U.S. troops are out of Afghanistan for the first time in nearly 20 years — a milestone some Baptist leaders see as part of a critical moment where “the Lord is doing something” among the nations.
The last U.S. military planes left Afghanistan today (Aug. 30 in the U.S., Aug. 31 in Afghanistan), marking the end of nearly two decades of U.S. occupation in the Central Asian nation and meeting the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline set by the Biden administration.
In an Aug. 26 webinar, Baptist leaders said the situation heightened concerns about global religious freedom and the plight of persecuted believers in countries like Afghanistan. Leaders also expressed optimism that the Church will use the opportunities created by crisis to make the gospel known among those affected by the crisis.
“This is great opportunity for the church to rise up and minister and serve,” said Todd Lafferty, executive vice president of the International Mission Board, speaking during “Baptists and the Nations: Religious Freedom Challenges Around the Globe,” a webinar hosted by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
“This is an opportunity to share the gospel with people who are without hope and who need a good word of hope, … an opportunity as the Church to reach the nations who have come among us,” Lafferty said.
Part of the response will involve helping refugees getting resettled, and Lafferty said the IMB is working with partners like Send Relief and World Relief to do that.
‘A great opportunity’
“We actually have an opportunity to minister to people who we would never be able to touch because they were behind closed borders in hard-to-reach places,” Lafferty said. “So the Lord is doing something here in moving people, and we have a great opportunity to join in what He’s doing.”
Though it may seem like recent events have unfolded quickly, former U.S. intelligence analyst Paul D. Miller describes recent events as a “long time coming.”
“The Taliban had been making incremental gains for several years,” said Miller, professor of the practice of international affairs at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and research fellow with the ERLC.
After last year’s U.S. peace deal with the Taliban and this year’s decision to adhere to the deal, “the Taliban understood they were going to win the war,” Miller said.
Miller spent a decade in public service as director for Afghanistan and Pakistan on the National Security Council staff, an intelligence analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency and a military intelligence officer in the U.S. Army.
Setback to religious freedom
Miller calls the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan “one of the greatest setbacks for international religious freedom that we’ve ever lived through.”
“We know they will not respect religious freedom or any human rights,” Miller said.
Chelsea Sobolik, acting director of public policy for the ERLC, echoed Miller’s concerns.
Afghanistan is second only to North Korea in persecution against Christians, according to Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List of countries where it is most dangerous to live as a Christian. Those numbers came in while U.S. troops were there, Sobolik said, which means persecution against Christians and religious minorities will continue to increase as the U.S. draws back.
Lafferty said Taliban officials have put up posters of believers in the Afghan capital, Kabul.
“Young daughters have already been ripped away from families and given to Taliban fighters as wives,” Lafferty said.
Sobolik also expressed deep concerns about the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls. Prior to the liberation of Afghanistan by U.S. forces in 2001, women in the country were not allowed to work or even to go outside unescorted by a male. Girls were not allowed to go to school.
“The Taliban are giving lip service to the rights of women, but word on the ground says that’s not happening,” she said. “We’re hearing women are being sent home from the workplace and women are being told not to leave the house without a chaperone.”
The issues are “difficult,” Lafferty said, which is why the IMB is “trying to help facilitate getting people out of the country” by providing names and required documentation on some individuals seeking to flee.
Whether everyone on those lists will get out is uncertain, Lafferty acknowledged.
How to pray
Sobolik said that while Christians may feel “utterly helpless” as they watch the events unfold on the news, all “can pray for vulnerable people and for their persecutors.”
The ERLC is providing several online resources for concerned believers.
Click here to access a prayer guide for the people of Afghanistan.
Click here to access the article “3 ways parents can talk to their kids about Afghanistan.”