“We’re hearing from reliable sources that the Taliban demand people’s phones, and if they find a downloaded Bible on your device, they will kill you immediately.”
This is how Dr. Rex Rogers, North American President of the Middle East media ministry SAT-7, describes conditions in Afghanistan for believers after the Taliban’s takeover. He adds: “It’s incredibly dangerous right now for Afghans to have anything Christian on their phones. The Taliban have spies and informants everywhere.”
Open Doors ranked Afghanistan as the second-most dangerous country in the world for Christians even before the Taliban took control. Now a pastor who built churches in Afghanistan is warning that the Taliban will “exterminate” the church there.
A pastor in the US who works with Afghan refugees reports: “Young Christian girls are being pursued by the Taliban. The Taliban just raided the home of another church leader and confiscated his Bibles and literature.” House church leaders have reportedly received letters from the Taliban warning them that they know where they are and what they are doing.
A member of the UK Parliament warns that “there are 228 missionaries in Afghanistan currently under sentence of death.” Missionaries and mission groups are working feverishly to get Christian colleagues and volunteers out of the country.
A worthy tribute to American soldiers
As we have noted this week, the US sent troops into Afghanistan twenty years ago to keep al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups from using the country as a platform for continued attacks against America and the West. Our troops succeeded admirably in performing this crucial work.
In a statement earlier this week, former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura spoke directly to veterans who served in Afghanistan:
“Many of you deal with wounds of war, both visible and invisible. And some of your brothers- and sisters-in-arms made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror. Each day, we have been humbled by your commitment and your courage. You took out a brutal enemy and denied al-Qaeda a safe haven while building schools, sending supplies, and providing medical care. You kept America safe from further attacks, provided two decades of security and opportunity for millions, and made America proud. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts and will always honor your contributions.”
All Americans should join Mr. and Mrs. Bush in gratitude to those who fought on our behalf in this war-torn country.
“Vietnamization” and Afghanistan
However, American leaders sought not only to drive the Taliban from power but also to enable a functional government and society to take their place. This attempt obviously failed for a variety of reasons.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a US agency, recently released a report titled, “What We Need to Learn: Lessons from Twenty Years of Afghanistan Reconstruction.” Its seven core lessons state that the US:
- Struggled to develop and implement a coherent strategy
- Created unrealistic timelines that increased corruption and reduced effectiveness
- Built projects that were not sustainable
- Followed counterproductive civilian and military policies and practices
- Dealt with persistent security issues
- Did not understand the Afghan social, economic, and political systems at the local level
- Rarely conducted sufficient monitoring and evaluation to understand the impact of their efforts
Beyond what was needed to prevent a Taliban resurgence, why did we engage in “nation building” in Afghanistan at all? This larger question points to a political philosophy known as “Vietnamization.”
A New York Times article by Stephen B. Young explains that in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson sought a new strategy for ending the Vietnam War on favorable terms for the South Vietnamese. Advisers recommended that the US “complement our anti-main force campaign and bombing offensive with greatly increased efforts to pacify the countryside and increase the attractive power” of the government of Vietnam.
The goal was to build up a South Vietnamese army that could keep North Vietnam’s battalions away from civilian populations while encouraging the South Vietnamese government to accelerate democratic and economic development for its people. At first, these efforts seemed to be working: the country adopted a new constitution and elections created a political infrastructure to support villages, grow the economy, and provide more manpower for the armed forces.
However, as we know, this effort at “nation building” ultimately failed.
Now we are seeing a similar tragedy unfold in Afghanistan. According to a Washington Post article, the US “spent more on nation building in Afghanistan than in any country ever, allocating $133 billion for reconstruction, aid programs, and the Afghan security services. Adjusted for inflation, that is more than the United States spent in Western Europe with the Marshall Plan after World War II.”
