(VOICE OF THE MARTYRS) — There are still Christians in Afghanistan.
Yes, the Taliban are in control of the country and have been for the past year. And yes, the Taliban’s version of radical Islam teaches that Muslims who leave that religion to follow another are apostates who should be executed if they refuse to return to Islam.
Perhaps you heard after the fall of Kabul that every follower of Christ in Afghanistan had either fled the country, been killed or was in hiding while trying to get across the border.
But there are still Christians in Afghanistan.
In our fast-moving, attention-deficit, “What’s next?” world, it may seem a long time since we thought about Afghanistan. Since we saw those pictures of parents handing their babies over a razor-wire fence hoping their children could grow up in freedom. Or since we watched video of young men desperately clinging to the outside of airplanes, considering the risk of plunging thousands of feet to their deaths a better option than living under the Taliban’s dark, oppressive version of Islam.
It may seem like a long time, but it has only been 12 months. One Christmas, one birthday, one year.
If it seems long to us, it likely seems even longer to people still in Afghanistan. So many of the promises made by “Taliban 2.0” in the Doha negotiations with the Trump administration have already been broken. Girls in school? Nope. Free press? Nope.
And what about religious freedom? I don’t think the Taliban even pretended there would be religious freedom under their watch. Their version of Islam says that anyone who was born in a Muslim family is a Muslim. And if a Muslim isn’t showing proper devotion or, even worse, is following a different faith, that person is an apostate.
Watching the Taliban’s advance last year, and knowing their philosophy, many Christians — especially those known to be followers of Christ — understandably fled the country. But other believers, especially those whose faith wasn’t publicly known, made the incredible decision to stay. Who will be here to share the gospel, they thought, if all the Christians flee?
Staying was not an easy decision to make, and it is not an easy life.
Afghans speak of neighbors as those who “share our shade,” a colloquialism that may be traced back to nomadic herders camping beneath the same tree. Culturally, it is common for Afghans to know a lot about those who share their shade. They notice when their neighbors have guests in their homes, when they come and go … and if they stop attending Friday prayers.
Because of this Afghan cultural norm, Christians almost always face questions from their neighbors. The first questions typically are not from the Taliban — that may come later — but from a father, an older brother or one of those sharing their shade. When questions start, our Christian brothers and sisters face a daunting decision to admit apostasy and risk their lives, or change their shade by moving to a new location where nobody knows them.
One Afghan Christian — I’ll call him Abdullah — connected with The Voice of the Martyrs, moved three times in the first eight months after the Taliban takeover. It was too dangerous for him to stay put once neighbors noticed his lack of Islamic enthusiasm. He uprooted his family three times, and moving caused him to give up his job, of which there are few available in Afghanistan’s broken economy.
We might look at this hardship and think, “He should have left.” Yes, it would have been safer. Perhaps he could have come to the West or at least to a more stable, less radical Islamic country nearby.
But Abdullah doesn’t see it that way. In the months since the Taliban takeover, he has been able to tell other Afghans about Jesus and help disciple and encourage new believers. He’s finding that as the Taliban demonstrate violence and oppression in the name of Islam every day, many Afghans are becoming more open to hearing about the Way, the Truth and the Life. Abdullah knows his life is in danger. But he sees danger, the recurring need to change his shade and the lack of a job as fair trade for the opportunity to proclaim the gospel, to offer the peace and hope of Christ to a nation desperately lacking both. So he stays.
Yes, there are still Christians in Afghanistan. And they deserve our admiration, our prayers and our help.
(Todd Nettleton is the host of The Voice of the Martyrs Radio and the author of “When Faith Is Forbidden: 40 Days on the Frontlines with Persecuted Christians,” published by Moody Publishers. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)