Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Persecuted Church: Afghanistan

There are many reasons why I chose Afghanistan to be the next persecuted church post. Like the last post on Iraq, it is a nation that has been at the forefront for many years. The United States has been embroiled in a seemingly un-winnable war involving the Taliban following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City. As is commonly known, Osama Bin Laden, the notorious Taliban leader who instigated and ordered the attacks, was being sheltered by loyal Afghanis. Although his health is in question, it is believed he is hidden away in the mountainous regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to date, has not been located and captured and continues to direct their efforts from his unknown location. However, Afghanistan is also one of the most brutal persecutors of Christians.

From a Biblical perspective in relation to where the modern nation of Afghanistan is located and its ethnicity, it is indeterminate as to which ancient peoples populated the country. It is comprised of a disparate mixture of Arabic tribes that came out of the lineage of Ishmael. The nation of Afghanistan is a relatively new nation. It was founded in 1747 when Ahmad Shah Durrani united the Pashtun tribes, creating the Durrani Empire. In the 19th century, Afghanistan fell under British and Russian rule, then won its independence in 1919. Communism reared its ugly head in the 1970's and Russia invaded it to support its growth in 1979, bringing war to the nation until 1989 when the brutal Taliban government gained power. In 2001, the United States led a NATO supported invasion into the country that toppled the Taliban government. Hamad Karzai became the first democratically elected President in December 2004. To date, the war continues to rage against pockets of Taliban insurgents and because of the geo-political make-up of the country, it has proven to be a difficult task to root them out of their hideouts. The Afghanis are a loyal and fierce race of people and because of this, finalizing military efforts there has been frustrated. Tribal factions are often the cause of much of the unrest and the NATO troops often find it difficult to secure information from these various warring groups.

There are approximately 33.6 million people in Afghanistan with a median age of 17.6 years and a life expectancy of only 44.5 years. As mentioned, the ethnicity of the people is diverse with approximately half of them being Pashtun and the remainder a mixture of other Middle Eastern tribes. Afghanistan is a Islamic Republic comprised of 80% Sunni Muslim and 19% Shia Muslim and their laws based on a mixture of civil and Sharia law. Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) estimates the number of Christians in Afghanistan to be at only 0.02%. Because of the influence of Islam, "[A]nyone who acknowledges faith in Christ experiences intense persecution, including death. Persecution normally comes from family members and neighbors, while police and government officials turn a blind eye." (VOM The Persecuted Church Global Report 2009)

Prior to the U.S-led invasion, the Taliban inflicted harsh and cruel punishment upon anyone who violated Islamic law. Women, who were seen to be mere objects of little worth and had no rights, were subject to severe forms of punishment, often enduring public beatings for seemingly minor offenses, such as exposing a body part from beneath their burkas. But to be a Christian in Afghanistan is considered to be the worst violation of Islamic law and those who openly express their faith are subject to death. (See Compass News Direct report, January 19, 2001 here http://www.compassdirect.org/en/display.php?page=news&idelement=742&lang=en&length=short&backpage=archives&critere=Afghanistan&countryname=&rowcur=25

On January 19, 2001, the Taliban also issued declarations that any international aid organizations and missionaries, or "any non-Muslim found trying to win converts", would also be subject to execution.

Although the invasion and subsequent democratic elections brought about the toppling of the Taliban government, it has not stopped militants from enforcing Islamic law on Christians. In the summer of 2004, five Afghan men who had converted from Islam to Christianity were brutally murdered in separate incidents. One of the men, Mullah Asad Ullah, was dragged from his home and his throat slit. Naveed ul-Rehman, who had gone to visit the grieving Ullah family, was found dead on August 7. Three more were stabbed or beaten to death in the month of July. In 2007, a group of Korean missionaries were kidnapped and held and one murdered by the Taliban for refusing to deny Christ.

The most recent murder was of British Christian aid worker, Gayle Williams, who was killed in a drive-by shooting in October 2008. According to VOM, the media reported her crime as "spreading Christian propaganda". President Karzai had received warnings from the Afghanistan Islamic Council "not to allow foreign missions into the country, especially to the impoverished area. The attack followed threats by the council to exact severe consequences if the government did not stop Christians from preaching and evangelizing." (VOM Global Report 2009) Following her death, international aid workers have become troubled over the increase of persecution in the surrounding countryside and also a failure of the government to stop militants from entering the cities as well.

As you can see from the small amount of information I have provided in this post, to be a Christian in Afghanistan means certain death. Perhaps that's why, in spite of the efforts of faithful missionaries and organizations such as Voice of the Martyrs, the number of Christians is so tragically small. However, in my search to provide you with a clear picture of the persecution they endure, there are those who, in spite of it, continue to faithfully bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to their nation. They endure because they know Who stands by their side in the battle. They are faithful, bold, courageous and their desire is to win souls over to Jesus Christ for His glory. As the Apostle Paul did, they cling to God's strength and deliverance.

"But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (2Timothy 4:17-18 NIV)

Thank you for allowing me to share with you the worldwide persecuted church. I pray these posts will inspire you to be in prayer for our Afghan brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as others who also suffer.