15 December 2017

Pilafs and Pistachios

Afghanistan is a tough place to work – all pain and no gain, it seems.

ra1The country is one of the most troubled environments on the planet. Lives are being lost, locations are as difficult as any, anywhere – a situation where prayer is clearly the chief weapon of both defence and attack.

Opportunities to tell the story of Jesus are extremely rare. Sometimes it is just a whispered word here or a display of Christian love there but sitting down and patiently explaining face to face who Jesus is, is often too much to hope for.

Few have ever come to Christ.

Islam holds absolute sway in the country and has done for centuries. The Tajiks, Hazaras and the Pashtun are the principle people groups, the latter being the largest with some 12 million people and just a tiny, scattered few who have come through for Christ. Then there are more than 70 other people groups and not even one believer is known to be among them.

Every one of Afghanistan’s people groups is among those widely regarded as being among the least-reached in the world today. The situation is different here to what it is, for example, in neighbouring Iran. Iranians continue to be gripped by the iron fist from above, a top-down oppression that squeezes and suppresses life itself. Those stepping out of line – discovering Jesus Christ for example – face abuse and intolerance from above. Many are in that boat today as Iranians step out in numbers into the transforming light of the Saviour.

Afghanistan however presents a different situation. A relatively open government may well be somewhat tolerant of an “outside” faith, but at grassroots it is very different. The oppression is from within, from one’s peers, from the family members all around. Some 90% of Muslim background believers come to Christ late on, generally at least when they are in their 30s or 40s – and after the death of their father. The shame and family retribution against a son leaving Islam for faith in Christ has led to many losing their lives.

It is no easier for women, too often shut out or shut up within their own society let alone having the opportunity to be told the story of the One who could change their world forever.

Pilafs and Pistachios

raThe following report comes from our partners in Afghanistan. Some had been caught by the Taliban, jailed and faced almost certain death, only to escape by God’s grace. They continued working there however and exciting, if sporadic, openings began to emerge.

“Although I remember those months as a dry and difficult time, my journal notes remind me that there were always unusual interactions. Ramadan, for example, the month when all Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, included numerous spiritual encounters.

“I observed the fast along with our national staff, which raised eyebrows and questions. One night, I was invited to dinner with our neighbours. They wanted to express their gratitude for my efforts with a gift of hospitality. Reciprocity lies behind many social interactions in the Asian world.

“Twelve of us had been invited for the occasion. Most of the guests were village elders. We began the delicious assortment of foods placed on the cloth that was spread on the carpeted floor. Among the delicacies were several versions of the famous Afghan pilaf – a rice dish that contains diced carrots and raisins. Lamb and beef kebabs, sizzling their mouthwatering aromas. Bread and hot tea accompanied the meal. After the main course we had fruit, almonds and pistachios.

“Finally, someone asked, as if on cue, “Mr Paul, why are you fasting?”

“I briefly explained how followers of Jesus Christ also practice fasting as a spiritual discipline. That led to a number of comments around the table about the purpose of fasting.

“As the interest waned, another man asked, “Mr Paul, who is Jesus Christ?”

“My mouth dropped but I was able to respond in a mixture of Uzbek and Dari, deeply honoured by their curiosity. Stumped at times, I even used English which was graciously translated. My brief audience was attentive and respectful. When I finished, they nodded thoughtfully and the discussion moved on.

“Afterward, my friend Ali remarked, “Mr John, you told them the whole story!”

“I wondered how that evening affected those men.”

The Few Start to Gather

Afghanistan stands out today as one of the very few countries in the world where there is no church.

Reports have begun to emerge that there may now be a tiny handful of underground fellowships gathering across the country. One lady came to Christ while lying on her bed. She had been given a copy of the Scriptures and said it was as if the light shone down directly onto the page.

Those working there are under no illusions. It is a patient road they have to walk yet the Story must be told. People have to hear. God must be praised!

For further information please contact Gordon Stewart: gordon@asialink.org.uk