Afghan Christians facing persecution, martyrdom under Taliban

Smoke rises from explosion outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on Thursday afternoon. The attack by two suspected ISIS suicide bombers and gunmen killed at least 60 Afghans and 12 US troops (PHOTO: Wali Sabawoon/AP Photo/Al Jazeera)

How to pray for Afghanistan today — see prayer points at bottom of page

As the world watches the West scramble to pluck its nationals and allies from the tightening grip of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the lives of local Christians and missionaries who suddenly find themselves within the noose of hardline Sharia law are in the balance.

As part of a clearly planned strategy to take control of the country the Taliban not only swept from city to city within days, but immediately set up an iron ring around Kabul’s chaotic airport and around the entire country. There is now only one exit point from Afghanistan, and the national border is totally sealed off. And yesterday’s deadly ISIS suicide bombing outside the airport will likely complicate already daunting evacuation plans.

By all appearances, there is now zero prospect of reversing any of the catastrophic events of the past weeks. US President Joe Biden, having discarded all conditions and restraints placed on the Taliban by the Trump administration, appears determined to press ahead and meet an artificial PR-driven deadline.

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The fact is, the US is leaving the Afghan public in the hands of extremist fundamentalists who have a history of holding public executions, stoning women, and amputating limbs.

This week a confidential UN report confirmed frightening claims – including from Christian organisations working in the region – that mujahideen (Islamic jihadi guerrillas) were going from door to door in an intensified search. They wanted anyone who had ever worked for the US during its 20-year presence. Mostly these “targets” had worked as translators.

The Taliban also wanted Christians, especially in the rural areas.

The UN report further confirmed that targeted attacks had taken place and it expressed grave concern about the safety of women, journalists, and ethnic minorities.

On Wednesday UN human rights councillor Michelle Bachelet confirmed that civilians had been “summarily executed”.

On the same day Taliban leaders, who had sought to portray a benign and modernised image since their re-emergence onto the world stage, ordered all Afghan women to stay at home “until Taliban fighters have been educated”.

Taliban fighters show off US uniforms, weapons in propaganda videos and on Afghan streets (PHOTO: The Independent)

News reports appeared simultaneously revealing that the new leaders of the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan had been holding meetings with Islamic religious leaders, in a drive to  prioritise the implementation of Sharia law.

All of this has taken place at breakneck speed – and even before the US and its NATO partners finally pull out of the country in terms of President Joe Biden’s stipulated August 31 deadline.

So, what happens to Afghan Christians once the foreigners go?

The exit by the US and its allies will not end the human trauma and terror which the world currently has some sight of, says Middle East analyst and foreign policy advisor, Dr Walid Phares. Instead, once the foreigners have departed and nobody is able to see what is going on behind the sealed borders, the Taliban will revert to their former brutal self and will continue to radicalise, he said.

Christians in Afghanistan

For the Christians and particularly those who have converted from Islam, one of the great dangers is that many are known and visible.

Incredibly, many believe Afghanistan has the second-fastest growing Church in the world, next to Iran.

According to Tim Ballard, CEO of the US-based Nazarene Fund, numbers of Afghan Muslims converted to Christianity during the past two decades of freedom and constitutional protections. Feeling confident about their safety, Ballard says these converts proudly disclosed their new status on their ID cards.

These ID cards are now death warrants.

Even a Bible app found on a mobile phone is potentially life-threatening, Ballard says.

On top of this, pastors in particular, have become marked men. This seems to be the result of a sinister precursor to the Taliban’s arrival this month. Last month someone with authority in the Afghan government ordered pastors to register on an official list. Many complied, said one Middle East missionary, with one saying he had submitted his name “for the sake of the generations to come”.

This list is now believed to be in the hands of the Taliban and many of these pastors and their families have fled into the mountains. They are without provisions as the notoriously cruel Afghan winter approaches.

Other families of believers with young women or daughters over the age of 15 have been ordered to mark their houses with an X. These families have been threatened with death if they do not comply. This is a likely indication that the women and girls will be taken as booty for Taliban fighters, or will be sold at slave auctions, as has happened under previous Taliban rule.

Many of these families have also fled to the mountains of the Hindu Kush, according to members of the underground church.

Earlier this week Ballard said his organisation had nevertheless managed to assemble 1 200 believers and evacuate them to an undisclosed “safe” country. This airlift was donor-funded.

The Nazarene Fund had also used “some other kind of more asymmetrical strategies to pull out other people who didn’t make it to the airport”.

Ballard said they were hoping to extract many more vulnerable people. But yesterday the small window for mercy evacuations may have closed.

A day earlier a Taliban spokesman said no more Afghans would be allowed to leave the country. This was to “stop the brain-drain”.

The Taliban simultaneously threatened that Biden’s August 31 was a “red line” for the US pull out.

