RICHMOND, Va. – A lone U.S. soldier accused in a shooting rampage that killed 16 Afghan civilians near Kandahar over the weekend is prompting Southern Baptist workers in Central Asia to ask American Christians to pray for peace.
The shootings threaten to further inflame a roiling tide of anti-American sentiment that swept the country in February following Afghans’ outrage over the burning of Muslim holy books, including Qurans, at Bagram Air Base, as well as the posting of a video to the Internet in January allegedly showing four Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters.
The Quran-burning incident alone was followed by a week of protests in which 30 Afghans were killed; attacks that resulted in the deaths of six American military personnel also were tied to the burning.
Some Afghans “understand and are slow to judge, but they … are certainly not the loud voices,” says Leo Hughes*, a Southern Baptist human needs worker in Central Asia who has spent time in Afghanistan.
The vehemence with which Afghans sometimes respond to such incidents may be difficult for Westerners to understand, Hughes says, but the violence is a byproduct, at least in part, of 30 years of war that has ravaged the country beginning with the 1979 Soviet invasion.
These three generations of Afghan villagers live in poverty with little hope for a better life, the result of decades of war that have decimated the country’s economic, infrastructure, health care and education systems.
“I have not encountered anyone in this country who has ever known Afghanistan at peace,” Hughes says. “There are a few very old men who, when you hear them talk, it’s almost like they are hallucinating when they speak about a time of peace.”
In addition to America’s ongoing conflict with the Taliban, there is continuous fighting among more than 20 ethnic groups that make up Afghanistan’s population of 30 million. Hughes says the need to pray for peace for the country’s tribes is equally as important.
“Think about a tribe of a million people accusing another tribe of 2 million people of doing wrong, so they fight. The winner was right; the loser was wrong. That’s the law of the land,” he says.
It’s just another reason why prayer is so desperately needed, Hughes says. Rather than react with pessimism or negative attitudes based on stereotypes, American Christians must pray that Christ will soften Afghans’ hearts and break the cycle of violence.
These are people God loves, Hughes says. “We are terrible at making generalities and characterizations of folks. All Americans are not Christians. All Muslims are not terrorists. … And if we are not willing to meet people and understand them, how do we have any right to condemn them? Some of my closest friends that I trust – literally – with my life every night, are Muslims.
“Christ didn’t spend all His time with believers. He spent more time with nonbelievers,” Hughes adds. “We need to get off of the church pew … and become more concerned about the lost in the world than our own comfort.”
Among prayer requests for Afghanistan relayed by Hughes and other workers:
– Pray for God’s mercy and justice for the families of the Afghans killed in the shootings.
– Ask God to quiet rising anger and prevent this incident from sparking further violence.
– Pray for an end to conflict in Afghanistan. Ask God to bring peace and unity between feuding ethnic groups and tribes as well as peace between Afghanistan and other nations. Pray that those seeking to incite violence are stopped and that criminals are brought to justice.
– Ask God to ease widespread suffering caused by war and conflict. Pray that He brings peace, stability, education and sustainable living conditions.
– Pray that Afghans will worship the one true God.
– Ask God to send workers to the harvest field in Afghanistan. “There is a huge task in Afghanistan under the hardest circumstances. The workers are few and the time is short,” Hughes notes. “Help is needed desperately.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Don Graham is senior writer at the International Mission Board.)