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Giovanna’s blog on ‘Christian ministry in Afghanistan’ – Part 12

Hi there, Giovanna here (not my real name, for security reasons…)

Here is part 12 of my blog ‘A personal reflection on ‘serving in Afghanistan” – if you missed the earlier parts, here they are:

Afghanistan October 2021: What is happening now?

The wall to wall media coverage of Afghanistan has now ended, indeed often now there is little information available so what exactly is going on there especially with regard to the body of believers?

Initially you saw the hysteria at the airport. As someone with a lot of experience in Afghanistan I did not expect this. Afghans have had huge resilience over the years. They have had to have. Those who could not cope basically fell into depression. Those I know have had to fight year on year emotionally and physically (as there is no welfare state so work is essential). Before the Taliban reached Kabul I was wondering how the educated people would react. Would they capitulate? (Which is what happened in the 1990s) Or would they protest? I did not imagine they would have a “complete melt down”. The analogy comes to mind of a small child who, at the end of an exciting and tiring day out, comes to the “end of themselves”. Suddenly they cry and have a tantrum. They have come to the end of their resources. What they need is rest…bed!

The Afghans I know seem to have just come to the end of what they could cope with. It was certainly “the straw which broke the camel’s back”, as the saying goes, but much more than a straw! The burden was too great! After years of rebuilding their lives, rebuilding their family’s chances, rebuilding their society, it all seemed to fall apart for them. A major contributor to this was probably the completely unanticipated suddenness of events. People could not process it well to deal with it.

They became afraid, VERY afraid. Fear seems to have possessed them! All Afghans I know, whatever their status in life has been, were and still are genuinely afraid for their lives. They feel they worked with foreigners, worked with Christians, worked for women’s rights…and more…so may be a target. Every Afghan I know (believer and Muslim) seems to think they are on some kind of list. Everyone cannot be on a list. Many in their fearfulness, fear the worst. Also all Afghans know you need a good story to get accepted for asylum anywhere so possibly they always present the worst case scenario. They desperately want to get out!

But do they really have cause to be so afraid? Now things have settled” what is the reality?

In Afghanistan in October 2021 what is life like?

Shops are open, banks are open, government offices are open, those who can have gone back to work because they have to. Who will feed their families if they don’t? Those who have lost their jobs (because maybe they worked with foreigners or are displaced due to previous fighting) are really struggling and if they have no savings or wider family who can help they are going hungry. Winter has begun in many parts of Afghanistan and people will lack the money to buy fuel too. Non Governmental Organisations (NGOS/charities) are recommencing work especially food distributions. There have been obstacles e.g. offices being occupied by Taliban groups investigating the organization but also needing the accommodation for their men. Agreements with the new Taliban Government have had to be made and are still in process. Donors have needed to assess what they will do and submit to their own governments’ restrictions. The freezing of foreign funds is creating a humanitarian disaster. Covid of course is still rife yet the already poor health care system is getting worse. Foreign funds have shored up all services in Afghanistan for decades.

Girls who can are going to school and university but it seems schools are up to age 11 so not secondary school level. At puberty conservative Muslims (not just the Taliban) expect girls should be covered up and stay home until they are married. University courses are more limited. Even those courses on offer some girls fear attending. Jobs for women seem to be limited to health and education. Health though is broader than just hospitals e.g. includes mobility for the blind and other relevant disabilities, teaching sign language etc.

However many women, especially professional women, are sitting at home very depressed. Female journalists, politicians, lawyers, managers, bank workers etc. Their daughters anticipate the future with fear. They feel their lives are empty. Music and drama on TV are banned so only news and religious programmes are available. Music and dancing is banned at weddings. Cinemas will be closed and leisure outlets some women attended e.g. beauty salons and female gyms. Women all need to be covered up when going out. Some younger women in Kabul had become very free even uncovering their hair in restaurants. I doubt many women at all are going out to eat right now.

A few women run protests on the streets. Those who are considered a nuisance are sometimes hit with cables or belts to try to make them go home. Young educated Afghan women in 2021 have grown up with the internet. In the cities this is not the Afghanistan of previous years but step into a rural community and you may think you are in a different century! Girls may not ever have been to school in some areas. For these areas nothing has changed.

Those Afghans who can are still trying to leave but embassies have basically said they can do no more to help/will not do more. They do not want to live under the current regime. They are genuinely afraid even though they could try to resume some elements of their lives. Many cannot leave. They are poor, uneducated.

There has been much talk in and out of Afghanistan of people being targeted. The higher echelons of the Taliban have publicly said there will be no targeting. Clearly some high ranking security staff in the former Government have been singled out and “punished” but with other incidents it is unclear if it is the Taliban officially or criminals or local people settling scores, or some lower rank Taliban settling their personal scores/abusing power. I would say Taliban leadership do seem to be trying to establish clear systems going forward but there are bound to be inconsistencies as local leaders implement differently.

Crime is dealt with harshly e.g. hangings for kidnapping, for homosexuality, for murder…for those things considered “gross” sins. Attacks on Shiite Muslims (The Taliban are Sunni Muslims) have been by ISIS. Some stories of beheadings have been verified and of those considered to be members of Islamic groups like the Salafi people in the east (who vary from traditional Sunni beliefs) but the Salafi have also killed Taliban as I understand it.

So this is the context in which Afghan believers are living. Obviously they are fearful. Some believers have left Afghanistan assisted by Christian agencies out of country. I don’t know numbers but usually they have left as extended families. It is more than a few who have left and probably includes leaders. Actually believers are at risk more from their Muslims extended families and friends than from wider society and this was true pre Taliban. I cannot find any verifiable stories of the Taliban seeking out believers. I am not saying it never happens but probably believers become targets when people they know report them.

Christian websites have published some quite outrageous and blatantly untrue stories (some of which have circulated before) and even reputable Christian organisations have published things without checking the facts. There are also some scam sites setting themselves up as “Christian” to exploit people to give money.

Like others believers may have lost jobs/relocated and become homeless/become very afraid. As I understand it groups of believers still meet. Most groups are family groups anyway so meeting would not arouse suspicion. Pray the body of Afghan believers would grow at this time despite all the external factors. Grow in depth and in numbers. I deliberately haven’t used the words “the church” (though of course it is the church) as people tend to assume it is one unit. Websites have talked about “THE Afghan church” as though it can be named and placed. No one knows how many believers nor exactly where they all are. In some cities there are cells and some are linked but there are isolated pockets and individuals too.

Giovanna

p.s. Would you like to find out more about Christian mission in Afghanistan?

How can I / our church get involved in Central Asian mission?

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