents were of actual value – my passport! And I was flying home the next day.
So with a prayer on our lips and hope in our hearts we drove around the streets of Kabul. As we turned a corner, there in the car headlights, we could see five Afghan men walking down the middle of the road. They looked scary with long beards and turbans, but one of them was carrying …. my bag! We wound down the window and he kindly handed it to me.
Later that night I sat on my bed hugging it tightly. As waves of relief washed over me I savoured the warm feeling that comes when something precious that was lost is found. “Forty years I’ve carried this bag,” I thought to myself as I laid it on the bed in front of me. “That’s a generation.” Then, in the stillness, it was as if God said to me, “You feel this way about a bag. How do you think I feel about the Afghan people? I’ve been carrying them for many generations and still so few are found.”
Something of God’s emotional attachment and his sorrow touched me and I couldn’t help but sob. I opened my passport to my face and my name and was struck by the value God puts on the individual. It made me think of the coin in Luke 15 that had fallen into a dark and dusty corner. It was searched for carefully by lamplight until the glint of silver was revealed. For the true advent of peace to come to Afghanistan, it would take Christ’s church, like that woman, to keep sweeping and sweeping, seeking the lost with that same kind of devoted perseverance.
A lot has happened since my visit 15 years ago. Development projects have continued to focus on training the trainers and enormous progress has been made in health and education. Millions of girls have been to school and the infant mortality rate has been halved.
The Dari Scriptures were finally published in 2008, and now there are tiny house fellowships and individual believers scattered across the country. The vast majority of them are Dari speaking Hazaras, a people group despised by Afghan Pashto speakers. The Scriptures in Pashto were only completed last year, so it isn’t surprising that the Pashto speaking Taliban know little of God’s love, forgiveness and life in Jesus.
For peace without bloodshed and retributions.
For the gains in education and health not to be lost.
For the hungry, homeless, grieving and fearful.
For protection and courage for believers.
For wisdom and faith for Christian workers.
For encounters with Jesus.