And indeed, should any foreign government renege on this deadline there could well be bloodshed on a grand scale. This is because, the US administration has, in its botched rapid withdrawal, empowered the Taliban far beyond the group’s wildest dreams. In rushing to push ahead with its no-holds barred withdrawal, the US leadership ordered their troops, not only to depart before its’ civilians, but to leave behind billions of dollars’ worth of highly technologically advanced military equipment.

This humungous arsenal is now firmly in the hands of a once rag-tag, Kalashnikov-clutching milita that was reliant on trafficking opium and a few handouts from dubious players in Qatar, Iran and China.

It is a development that almost beggars belief. Yet one need look no further than social media for evidence. It is awash with authentic photographs of Taliban leaders posing next to US Black Hawk attack helicopters and strike aircraft. There are also video clips of mujahideen entering vast vaults filled with US assault rifles. And perhaps most startling of all, are the images of Taliban fighters dressed in US combat fatigues travelling through the dusty streets of Kabul in Humvees (US armoured military vehicles).

International military analysts confirmed this week that the Taliban is now the most well-equipped militant extremist organisation in the world.

The fact that they are armed to the teeth as they sit astride the crossroads of central Asia does not bode well for believers in the region.

Nor does the fact that the Taliban has already been recognised as a legitimate government by several non-democratic states.

Nor does the absence of anything to indicate that the mujahideen – many of whom were jailed during the past two decades – have disavowed their extremist views.

Al Qaeda is also present in the country, as the US was this week forced to admit.

And it is no stretch to suggest that Afghanistan may soon be flooded with other jihaddis from across the globe, many of whom have been cheering wildly as America’s 20-year nation-building effort collapsed into a heap in one spectacular week.

It is therefore safe to conclude that Christians in Afghanistan are now among the world’s most vulnerable people.

Nonetheless, despite their terrifying prospects, they are not screaming for help. Nor are they begging the worldwide church to pray for an exit strategy.

Instead, their consistent appeal is for the Church not to forget them and to pray that they will stand strong, keep their faith and advance the Kingdom of God, regardless of the consequences.

Many have also refused to flee, says Steve Travino of Global Catalytic Ministries.

This strong stand almost certainly implies that there will be martyrs.

Such radical faith may be difficult to comprehend elsewhere in the world, but many of these believers have been discipled by others from the world’s most persecuted church in neighbouring Iran.

These are believers that obey the whole Bible rather than cherry-picking the more appealing parts, says a local pastor. They “do life” together as Jesus did with his disciples. And they have their eyes set on reaching the lost and advancing the Kingdom of God.

They evidently already understand the lesson provided to the rest of the Church by the collapse of US efforts in Afghanistan, and the collapse of Marxism before that.

It is simply this: that investing one’s faith solely in a political system or a government is futile. That no amount of military or political power can change a country. That years of bureaucratic training and trillions in foreign investment, including the cash consignments sent across the ocean in shipping containers, can and will fail.

Instead there is only one place in which to find hope – it is in the person of Jesus Christ and through His uncompromising and radical pursuit.

PRAY FOR AFGHANISTAN — Prayer points from Voice of the Martyrs

  1. PRAY FOR GOD’S PROTECTION. The situation on the ground is fluid right now. Pray for God’s protection over His people.
  2. PRAY FOR WISDOM. Ask God to bless our brothers and sisters with discernment as they decide whether to stay or go and even with whom they should talk.
  3. PRAY FOR FELLOWSHIP. Believers in Afghanistan often must keep their faith a secret — even from family members. Pray that God will help each Afghan believer to connect and fellowship with at least one other believer in person, by phone or through some other technology. Pray that God will remind them that they are not alone, but are part of the global body of Christ.
  4. PRAY FOR SAFE PASSAGE. Pray that God will provide safe passage to those who feel led by God to leave Afghanistan and provide for their immediate needs in their new location.
  5. PRAY THAT MUSLIMS WILL MEET CHRIST. The Taliban claim to be “true Muslims,” strictly adhering to Sharia (Islamic law). As Muslims in Afghanistan see this cruel face of Islam, pray that they will be drawn to Jesus Christ, the shepherd Savior who doesn’t oppress but instead chose to lay down His life for His sheep.
  6. PRAY FOR CHRISTIANS TRYING TO HELP. For decades, VOM has provided help and encouragement to Christians in Afghanistan. Pray for the wisdom of front-line workers, and pray that God will open new pathways for them to continue their work under Taliban control.

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2 Comments

  1. Mkangeli Matomela

    Thanks Veteran Dawn for this article at this dangerous time for the people of Afghanistan. It has given me a better understanding of the political, religious, socio-economic and military situation prevailing in Afghanistan. This seems to be a vicious cycle of violence and abuse of the people of God. Religion and kingdom of God are clearly not the same, may be we should migrate from all forms of religions into the kingdom of God serving both the righteous and unrighteous in liberty, love, righteousness, peace, justice, prosperity and joy of God.

  2. Ingrid Kelly

    Could this be just a taste of what awaits the whole world under the Antichrist!! At least our brothers and sisters in Christ are being held up in prayer by Christians in every country.

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