I am listening to the Quick to Listen Podcast, Episode 277: ‘My Heart Is Broken’: An Afghan Pastor Grapples with the US Withdrawal (America’s departure and the Taliban’s ascent is forcing Christians out of the country) I haven’t finished it yet. I stopped in my tracks at about 18 minutes and 40 seconds into the discussion with an Afghan pastor, and have paused to sift through it.
At the beginning of the interview, the unidentified pastor described himself as a Muslim in 2001, where the discussion started with the US invading Afghanistan. Even then, he said he welcomed the US interference. The country was in upheaval and chaos, and Western troops brought some hope for stability.
I do not want to get into my thoughts on the initial invasion or the US presence since that date. They are not relevant to my purpose for writing. I don’t want to be distracted by political assessment or judgment, of which I am deeply ambivalent.
The recent video footage from Afghanistan of people so desperate to leave before the Taliban takes over that they are clinging to airplanes as they take off, is heartbreaking to watch. The desperation in the faces of the people crowding unto Afghan runways still today (while there is still a sliver of hope to escape) is something I have never known. I can only watch in stunning silence.
Thus, I listened to the interview of the anonymous Afghan pastor with interest as he described from his personal experience the reality of life in Afghanistan for a Christian today.
About 18 minutes into the discussion, one of the interviewers recalled that the gentleman described himself as a Muslim when the US first stepped on Afghan soil and asked, “How did you come to faith? How did Jesus find you?”
Without hesitation, in his broken English, he said, “I don’t want to come to faith. I … hate Christians. I don’t like to become Christian because I [come] from a very religious Muslim background. My father was Imam. They taught me to be good Muslim. Six time I have been to Mecca. I practiced my religion very well.”
This man was not looking for a Christian savior when the US troops arrived in 2001. He just wanted peace and stability in his life and in his country, something most people in the western world take for granted. The idea of becoming Christian was abhorrent to him.
His personal story needs to be heard. It is the story of many Afghans who seek asylum today. They look to the US, and other countries, not as a savior, but as a refuge against evil that is hard to imagine for most of us. These people are not battle-hardened jihadists, as some people seem to fear.
Many of them are even Christians, despite the great risk personal risk involved. This is just one such story of a real person who has experienced a life most of us can’t even imagine and have a hard time appreciating. I will give him a name, Abdul, for personal affect, though he remains anonymous for obvious reasons.
Abdul described an encounter with a stranger from Syria after the 6th trip to Mecca for Haj. The Syrian shared his testimony about how “he received Christ inside the Mecca, how inside … Mecca he saw a vision of Christ when he was doing his pilgrimage….”
Abdul was angered by the Syrian’s story. He tried to provoke a fight, and he wanted to kill the Syrian stranger. Such was his learned experience as an Afghan Muslim.
After 45 minutes, the Syrian convert implored him, “Won’t you please let me to pray for you?!” Abdul said, “I was very proud”, so he said, “Ok. You pray for me, and I pray for you!”
Abdul recalls closing his eyes to listen. The emotion can be heard in his voice as he said, “It was if the Syrian knew my heart and knew that I was searching for real peace.” (Paraphrasing) The Syrian’s prayer impacted Abdul, but he didn’t accept the New Testament offered to him by Syrian convert because, Abdul explained, he was taught the Bible is corrupt.
Six months later (in 2007) Abdul was still thinking about the encounter with the praying Syrian, and he shared the experience with his best friend. To his surprise, his best friend responded by giving him a Bible in his own language.
This time Abdul accepted the gift, and he began reading it, starting in Genesis. He recalls feeling as he read that “something was true here”. It made sense to him that God would reach out to humans to bring them back to Himself. It became clear to him “that God, Himself, wants human beings to come to Him”.
Abdul wasn’t close to ready to embrace the bible , though. He began comparing the Bible to Quran. He and his friend read them every day in comparison “to see which part was changed, which part of the Bible is corrupt”.
Abdul was still a practicing Muslim, but someone reported to the police that he was reading the Bible. The police confiscated the Bible, and people in the local mosque, including the Imam, began to ask him questions.
