On August 26, 2021, crowds of Americans and Afghan allies were gathered outside the Kabul airport, seeking to flee Taliban fighters taking control of the capital city following America’s withdrawal from the country. Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui, age twenty, was one of thirteen American troops killed that day when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive.
Nearly a year later, his older brother died on August 9. Rep. Mike Waltz, R-Fla, tweeted on Saturday, “The older brother of one of the 13 KIA in Kabul recently killed himself at his little brother’s memorial.”
Hundreds of Taliban fighters gathered in Kabul yesterday to mark a year since they swept into the Afghan capital. “For us, this is a day of liberation,” one of them said. For millions of Afghans, however, it was a day of despair. Allegations of torture, abuse, and extrajudicial killings are escalating. Amnesty International reports that the “suffocating crackdown against Afghanistan’s female population is increasing day by day.”
The Afghan economy has collapsed, leaving millions unable to feed their families. The United Nations warns that 97 percent of Afghans could fall below the poverty line this year.
One man told reporters that when the Taliban took over, he hoped they would focus on “the economy and other issues, like being a proper independent country.” However, he said, they appeared to be focusing instead on issues such as the length of men’s beards.
Church in Afghanistan growing amidst persecution
In the midst of such horrific chaos, Release International, a UK-based group that monitors Christian persecution, issued a remarkable report: “The violence and despair that has followed the Taliban resurgence are causing many young Afghans to ask searching questions about their culture and their convictions.” As a result, “There are early signs that the Christian faith could be growing among Afghans despite—or because of—violent persecution.”
Shoaib Ebadi, president of Square One World Media, reported that in Afghanistan, “Christians live under daily threat and in danger.” The US Commission on International Religious Freedom stated: “The Taliban have reportedly gone door-to-door looking for US allies, former government workers, rights activists, and Christian converts.”
At the same time, according to Ebadi, many young Afghans are disillusioned and are asking questions: “They are eager to hear about new things because their way of life that has continued for centuries has not brought peace or forgiveness, and the people are not prospering. It’s always fighting and revenge.”
He adds: “They are questioning everything: their own faith, their past, their present, their future. And all of them have mobile phones. Short videos about Jesus’ teaching and his life are being watched by hundreds and thousands. We teach the Afghan people how to know Jesus and understand his teaching. That’s the big thing that can change the hearts of people inside Afghanistan.”
According to Operation World, the fastest growing evangelical Christian population in the world is in Iran, where a similar pattern is unfolding as Iranians frustrated with their government and their Shiite religion are turning to Christ. However, Ebadi reports that “the growth of the church in Afghanistan is ten times faster than in Iran.”
“He who has no money, come, buy and eat!”
One way God redeems our crises is by using them to show us our need for what he alone can supply.
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis observed, “God made us: invented us as a man invents a car engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not properly run on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on himself. He himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from himself, because it is not there.”
In Isaiah 55, the Lord issues an invitation that brings Lewis’s observation to life: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!” (v. 1a). “Come” in the Hebrew shows that the one calling is concerned for the needs of those he addresses. Think of a doctor calling the next patient into the room or a benevolence worker inviting the next homeless person into an overnight shelter.
“Everyone who thirsts” in the Hebrew describes people who are desperate for water. “He who has no money” similarly describes someone so impoverished that he doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. But when we come to God with our poverty, he responds: “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (v. 1b). This is the essence of grace.
Tragically, many refuse: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (v. 2a). Many would rather spend their “money” on what they want than on what they need. They would rather have wealth in this world at the expense of wealth in the next. They would rather please the people they know than the God who knows them.
By contrast, if we come to the grace of God, we will “eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (v. 2b). He calls us to turn to him that “your soul may live” (v. 3) and your life may count for eternity (vv. 4–5).
As we experience our Father’s grace, we will be moved to share his grace, and the people we influence can never be the same. (For more on this fact, see my latest website article, “Caregiver asks adults with Down syndrome to be her bridesmaids.”)
What happens when we “draw near to God”
We are exploring this week the biblical mandate, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). “Whatever you do” applies even to those times when we have nothing to “eat or drink.”
In those moments, if we turn to our Father in the knowledge that we have nowhere else to turn, we find that “God is able to make all grace abound to you” (2 Corinthians 9:8). We discover the truth of his promise, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8). Our experience with his power and love draws others to him. And, even in Afghanistan, Iran, and the darkest places of our lives, we “do all to the glory of God.”
Why do you need to “draw near to God” today?