Tuesday, June 1, 2021

RLPB 600. Afghanistan: Christians Imperilled as West Withdraws

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 600 | Wed 02 June 2021
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DIARY UPDATE

  •     Postponed: Ethiopia's general election has been postponed to Monday 21 June. The future of Ethiopia hangs in the balance [see RLPB 589 (17 March)].
  •     12 June: Algerian parliamentary election [see RLPB 588 (10 March)]. Islamist parties are expecting to make great gains as pro-democracy forces boycott the polls.
  •     18 June: Iranian presidential election. A total sham, with candidates hand-picked by the ruling Guardian Council who believe they control the whole show. However ...

'The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord' (Proverbs 16:33 ESV) 'who works all things according to the counsel of his will' (from Ephesians 1:11 ESV).

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AFGHANISTAN: CHRISTIANS IMPERILLED AS WEST WITHDRAWS
by Elizabeth Kendal

Famous photograph of Afghan
  women in Kabul, 1970s.

In the late 1970s, Islamist agitation rose across the Middle East as fundamentalist Muslims revolted against their either US- or Soviet-aligned and insufficiently Islamic, modernising dictators. The trend culminated in 1979 in the Islamic Revolution in Tehran and the Siege of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. With Iran on its western border and Saudi-allied Pakistan to its south and east, the trend was bound to bleed into Afghanistan. In 1979 Afghanistan's communist government appealed to its long-time ally, the Soviet Union, for help to contain an Islamic insurgency. Seizing the opportunity to wage a proxy war against the Soviets, the US armed and backed the mujahideen. In 1989, as communism collapsed across Europe, the Soviets opted to abandon Afghanistan. Into the resulting power vacuum rushed an array of warring groups. Seizing the opportunity to expand its strategic depth, and needing to secure its trade routes into Central Asia, Pakistan trained, armed and backed the Pashtuns, many millions of whom also live in the tribal regions of north-west Pakistan. The Pashtun students of jihad became the Taliban (Taleban being Pashto for 'student'). For many Afghans, the Taliban might have been brutally repressive, but they were preferable to the criminal warlords who exploited and terrorised the people with impunity.

On 11 September 2001 the US suffered a spectacular terrorist attack. The attack was organised by al-Qaeda from its sanctuary in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and was designed to draw the US into a long war of attrition inside Afghanistan. The US campaign commenced on 7 October 2001. By the end of 2001, Bin Laden had escaped, the Taliban had collapsed and an interim government had been established. By March 2002 the US had shifted its focus to Iraq. In the summer of 2005, al-Qaeda facilitated the influx into Afghanistan of thousands of foreign jihadists. As violence escalated, the Afghan government moved to appease the Taliban by ramping up Islamisation and cracking down hard on apostasy [RLPB 059 (9 June 2009)]. 

Kabul

By 2011 the US was talking about pulling out of Afghanistan, despite escalating Taliban violence [RLPB 155 (18 April 2012)]. By 11 September 2021, 20 years after al-Qaeda triggered the war, US troops will have withdrawn. As in 1989, the power vacuum will be filled by an array of warring groups. Afghans face the prospect of civil war: the Afghan government (which is weak) vs regional warlords (who control the drug trade) vs the Taliban (which is backed by al-Qaeda) vs Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) which cites a prophetic hadith (an alleged saying of Muhammad) to justify its claim on Afghanistan. As in 1989, outsiders - including Pakistan, Russia, Turkey and China - will move to exploit opportunities and either defend or advance their strategic interests. The biggest losers will be the Afghan people, in particular Afghan women and Christians. Despite severe repression and persecution, a 2013 estimate put the number of Christians in Afghanistan at between 2000 and 3000, up from a couple of hundred a decade earlier. Most converted while living outside of the country.  

The US-led campaign in Afghanistan achieved little in terms of enduring freedom. However, it did open a window of opportunity, enabling some amazing Afghans to achieve amazing things. In an article for World News Group, Mindy Belz gives some insights into what may be about to be lost. Concerning the Christian community, a foreign worker inside Afghanistan told her: 'Among Afghanistan's non-Muslims are Christians who have seen a revival of faith and rapid growth since the US-led liberation from the Taliban in 2001. There are basically three types of believers: those who have been forced to leave the country, those who survive by exercising their faith underground, and those who are dead.' Yet, as Belz writes, Muslims continue to come to faith across the country. 'Internet access coming even to remote parts of the country has brought online evangelism and private discipleship. Some Afghan church leaders became Christians while living as refugees abroad and they teach online or have returned to disciple others.' Furthermore, 'Conversion from Islam continues to carry a high cost in the Afghan honour-and-shame culture. It often means loss of family, inheritance, and a job.'

source:
  Cause to fear a Taliban victory,
By Salman Rafi Sheikh,
Asia Times, 26 April 2021

'For these reasons,' continues Belz, 'fellowship among believers can be rare, often taking place in online chat rooms accessed through VPNs [Virtual Private Networks], a secure connection to the internet that makes the user hard to trace. When believers do gather, they do so in small groups over lunch at an office or behind curtains in a safe house in an otherwise nondescript neighbourhood of dusty streets. Bibles are usually contraband, so Scripture is shared using the internet or with cell phone SIM cards. For all the risks, bold church leaders evangelise Muslims and baptise new believers.' In Afghanistan, as in most places where Islam has brought nothing but repression, misery and death, many Muslims are yearning for a different way or path, and increasingly they are open to the way of Jesus Christ as imaged or modelled by Christians who love them. As researcher David Garrison has observed, 'Something is happening, something historic, something unprecedented. A wind is blowing through the House of Islam.' And as Jesus explained to Nicodemus, 'The wind blows where it wishes ...' (John 3:8). Whilst nothing can stop the mission of the Spirit, the Afghan Church will need our prayers.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* give Afghan Christians all the wisdom and understanding they will need to navigate these darkening days; in particular praying for those who lead his imperilled Church, along with those who work with them and advise them, including from afar (Proverbs 2:6-8); may the Lord preserve his Church in Afghanistan.

* give everyone who works with or ministers to Afghans inspirational creativity so they might always stay ahead of - or be able to overcome - every evil scheme designed to silence, crush and eliminate the Afghan Church. 'I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it' (Jesus, from Matthew 16:18 ESV).

* redeem these terrible days of fear and uncertainty; may more and more Afghan Muslims seek and find that better way - the way of Jesus Christ.

'For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.' John 3:17 ESV

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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AFGHANISTAN: CHRISTIANS IMPERILLED AS WEST WITHDRAWS  

The US-led campaign in Afghanistan (2001-2021) achieved little in terms of enduring freedom. However, it did open a window of opportunity, enabling some amazing Afghans to achieve amazing things. Despite severe repression and persecution - from the government, the Taliban and Muslim society - a 2013 estimate put the number of Christians in Afghanistan at between 2000 and 3000, up from a couple of hundred a decade earlier. As Western troops withdraw, that window will close. Afghans face the prospect of civil war: the Afghan government vs regional warlords vs the Taliban vs Islamic State Khorasan Province. Outsiders - including Pakistan, Russia, Turkey and China - will move to exploit opportunities and either defend or advance their strategic interests. Please pray for the Afghan Church, and that disillusioned Muslims will seek and find Jesus.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com