Abdul was curious, now, and he asked questions back about the Quran. Because he persisted in asking questions, they accused him of becoming a Christian. He says, “I wasn’t a Christian! I was a Muslim. I didn’t want to become a Christian!” Yet, they started beating him., and they beat him unconscious.
When regained consciousness, Abdul was in the police station. He paid his way out of prison, and traveled to Kabul where he went into hiding in a safe house with Americans and Canadians. They helped him to escape to India.
Abdul was still a Muslim. When he met Afghan Christians in India, he was “very upset” and angry with them. He fought with them, but three months later he met a Christian pastor that, and that encounter changed his life.
The pastor came one day and prayed for Abdul’s friend who had epilepsy and was always falling down under its grip. The friend was healed on the spot.
Abdul recalls seeing the power of that prayer. He recalls not only seeing a demonstration of it; he also felt the power of the name of Jesus.
Abdul was embarrassed and left the group to go into the bathroom, where he could not be seen. There he surrendered his life to Christ and wept uncontrollably. He didn’t come out until he washed his face, because he didn’t want anyone to know. This was 2008.
Abdul recalls, though, that the pastor knew something happened to him. The pastor came to him later and asked if he could pray. Abdul said, “Of course.” When the pastor put his hand on him and began to pray, Abdul began to cry, and to receive Christ, and to confess his sin.
“The next day”, Abdul said, “Everything changed!”
He said he could see people differently. Abdul began sharing the Gospel the very next day, telling people, “Only Jesus can save your life. Only Jesus can give you peace. Only Jesus can give you hope!” Christians did not believe him at first, because he had been persecuting them.
Abdul spent 5.5 years in India and saw many people come to Christ there. He personally saw 72 Iranians and 17 Afghan believers get baptized. He moved a couple of times and ended up in Sydney, Australia in 2015, where he started an Afghan church. He remained there until 2019, when he moved to the United States, where today he has a ministry to refugees in Memphis, TN.
Abdul’s story is only one among many hundreds of thousands. As he looks at the current happenings in Afghanistan, his heart breaks. He knows what the people, and especially the Christians, there are going through. Any cushion for Christians that might have existed in Afghanistan before is quickly evaporating with the Taliban takeover. As bad is it was under the US occupation, it will only get worse.
Abdul hears the stories firsthand from refugees fortunate enough to get out of Taliban rounding up Christians, taking the girls captive, burning houses, hunting the men down and raping the girls and women. No Christian is safe.
The punishment for converting from Islam to Christianity under Sharia law is death. This was the motivation for Abdul to want to kill the Syrian who prayed for him. This is what made Abdul so angry with the Afghan Christians he met in India. Given the reality of Sharia law as it is lived out in places like Afghanistan, the following observations by Abdul are chilling:
Abdul explained that every person in Afghanistan must have a photo ID. The ID identifies the religion of the holder. Because the penalty for conversion from Islam to Christianity is death, many Afghan Christians have identified simply as “other”. But that has changed.
When the US announced its troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan, before the Taliban began to take over, Abdul says Afghan Christians en masse began to register with the government as Christian. They did this so their children would be considered Christian from the start. They did this despite the penalty they knew their actions would trigger for them.
This is the reality in Afghanistan today – right now. As I type out this blog article, the Taliban are rounding up Christians and anyone who isn’t Muslim. Being a Christian in Afghanistan comes with a heavy price, yet people are still spreading the Gospel, people are still encountering Christ and becoming Christian.
I do not write this story to condemn western Christians, but we should know the reality fellow Christians face in the other parts of the world. Similar experiences are familiar to other Christians in the world today in places like North Korea, China, Myanmar, Iran, and other places. Yet, the Gospel still spreads.
The truth if Christ is able to reach people in the darkest places and direst circumstances imaginable. The power of grace, salvation and healing is available in all places and at all times.
Meanwhile, Abdul asks Christians in the rest of the world to go, and, if you cannot go, to give and to pray for grace for the Afghan Christians – grace that that they would not renounce Christ, who saves them; grace that they would have peace and protection; grace that they would continue to spread the Gospel.
I would add that we can and should urge our leaders to be generous in opening the doors to refugees, that the Church in America would stand with refugees and be gracious in welcoming and caring for them and sharing the Gospel with them.