In early July, Afghan pastors and church leaders made a difficult decision. They decided to formally register their faith with the Afghan government. What an absurdity to register as Christians in an Islamic republic that prohibits a person from converting to Christianity! Against the advice of many, these Afghan church leaders felt compelled, for the sake of future generations, to legally declare their true faith in Christ.
“What about our children and our grandchildren?” they said. “Someone should make this sacrifice so the next generations can openly call themselves followers of Jesus.” They registered with the government, and we all prayed from outside, asking God to protect them from being rounded up and imprisoned the next morning. They were interviewed but not arrested.
Dramatic Church Retreat
This past weekend, we met in an Afghan/English church retreat. On the first night of the retreat, we learned that a pastor in Afghanistan received a letter from the Taliban: “We know who you are, what you do, and where to find you.” By Saturday the Taliban were at his door, but he had gone into hiding. Praise God.
A pastor received a letter from the Taliban: ‘We know who you are, what you do, and where to find you.’
I listened as an Afghan pastor spoke through tears about his friend, a faithful believer, whose village was taken by the Taliban three days earlier. This dear brother’s 14-year-old daughter was ripped from his arms and forced into sexual servitude in what the Taliban would dub as “marriage” and her “dutiful Islamic privilege and responsibility.”
As news arrived on Saturday that the Taliban was already walking the streets of Kabul, we wept and prayed with our Afghan friends as they scrambled to make phone calls to family members who had hoped to leave for a safer location. Nobody was able to leave. The roads and flights had already closed.
Of all topics, on Sunday morning we tackled the plagues in Exodus 7–11. At times Pharaoh hardened his heart. At other times God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. An Afghan evangelist in the room added: “Don’t forget that God called the most wicked king on earth, Nebuchadnezzar, ‘my servant’ in Jeremiah 27:6 and Jeremiah 43:10. “God is most certainly calling the Taliban ‘my servant.’”
We turned to Exodus 33:19: “And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” I raised the question we all felt. “We know and believe that God is sovereign, right? We all believe that he is God, perfect in every way, right? He never sins, right? But evil surrounds your brothers and sisters in Afghanistan. Evil is conquering your cities, your nation.”
We opened Romans 9 and were confronted with our presumption in questioning the wisdom of a good and merciful God. He is the potter. We are his clay. We explored the image of the foundation stone and the stone of stumbling from Isaiah 8 and Isaiah 28. From Romans 10 we were all reminded that we are to build our faith on Jesus, the only cornerstone that can stand firm through the storm of the Taliban.
How to Face Suffering
We ended with a synopsis of David Platt’s admonition at a secret church gathering on The Cross and Suffering:
- We must face suffering with a higher view of God.
- We must face suffering with a humble view of ourselves and other people.
- Remember that suffering and evil exist to exalt the glory of God’s grace, as demonstrated through the suffering of Jesus for the salvation of all.
- God ordains suffering for Christians in different ways for different purposes and through different means. Among other reasons, he leads us into suffering to refine our faith, to show his glory and to teach us to depend on him.
- Finally, our good and merciful Father leads his people into the turbulent waters of suffering as part of the orchestration of His plan to complete the Great Commission.
Our song leader chose the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” As we sang the final verse, an Afghan brother came and whispered in my ear, “Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s president, just resigned. The Taliban are now in control.” And we sang,
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever!
More Troubling News
It’s Monday morning and through tears I’m giving thanks for the way God planned the weekend. With one heart we gathered to comfort one another and pray together and groan and weep together in these difficult historical moments.
Since this weekend, more disturbing reports are coming in and life for the Afghan church is at the beginning of a new chapter. Young Christian girls are being pursued by the Taliban. The Taliban just raided the home of another church leader and confiscated his Bibles and literature.
Here in Memphis our Afghan pastor wrote, “I don’t even have words to pray now.” Yet tomorrow he will somehow broadcast a live satellite message of hope from God’s Word into Afghanistan on Mohabat.tv and facebook.com/afghantv.
The potter is crafting his vessels for his purposes.