The end of semester is always an event I look forward to as it means a class party with all of my Afghan students. Two classes means double the fun…or actually double the amount of delicious Afghan leftovers that my students insist I take home!
For the last two and a half years I have been teaching English and citizenship classes for a local not-for-profit in the area. This organisation offers basic literacy, English, citizenship and work classes for those who come from a non-English background. Almost all of my students are Afghan women, ranging in age from 25 – 60. Most are married and have several children.
Before beginning in this tutoring role I knew almost nothing about Afghanistan, its culture and the people. My family has had the privilege of forming friendships with several from the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, but until a few years ago never Afghanistan. I have learned a lot from my students over the past two and half years. I have witnessed wonderful Afghan hospitality, heard of hopes and dreams for their children, been told of the love for their country and the desire to see it change for the better and much more.
Over the last few weeks as the world watched the fall of the Afghan government to the Taliban, I have learned even more.
Words cannot describe the grief, sadness and anxiety that have poured through my computer screen during my weekly Zoom classes over the past few weeks as we all witnessed Afghanistan fall to the Taliban.
My students are in shock and memories of the past have been flooding back with great force. Every student and coworker I talk to has a story, tales of lost family members and lost dreams. The current upheaval and takeover by the Taliban is particularly hard for the Afghan women. They have lost so much, it is hard to put it all into words.
Someone recently said to me that “now the US is gone things will return to as they were in the past.” That is a complicated statement as many do not realise what Afghanistan, and particularly Kabul, used to be like. To understand why this current event is so traumatic for so many Afghans, most particularly women, one must go back to the 1920s -1970s when Afghanistan was being ruled by a monarchy and then a republic.
During these decades Kabul has been described by some as the Europe of the Middle East. If you have time, try and find photos of that time period and you will understand what I mean. There were jazz clubs, department stores, women in skirts, no burkas, women working, women at university and much more. In the 1970s Afghanistan endured an Afghan coup followed by the invasion of the Soviet Army. During the time of Soviet rule great religious persecution was endured and many disappeared. Even praying was condemned and could land someone in jail, which often meant death. In the 1980s a group of guerrilla fighters known as Mujahideen mounted an opposition against the Soviets. The war that followed left over 1 million Afghans dead and many, many more in significant poverty. In 1992 with the fall of the Soviet Union the Mujahideen entered Kabul, fighting ensued between the Mujahideen leaders and the remaining pro-communist government. More than 50,000 Afghans in Kabul died during this conflict. This was followed by a bloody civil war wherein the Taliban emerged victorious in 1996.
In the following years leading up to 2001 the Taliban enforced an extreme version of sharia law. Women lost all past rights and were persecuted and severely punished when found breaking the laws. Girls were banned from schooling, women were no longer allowed to work and conservative dress was heavily enforced. Women could not leave the house unless they had a male guardian.
In 2001 after the fall of the Twin Towers the U.S.-led coalition launched Operation Enduring Freedom focusing on the Taliban and al-Qaida. On November 13th, 2001 the US coalition entered Kabul and the Taliban regime fell to the US. This led to the establishment of a presidency and parliament. During the time of US control women saw some past freedoms reemerge. Public beatings of women mostly stopped, girls began to attend school once again, strict religious dress was relaxed, women began to work, and sports teams, the arts and much more were established and began to grow.
And then 2021 arrived; many will be analysing for years to come how things fell apart so quickly. But fall apart they did and with such speed that many who would have left are now stuck in Kabul and the other regions. Some of my older students have been through it all and have seen their freedom lost, regained and now are again seeing it slip away once more for their family members and friends still in Afghanistan. In a documentary I recently watched one female political activist pondered how much tragedy can a people group bare before turning to utter despair?
Most of the women I teach are from the Hazara ethnic minority and are illiterate in English and their home languages of Dari, Pashto and Hazaragi. This is due to growing up during the years of Taliban reign. Their new lives in Australia have given them a chance to learn without the fear of persecution and their children have been given access to more than possibly could be imagined.
