Taliban takeover in Afghanistan could signal darker days for nation’s persecuted believers

As Taliban insurgents take control in Afghanistan, Christians around the world and believers in the beleaguered nation are pleading for prayer.

American forces and U.S. allies are withdrawing from Afghanistan after occupying the Central Asian country for nearly 20 years following Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S.

Faced with little resistance from the Afghan military, the militant Islamic organization seized control of the country’s capital, Kabul, on Aug. 15, leaving Christians and other religious minorities, women and Afghans who helped the U.S. effort particularly vulnerable.

Afghanistan is No. 2 on Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List of countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian, and believers there already live under intense pressure and the threat of imminent violence. The Taliban takeover only intensifies that threat, an Open Doors representative said.

“It’s a heartbreaking day for the citizens of Afghanistan and an even [more] dangerous time to be a Christian,” said Brother Samuel (name changed for security reasons), Open Doors field director for Asia. “It’s an uncertain situation for the whole country, not just for secret believers. Our hearts are broken. We knew this could happen. We are not surprised but this does not make the pain any less.”

‘Shocking and heartbreaking’

Daniel Patterson, acting president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, called the situation “shocking” and “heartbreaking.”

“Regardless of how one feels about the policies that led us to this point, Christians are called to be a voice for the vulnerable,” Patterson told Baptist Press. “Clearly, a humanitarian crisis is unfolding and both prayer and immediate action are urgently needed.”

International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood also called for prayer for Afghanistan. In an Aug. 16 tweet, Chitwood wrote, “1000s of Afghans displaced; food shortages, looting. Homes & offices were searched & seized; many trying to flee the country with no success. Pray God will move in the midst of chaos & fear and those without hope will come to know Jesus. Pray for the courage of Afghan believers.”

Bryant Wright, president of the North American Mission Board’s Send Relief, tweeted on Aug. 15, “Please pray for the Christians in Afghanistan who have been obeying Christ’s Great Commission out of love for the lost people in Afghanistan. It doesn’t sound like our gov’t has remembered them. Let’s at least pray for their strength and courage as they give their lives for Jesus!”

Mindy Belz, senior editor of WORLD Magazine, wrote on Aug. 13 on Twitter, “A person who works with house church networks in Afghanistan reports its leaders received letters last night from the #Taliban warning them that they know where they are and what they are doing. The leaders say they aren’t going anywhere. So it begins.”

In an Aug. 15 update, Belz reported the “Taliban have visited several homes of these identified believers but could not find them. Most do not have $$ or access to the airport to leave. And again, they want to stay but it is hard to see how they will survive.”

History of Taliban rule

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until the U.S. occupation began in 2001. Under the group’s harsh interpretation of Islamic law, women were barred from attending school or working outside the home and were required to be fully covered and accompanied by a male relative whenever they went outside. The Taliban also banned music, cut off the hands of thieves and stoned adulterers.

Though Taliban leaders have said they want to form an “inclusive, Islamic government” and won’t exact revenge on those who opposed them, Afghans are skeptical.

The Associated Press reported Taliban leaders want to rename the country the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which is what they called it the last time they ruled. And reports of girls forced into marriage with Taliban insurgents already are surfacing.

Writing at The Gospel Coalition, Mark Morris, director of urban theological studies at Union University’s Memphis College of Urban and Theological Studies and director of Refugee Memphis, shared the story of a believer whose village was taken by the Taliban.

“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,’” Morris wrote.

He added that “young Christian girls are being pursued by the Taliban, [and] the Taliban just raided the home of another church leader and confiscated his Bibles and literature.”

Christians are a small minority in Afghanistan, which is 99.8% Muslim. Voice of the Martyrs reported that even before the takeover, local and national governments were highly antagonistic toward Christians. Islamic State also is active in Afghanistan, and believers face persecution from their families, friends and communities.

There are no churches in the country, but if there were Afghan Christians cannot worship openly, VOM reports. They worship in homes primarily and must maintain a high level of secrecy. Evangelism is forbidden, and beating, torture and kidnappings are routine for believers. Christian converts from Islam are often killed by family members or other radicalized Muslims before any legal proceedings can begin, according to VOM.

Still, Afghan house churches continue to grow, and though believers seldom have a printed Bible, online Bibles and other digital resources are extremely helpful to believers, VOM said.

How to pray

Josh Manley, pastor of RAK Evangelical Church in the United Arab Emirates, has been in touch with church leaders in Afghanistan. Writing at 9marks.org, Manley said church leaders are concerned for the safety of their families, and anxious for the prayers of the global Church.

“Every church leader who has emailed or texted me has asked that we would pray for the Lord to strengthen them in their faith — that they would ‘stay strong in the Lord, who is the Sovereign King,’ as one put it,” Manley wrote.

Another asked Manley to ask others to pray for revival.

“What faith! Here is a man whose life is in danger asking us, who enjoy so many privileges and freedoms, to pray that God would open the eyes of the spiritually blind and give life to dead hearts,” Manley said.

He offered the following prayer points for Afghan believers:

  1. Physical protection and provision
  2. Spiritual provision
  3. Gospel advance (read Manley’s full article and prayer prompts here)

Prayer guides for Afghan believers are available from Open Doors and Voice of the Martyrs.

At The Gospel Coalition, Joe Carter, author and associate pastor at McLean Bible Church in Arlington, Virginia, offers three prayer prompts for the Taliban:

  1. The conversion of the Taliban
  2. They will be restrained from doing evil
  3. They will receive divine justice

This article was written by Carrie Brown McWhorter, writer for The Baptist Paper in Alabama. It was published on thebaptistpaper.org.

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