*Editor’s Note: Following the 2021 U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban recaptured the country. This is a very frightening situation for a great many people, including Afghan Christians, women and girls, and those who partnered with the US during its twenty-year military presence in Afghanistan. How should Christians feel and respond? How can we pray? To help us navigate this global tragedy, I reached out to Chris Dewelt, longtime professor of intercultural studies at Ozark Christian College.
Q: Unlike many Westerners, you’ve been to Afghanistan. What comes to mind when you think of the country?
Yes, I have been to Kabul, Afghanistan, three times, including once with my wife. Several students from this college have lived in Afghanistan, especially in the past when things were a little more open there (a decade or so ago).
When I think of Afghanistan, I think of mountains. I think of helicopters. I think of military presence. I think of women not only wearing the hijab, but many of them wearing full burkas, looking out through screens which cover the eyes.
The people of Afghanistan are wonderful and incredibly hospitable. Christians from the U.S. who go and work there fall in love with the people. Yet, at the same time, it’s a tribal and often violent society. Some might assume that the country’s difficulties arose from external forces, for example, from the Soviet occupation of the country or of America’s War on Terror. However, tribal leaders there are not called “warlords” for nothing. The country has long been reeling from decades and centuries of brutal civil wars. Just days after my wife and I left the country, one of the restaurants we had eaten at was bombed in a terrorist attack.
Q: What can we expect for Afghan Christians now that the Taliban has recaptured the country?
More intense persecution. Persecution for Christians is nothing new in Afghanistan. There was severe persecution leading up to the overthrow of the Taliban. But even with decades of U.S. presence, it has still been difficult for Christians. With the Taliban’s overthrow of the government, look for persecution to only get worse.
It is pretty obvious from the quick collapse of the country that many of the people are siding with the Taliban. This can often be for tribal reasons. A large people group which spans both Afghanistan and Pakistan is the Pashtun, and the Taliban is primarily Pashtun. In this cultural context, Christians face a deep-seated cultural hostility to their faith.
Interestingly, I have met some Pashtun Christians in India. They were very strong Christians, and this resilience was no doubt connected to the heavy persecution they had been through. A number of Pashtun, virtually all of whom are Muslims, have left their homeland for economic reasons. When they relocate in places such as Europe and the Persian Gulf, this can be an opportunity for them to learn about Jesus.
Q: You’ve heard from some friends who work with the Afghan people. What have been their responses?
Devastated. Heartsick. One of my friends preparing to work among Muslims mentioned to me how, normally, he responds to a global catastrophe like this by thinking, “Wow, that’s bad.” But this time, it felt personal, like someone had wounded his wife. He couldn’t sleep. Even though he was out of the country at the time, he was up throughout the night praying, aching for the Afghan people.
Yet God doesn’t waste tragedies. He uses everything that happens. The same friend who was up at night praying for the Afghan people got a call the next day that a flight from Afghanistan was landing in his city here in the U.S., and that these now-refugees would need places to stay. He would be one of the people driving them from the airport. That evening, he would have the people in his car whom he had been praying for the night before.
God doesn’t waste tragedies.
Q: How are you praying for Afghanistan?
I’m praying that the Afghan people will see Jesus. That those who have been seeking truth will find Him. That when they seek Him, there will be messengers to tell them about Jesus. Often, out of the tumult of these kinds of situations, it can break down cultural norms that have long shielded people from seeking the Lord.
I also pray for the believers that are there. I don’t know their names. But we can pray for people we don’t know. I believe one day we’ll meet them. My guess is that, when all comes to light in heaven, people will come up to us and say, “You prayed for me.” The moments we give of our time to pray for these situations are really important.
So, in my class tomorrow, I’m going to direct my students to pray in class for Afghan believers facing the Taliban. We will pray for the believers that are there, for God to preserve their lives and strengthen their faith and to allow them to be faithful witnesses for Him.
I also pray that Muslim leaders will have dreams and visions of Jesus. We have seen miraculous movements of God’s kingdom in places we never dreamed—for example, China and India. The Muslim world has been a tough place for the gospel to grow. Yet we know that there will be people from every nation, tribe, people, and tongue before God’s throne (Rev. 7:9). So, the question isn’t whether God will do something in Afghanistan. The question is how is God going to do it? We pray in faith because God is faithful.