September 11th, 2001, remains indelibly inscribed in my memory. As the Staten Island ferry glided toward the southern tip of Manhattan a few minutes before 9:00 AM on a crystal-clear late summer’s morning, my eyes followed the points and horrified gazes of fellow passengers on and up toward the inferno that raged a thousand feet above, caused a moment earlier by an airplane none of us had seen. As the events of that horrific day unfolded, feeling like an extra in an action movie, I wondered what it all might mean for my city, my nation, and my own life.
In the days and weeks that followed, we all got a crash-course on geopolitics and global jihad as we learned of the role of Afghanistan in the 9/11 attacks. That day two decades ago changed us and provoked a myriad of responses. Some served in the military. Others, like me, served as aid-workers inside Afghanistan or perhaps worked in the U.S. or other countries with Afghan refugees. Without a doubt, if nothing else, much prayer was raised up for Afghanistan.
This prayer, and the labor that accompanied it, undoubtedly has borne much fruit. Like compound interest, over time, the prayers and actions of so many for Afghanistan have slowly but inexorably led to real change in that nation. Significant improvements in physical and social infrastructure, expressions of common grace have made life better for an entire generation. Moreover, however hard to quantify, a true and significant kingdom response has been observed throughout every quarter of Afghanistan over the past twenty years, as thousands of Afghan men and women have turned to Christ in repentance and faith. Still, others have found Christ as refugees in other nations.
But now, all this progress seems threatened. In a matter of weeks, the Taliban have overrun nearly all of Afghanistan, in a blitzkrieg offensive few predicted. The United States, as of this writing, is days away from ending its evacuation efforts and permanently withdrawing its forces. While the Taliban are publicly presenting a kinder, gentler image, reports and videos shared online suggest that the reality of life under the neo-Taliban may look like more of the same old thing. Repression of women and minorities, kill-lists of former government workers and adherents of minority religions, public beatings for minor infractions, and extra-judicial killings all appear likely to be part of the “new” Taliban.
But here, too, there is an opportunity for hope. To begin with, and if nothing else, once again, a massive amount of prayer is being raised up for this beleaguered nation. Afghanistan is, once more, front-and-center on the news and in the hearts and prayers of God’s people. All of which will surely bear its fruit in its time. How can we pray for Afghanistan? Here are five suggestions, five broad areas for prayer.
First, we can begin with praise and thanksgiving (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Even in the midst of tragedy and pain, we can praise God that He is Lord over all the nations (2 Chronicles 20:6 Zephaniah 2:11), that they are but dust on the scales (Isaiah 40:15), and that He uses human actions, even evil ones, to bring about His eternal kingdom purposes (Genesis 50:20).
This means not giving in to despair or fear. Having recently joined Twitter for the sole purpose of following events in Afghanistan more closely, I quite well understand the temptation to abandon all hope as sufferings, and atrocities follow on in unrelenting succession one scroll at a time. But such reports always mislead, for we cannot see in them what God has purposed to do through them. And so, with eyes of faith, we can praise God that He is indeed up to something very good and ultimately glorious in Afghanistan.
Second, we can pray for peace. But not the smothering peace of the Taliban that imposes hopeless tranquility through compulsion and terror. Let us rather pray for a peace that brings a decisive end to forty years of war while valorizing justice, righteousness, and human dignity. Along with this, we can pray for the relief of acute suffering as thousands of displaced Afghans face uncertainty, hunger, and fear.
Third, we must pray for our Afghan brothers and sisters. Afghan believers have now been scattered. Some have made it out of the country and need prayer for physical and spiritual provision in their new homes. Many more remain trapped in Taliban-controlled areas where they face extreme danger of persecution. They need wisdom to know what to do (James 1:2–8). They need courage to face persecution if it comes (1 Corinthians 16:13). They need daily bread and physical protection (Matthew 6:11; Psalm 91). They need perseverance under trial (Romans 12:12). And perhaps most of all, they need faith to trust the God who can deliver them from the fiery trial—but also not to bow to another god should He choose not to (Daniel 3:17–18). They need our prayers, and our prayers will surely help (Philippians 1:19–21).
Fourth, we can also pray for the millions of Afghans who do not yet know Christ, that God will use this moment to call many from death to life. God undoubtedly has many more sheep in Afghanistan who might be drawn, through the present crisis, to faith in Him (John 10:16). Some of these will be refugees on our own shore. Many more will remain in Afghanistan—even numbered among the Taliban. None are beyond His reach. Pray that God will turn them from death to life and deliver them from the power of Satan to God (Acts 26:18).
Finally, we can pray for ourselves, for the church in the U.S. and elsewhere, that we would be a blessing not just to Afghans but to all those in need of the love of Christ as he calls and directs us. Many Afghans (and others) will be coming to our cities and communities, looking for practical help and carrying a spiritual hunger that only Jesus can fill. We can pray that they will find Him here, as local churches respond with bold and sacrificial action to minister Christ’s love. And who knows, there may even be opportunities, as events unfold, to work in Afghanistan itself in this next season, to bring needed relief and hope. Pray that God will move His people where He wants them to go.
As I reflect on recent events in Afghanistan, I am reminded of the fable of a wise old Afghan man who buys a horse. “You’re so unlucky,” the neighbors tell him because the horse is small and unpromising. “Maybe so; maybe not,” replies the man. But when the horse matures into a prized stallion, the neighbors change their mind: “You’re so lucky,” they tell him. “Maybe so; maybe not,” replies the man. Later, when the horse throws the man’s son, injuring him, the neighbors weigh in: “You’re so unlucky.” Again comes the reply: “Maybe so; maybe not.” But when the son’s injury prevents him from having to fight in a war, the neighbors once again opine: “You’re so lucky.” “Maybe so; maybe not.” And so it goes.
While hardly endorsing the fatalistic, cyclical worldview that this story suggests, I think that it nevertheless contains a grain of truth. All is not as it appears; just as the seeming successes of the past twenty years have led to the heartbreaking tragedy of the current moment, such seeming setbacks like the Taliban resurgence can hold great promise. The last word has not yet been spoken. It is far too early to say what unlooked-for opportunities may present themselves in Afghanistan and among the Afghan diaspora in the years to come. But opportunities for kingdom advance will surely be present because God’s kingdom cannot fail, and His sovereign hand rules over all. Will we have eyes to see them?