While the Taliban’s reemergence in Afghanistan brings concern for its Christian population, the situation isn’t as grim as it could be.
Stories of Christians being targeted by the Taliban over the last month have grown, largely on social media. But those reports remain difficult to substantiate, Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) spokesman Todd Nettleton said.
It’s important to continue to pray for those enduring persecution, he said, but also for Christians to take note of the current place for the Afghanistan church.
“We’ve heard reports of the Taliban looking for Christian materials on cell phones,” he said. “Those are difficult to independently verify, but we do know the Taliban doesn’t want the Christian church to spread.
“There is a lot to pray over. Many Christians have fled the country, but many others have chosen to stay. Right now, Voice of the Martyrs is working to help equip them and keep them safe. That’s the focus of our work.”
He said that work is guided by prayer, a sentiment echoed by the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee and other Convention leaders.
Due to security considerations for International Mission Board (IMB) personnel and those believers with whom they work, IMB spokesperson Julie McGowan said, locations are not revealed but contact is maintained to confirm their security and safety.
“We always ask that you please pray for the people of the area affected by the events,” she said. “For the people of Afghanistan, pray that God would intervene and glorify His name in this tragic situation. Please pray for Afghan believers whose lives are being threatened. Ask God to give them courage and strength and to help them be light to those around them.
“Pray for seekers, asking that they will find God and put their hope in Him, and that the millions of Afghans who have never heard the gospel will have an opportunity to hear. Pray as well for those in other countries as they attempt to host the surge of refugees coming out of Afghanistan.”
Send Relief’s efforts regarding the situation reflect those of the IMB, said North American Mission Board spokesman Mike Ebert.
“Send Relief works with believers and churches throughout the world. Because of security considerations for personnel and the national believers with whom they work, we usually don’t discuss their locations,” he said, adding that “times of increased threats” require extra attention to safety.
“We always ask that fellow believers please pray for the people of the area affected by the events,” he said.
One of the more immediate prayer needs was met at the end of August when banks in the country began to reopen, something Nettleton said provides outside groups like VOM to get money to their people in-country.
On Aug. 28 Nettleton interviewed author John Weaver, a long time gospel worker inside Afghanistan, about the current situation in the country.
“It’s a dangerous time for our brothers and sisters,” Weaver said. “They are like sheep among wolves. Some have already fled; some are in different locations and hiding. And yet we know that for some, God will call [them] to stay there.”
Many have been threatened and forced to move.
“The Taliban is on a vengeance,” he said. “They’re trying to cleanse the land in their strict view of Islam and a lot of it is directed to our brothers and sister who we want to be praying for in these days.”
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Weaver was strongly advised like all Americans to leave the country. He said no. Just as then, he feels the Christian witness in Afghanistan is positioned to prosper despite the threats being laid at the church’s door.
“We can pray and celebrate that God is using this to advance His kingdom and further the gospel,” he said. “There is an increased gospel witness through social media, projects that VOM supports and frontline workers in ways that are getting the gospel into the country. … As people plant and water, God is going to give the increase.”
Nettleton agreed. Due to the Taliban’s relative absence, a generation has grown up with more opportunities to hear the gospel, and yet even last year, Afghanistan was still the second-most dangerous country in which to be a Christian.
“It’s never been safe to be a Christian there,” he said. “But the scope of the church is far greater than the last time the Taliban controlled the country.
“The church in Afghanistan has grown over the last 20 years. There are Christians in every province and hundreds of Bible studies in house groups or friends who get together to listen to praise choruses and study the Bible. The idea that the Taliban is going to shut all of those down … that’s not going to happen.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Scott Barkley is national correspondent for Baptist Press.)