“I will be exalted among the nations”
At the same time, another kind of “nation building” is going on in Afghanistan and around the world. Unlike human efforts, it is empowered by divine providence and omnipotence. It is not subject to elected officials or brutal dictators. No terrorist group can stop its advance.
While the kingdoms of men rise and fall, the King of the universe is advancing his kingdom (Matthew 4:17) and he “shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
As a result, despite the escalation of dire threats against Afghan Christians, followers of Jesus there are standing resolute in their commitment to their Lord. They can testify with Paul, “I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12). And they can claim God’s promise, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).
For example, in early July, Afghan pastors and church leaders made the difficult decision to formally register their faith with the Afghan government. Despite the obvious dangers of such a public declaration, they did this for the sake of their children and grandchildren: “Someone should make this sacrifice so the next generations can openly call themselves followers of Jesus.”
Christian missionaries who have worked over recent decades in Afghanistan are not surprised by such courageous faith and service. One explained his work: “We’re just empowering them to do what they want to do to serve their own people.” Missionaries describe the remarkable hospitality they experienced from the Afghan people. Christianity Today adds that “a small but vibrant group of Afghan Christians pray and worship” in the country despite all opposition.
These Christians know what we need to remember: God’s kingdom transcends any nation on earth. His word is clear: “Kingship belongs to the Lᴏʀᴅ, and he rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:28). The future of all nations is equally clear: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lᴏʀᴅ, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you” (v. 27).
By contrast, “the nation and kingdom that will not serve you shall perish; those nations shall be utterly laid waste” (Isaiah 60:12). This is because, as God says, “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10).
And God will be exalted among the nations in heaven as well. John saw “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).
Three commitments and three questions
How should Christians in Afghanistan and America respond?
One: Make God our King.
We are to “Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17), not the reverse. Jesus called us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Our ultimate allegiance is not to any nation but to the King of the universe. This is a commitment we need to make every day, remembering that there is only room for one king on the throne of our hearts.
When last did you enthrone Jesus in your life?
Two: Trust our King.
Jesus said of those who trust in him, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). The worst that can happen to Christians in Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world leads immediately to the best that can happen to us: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
When last did you pay a significant price to follow Jesus?
Three: Serve our King.
Jesus’ invitation to his first followers is one he repeats to you and me today: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). He did not promise them ease and security but the opposite (John 16:33). He did not promise them popularity and fame but the opposite (John 15:20). But the seed they sowed in the world is bearing harvest twenty centuries later (Mark 4:14) and will do so to the end of time.
When last did you sow the seed of God’s word?
“Let the bomb find you doing well”
This has obviously been a difficult week in The Daily Article.
We have discussed the threat the Taliban now poses in Afghanistan, the dire needs of those who now face such an uncertain future there, the crisis for Afghan women (with lessons for American culture), and the very real threat of escalating terrorist attacks on America and the West. Today we closed by focusing on Afghan Christians and the peril they face.
In the context of such challenges, C. S. Lewis’ brief article, “On Living in an Atomic Age,” offers wisdom that is just as relevant as when he first wrote it. I encourage you to read all seven paragraphs, but we’ll close with these observations: “Do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented. . . .
“What the atomic bomb has really done is to remind us forcibly of the sort of world we are living in and which, during the prosperous period before, we were beginning to forget. And this reminder is, so far as it goes, a good thing. We have been waked from a pretty dream, and now we can begin to talk about realities.”
In the face of our mortality, Lewis reminds us to live every day in preparation for eternity, noting, “Those who want heaven most have served earth best. Those who love man less than God do most for man.”
Then he closes, “Let the bomb find you doing well.”
Let’s follow his advice today. Please take time as soon as you have finished reading this Daily Article to pray for our sisters and brothers facing persecution and death in Afghanistan. Ask God to protect them, encourage them, and use their witness to his glory.
Then ask for the same gifts for yourself. If Jesus can empower his people to serve him courageously under the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:13) and the Taliban, he can empower us to serve him wherever we live and whatever we face.
Whose kingdom will you build today?