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Lament and Hope: How to Pray for Afghanistan’s Women

This morning I reached for a simple necklace with a blue stone mined from the ancient Silk Road land. It is a piece of Afghanistan. I lifted the delicate chain around my neck and clasped it, as the small blue lapis lazuli stone settled lightly on my chest.

My image in the mirror reflected the stone’s deep blue and metallic flecks but failed to reveal the ache in my heart. Even though I’ve never lived in Afghanistan, I join the global lament at the advances of the Taliban and all the consequences that will cascade from the torrent of the past week.

So many voices around the world cry out for the women of Afghanistan. Photos on social media are striking: smiling Afghan women sporting short skirts in the 1970s compared with women enveloped in burqas under the Taliban.

Of course, even before the Taliban took over, Afghan women’s lives were hard. They certainly weren’t cruising around in miniskirts like the “before” photos of the 1970s.

But the pictures do indicate a sober reality—the lives of Afghan women just grew harder. As the Taliban consolidates its power, we expect Afghan women to recede further beyond the public eye. Most will become even more invisible behind their veils, in their homes, and without an education or voice.

As the Taliban consolidates its power, we expect Afghan women to recede further beyond the public eye.

It can feel hopeless. Muska Dastageer, lecturer at the American University in Kabul, tweeted: “The fear just sits inside your chest like a black bird. It opens its wings and you can’t breathe.”

Where do we turn in these moments? I am helped by some fundamental truths about God that apply to each woman lost in a seemingly hopeless situation.

Here are the realities I shelter in as I pray for the women of Afghanistan.

The Lord Sees

One of my favorite passages to share with suffering Muslim women is the story of Hagar. In her lowest moment, Hagar was abused, destitute, and on the run when the angel of the Lord found her (Gen. 16). In a remarkable scene, Hagar assigned a name to God: “El Roi,” the God of seeing, “for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me’” (Gen. 16:13).

I shared this story last week with a Central Asian woman who disclosed a harrowing account of abuse and anguish in her life. She’s not Afghan, but I believe she could relate to the desperation of many Afghan women who wake up each day with the dull hopelessness that lingers after trauma, abuse, bereavement, and lost dreams.

God sees the plight of each Afghan woman. Accounts this week from Kabul say the streets are quiet, and the few individuals who venture out are men. Women have retreated out of sight—but not out of God’s sight. He sees them.

The Lord Speaks

Part of my daily Bible reading includes a psalm to guide my prayers. Monday morning, I read Psalm 29, which ascribes glory to God because of his powerful voice. As my phone’s news alerts brought wave after wave of bad news, I kept thinking about God’s voice:

The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness;
the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth
and strips the forests bare,
and in his temple all cry, “Glory!” (Ps. 29:7–9)

Nothing makes us feel more helpless than the fury of a storm. In this psalm, David likens God’s power to a storm. The strongest earthly powers pale in the presence of the Almighty God. And his power is expressed in his voice.

The strongest earthly powers pale in the presence of the Almighty God.

Many Afghan women are denied access to outside voices. But no one can stop the voice of God. He is a speaking God. With a voice of power that makes his people cry “Glory,” he can reach the most isolated Afghan woman.

The Lord Hears

Today I read Psalm 31 and scribbled “Taliban takeover, Aug. 2021” in the margin near verses 21–22:

Blessed be the LORD,
for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me
when I was in a besieged city.
I had said in my alarm,
“I am cut off from your sight.”
But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy
when I cried to you for help.

Women who cry to God for help will find an open ear. He hears even the faintest whisper from a crushed spirit. We cannot know how many women have heard the gospel and are truly seeking God. But we can be sure—when they cry out to God, he hears them.

The Lord Gives Honor

The story of the bleeding woman (Matt. 9; Mark 5; Luke 8) is another favorite of mine. But in relating with Muslim women, my friends and I prefer to call it the story of “the woman set free from her shame.”

Every aspect of Muslim culture is permeated with a worldview of honor and shame. You do that which brings honor and avoid that which brings shame.

The woman with the bleeding condition understood shame. She lived in an unclean state for 12 years before the day she reached for the fringe of Jesus’s garment. When Jesus healed her, he took her shame. When he called her “daughter” (Luke 8:48), he gave her honor. The woman whose shame enveloped her became an honored daughter of the King.

Muslim women cover—or are covered—in the very effort to avoid shame. But the truth is, no piece of cloth, or absence of that garment, can bring freedom from disgrace.

Only the gentle Savior who calls us “daughter” can deliver a woman trapped in shame. Jesus brings deliverance and healing and honor to the inner being of a woman’s soul—and no one can steal that away.

Jesus brings deliverance and healing and honor to the inner being of a woman’s soul—and no one can steal that away.

The Lord Shows Mercy

In the New Testament, James exhorts his readers who are mistreated to be steadfast as they wait for the coming of the Lord. He appeals to the character of God’s compassion and mercy: “you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11).

As we read world news, we must recall God’s character. It instructs our prayers in truth during these dark days when we mourn with those who mourn in Afghanistan and look ahead toward the uncertain future of this land.

Let’s not forget—the women of Afghanistan are not without hope. And let’s allow these truths about God to guide our prayers.

God, you are a God who sees.
We pray you will see each woman in every difficult situation.

God, you are a God who speaks.
We pray you will speak to many Afghan women with the hope of your gospel.

God, you are a God who hears.
We pray you will hear the cries of women who seek you.

God, you are a God who gives honor.
We pray you will take their shame and give them the honor of being your daughters.

God, you are a God who shows mercy.
We pray you will act with compassion and mercy on the women of Afghanistan.

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