This gift of opportunity can also be a curse for some as some struggle against the guilt of seeing family members left behind in Afghanistan, facing the dark prospects of an ultra-conservative muslim government.
What does one do in this situation? Or for those like M* who fled with his team last week and did not have time to get his wife and child out. Or a girl from my daughters’ Afghan/Australian culture club who was rescued by her university and at the same time was told they couldn’t arrange for her younger sister to also escape. Do you stay or do you leave with the hope of bringing them out sometime in the future? These are hard decisions many in the Afghan community are currently facing.
Many are receiving calls from their family members begging them to help escape.
In Scripture we are called as Christians to be concerned for the traveller, the poor and disadvantaged, those who face injustice. The prophets in the Old Testament had strong words for God’s people when they neglected this duty. With this in mind how can Christians help Afghan refugees in our local community and those in still stuck in their home country?
Pray in Christ and with the power of the Holy Spirit
- Many Afghans are questioning Islam as they see it only bringing pain, suffering and death. Pray for the spread of the Gospel, that the Afghan community may come to know the Saviour who will carry all their burdens for them. A family in Kabul that I’ve been helping fill out visa applications told me that no one had ever shown them such kindness. Tears welled in my eyes as I thought “I’ve hardly done anything for them…this is the greatest amount of kindness they have ever been shown?” That conversation has opened the door for me to share the Gospel with them. Pray for more opportunities like this around the world.
- Pray for the women and girls in Afghanistan. Overnight they have seen their freedoms disappear. Many young girls face being taken by Taliban soldiers as wives. I currently know a few girls hiding in their homes refusing to leave for this very reason. To be seen means you exist and to exist means you may be taken.
- Pray for the Christian radio stations broadcasting the preaching of God’s word throughout the country. That they would be given the resources to continue this work and that the Holy Spirit would be moving among those that hear these messages.
- Pray that the Taliban would honour their words concerning women’s rights and freedoms. Many are skeptical of empty promises but we know that our God has worked in the hearts and minds of rulers in the past and the Taliban are no different.
- Pray for the Christian Afghans who remain in their country, that they would be faithful despite the possible suffering and persecution to come.
Act in faith and love
- Consider whether your family or your church family could adopt an Afghan refugee or refugee family. Many who have recently escaped ran with only the clothes on their backs and maybe a small bag of important items. Their material needs are great but even greater is the need for someone to come alongside them and help them navigate their new home. How does the health care system work? Where can they find English help? How does the public transport system work? How can one learn how to drive? Where do they look for work? How do they seek immigration help for their family members that were left behind? As I help my students navigate the AUS immigration system I realise the great need for cultural natives to come alongside these people and be their guides. I have lived in Australia for over 16 years and still don’t understand all the complexities of some government systems and structures. How much more so for whose have just arrived and who may struggle with their new country’s language?
- Consider how you can love them. Many of these people have gone through great trauma and may suffer from PTSD. Those who are older have seen over 40 years of war and in some places extreme poverty. They need tender care and friends. Many are working through the guilt of leaving family behind which only adds to the emotional distress. Currently some of my students are unable to even get out of bed as the weight of their emotional distress is so great.
- Consider volunteering with an organisation that helps refugees settle into their new homeland. We often think of tithing in monetary terms. Perhaps you might consider tithing some of your time to help refugees?
- Consider how you might be able to give financially to help the Christians and Christian organisations who will remain and continue to labour in Afghanistan. Barnabas Aid is one such group that our family has been giving to for many years and currently has a funding program for Afghanistan.
Christ’s words in Matthew 25 have been on my mind and heart lately, may they rest on yours as well.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.
Matthew 25: 34 – 40
Megan Fisher, McKinnon RPC Australia
 See Afghanistan – Land of Endless War. This documentary has sadly been taken down from YouTube, probably in order to protect the women leaders it featured.