Don and Dodie: Testimony of former Afghan Missionaries Visit in the night: It's the Taliban! Prelude: 2001 With what is currently happening in Afghanistan, many thoughts are coming back to mind of times and people we knew in that country back in 2001 before 9/11 and the US military response. My wife and I were serving with a Christian humanitarian group in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, whose ministry was to help the blind, deaf, lame, widows with children and to do homebuilding/re-building. Much of this was due to previous and current warring. Conditions were given to all NGO's who wished to enter to help these people: "Keep your mouth shut about your religion. If you convert someone to Christianity we will hang them and you, too."
To this, we all agreed so we could enter. The assignment given to my wife and I was to manage a guesthouse. The purpose was to care for visitors that came for short stays, some to see the work and to experience the environment should they want to get involved. Life there was not for everyone. Our only communication was by radiophone that was monitored; no mail system, no email. All homes in Afghanistan, where we were, were in compounds with mud/stone walls, 12 feet high with broken glass embedded all around the top, with one gate. Little to no electricity. All of our homes had a person (Afghan) to tend the gate day and night. He slept nearby the gate. We had no church to attend. We were the church. A few of us would get together in one home or another on Saturday to worship. To sing, we would close the windows. No singing or instruments were allowed by the Taliban. All in our group were from the same international organization but from different countries. All spoke English, some with different Christian backgrounds. We never thought to talk denominations. We were all in the same foxhole; it didn't matter. At that time if an Afghan told you he was a believer it would be said in confidence. If he confided that information with you, he was putting his life in your hands. If what he told you was learned, he could be killed by a friend, family member, or relative. It had happened. That information was guarded. Most team members would not discuss those things, even amongst themselves. It was Dark in Afghanistan in those days but Light was seen filtering in. It was reflecting off of those who loved those people and were living among them trying to bring help where it was desperately needed. Many wonderful things were being done by a number of NGOs in all different aspects. Then something happened. One day in Kabul, while we were in a language training session, an alarm went out through the Christian community. Two overly zealous people from one NGO showed the Jesus video to some Afghans in their home. They were caught and arrested. As others in their group were also being arrested some in the group were able to get out of the country. The word was out. All NGOs were braced not knowing what would be coming down next. Some were preparing to leave at a moment's notice. Those out of the country were warned to stay out. Note: Living in Afghanistan then was stressful and many were advised to take a break every six weeks or so across the border in Pakistan where it was much less stressful. Returning back to Jalalabad, we just hunkered down and continued our work. Observation: Even the Taliban notice Christian love and caring even if perhaps reluctantly. Some of those we were helping in their difficult circumstances were family and friends of the Taliban. About three weeks later, in the middle of the night, I heard a tapping on the back door of our house. I got up, looking out the window I saw it was our gatekeeper. I cracked the door and he whispered to me, "The Taliban are here at the gate. They want to talk to you." After putting on my shoes, I started toward the gate and met three men coming my way. Other armed soldiers stayed behind. One man wore a white turban; he was the Taliban Chief of that area. The other man was an aide. The third was an Afghan man that was part of our NGO office staff who was compelled to take the others to us. He also served as an interpreter. The man was direct but polite. He told me that we were being put under house arrest and they wanted our communication devices. They followed me into the house and I handed him our phone. Still polite, he informed me that he was leaving two armed soldiers inside our front gate. He also told me his soldiers were ordered not to enter our house nor to bother us in any way. He then left us alone for the rest of our sleepless night. After leaving us, they went to our NGO director's house. Our director had a very good rapport with the commander. He often went to his office to inform him of any activities we might want to do and get his approval. Being informed of what they were doing, he asked them not to go to the homes of two single young women that were part of our team. He asked if he could go himself to get them and bring them to our place, as we had room to keep them. They granted his request. You might wonder what my wife was thinking all this time. She was alone in our bedroom staying out of sight, which was appropriate. She told me later she was confused and was praying to the Lord, "How do I handle this? What shall I do?" The Lord responded in her heart with, "They are your guests. Treat them that way." The next day we provided them with cold water (it was very hot) and meals. My wife provided them with homemade cookies and chai (tea). We were told that on the third day we would be taken to the border of Pakistan. We were told we could take one carry-on suitcase with clothing only; everything else had to stay. Our carry-on would be checked. The next day, the Taliban chief himself, with his driver, arrived to take us to the Pakistan border crossing; some 80 miles. That border is always somewhat chaotic with hundreds of people trying to cross one way or the other and was tightly controlled. This man ordered the gates to be opened to drive us safely through. After putting us out of the van, he left us and returned.
Some Taliban stories are not so very rosy as ours. They can be brutal and cruel but at this time, they were firmly in control. Even though we were admittedly Christian, they let us in to help people hurting as long as we played by their rules in their country. Our team found transport at the border crossing and arrived at our home office in Peshawar, Pakistan. One week later we watched live on TV the World Trade Center being attacked. It was 9/11. One week after that, the US Consulate in Peshawar visited us and told us it would be best for us to leave the country. He did not think it was safe for us to stay. So we all agreed to go back to our home country to wait and keep in touch. We did not know at that time what we would do next. What of those people in jail? It did not take the US long to respond. The attack on Afghanistan began. The Taliban were overwhelmed and eventually fled. Fortunately, the Taliban did not kill the 8 ex-pats. They had held them for three months. But before they left the country, they shut them all in a shipping container. Some Afghan civilians saw this and later went to release them. They were able to contact the Red Cross and through them reached the US Forces in the Bagram area. A special forces helicopter was sent to find them and fly them out to Peshawar, all in good condition. With the attack underway by US forces, Afghans were streaming out of their country, many into Pakistan and mostly into refugee camps. We, who had gone back to our homes, decided to return to Pakistan to do what we could to help those in the camps. No sooner had we gotten back and settled in, the Taliban were gone and borders into Afghanistan were open to returning. Our team packed up to move back to Kabul. When we had packed the truck with all our equipment and start the trip back, we found ourselves in long lines of trucks full of Afghanis heading back home. Things were soon very different back at home for Afghans. It was happier with fewer restrictions. Men were cutting their beards, music was played in town, boys were flying kites, and young girls could be seen walking together down the street with their little white head scarfs going to school for the first time. All this was forbidden just months ago. My wife and I stayed the one remaining year of our commitment. All other NGOs were back doing many great works. Afghans greatly appreciated what we were doing and expressed that to us in many ways. In my last year there, I had the privilege to help bring a destroyed mountain village back to life. We helped restore a thousand homes before leaving. People were so appreciative. The Afghan people were still Muslim by faith and we had to respect that and did. But the love of Christ was obvious through what we did. Afghans wondered at that: we wanted to be there and we weren't being paid for it. "Sometimes the Lord doesn't need our mouths so much as our hands and feet and the skills He has given us."
Don August 25, 2021 - - - - - "Each of you use whatever gift you have to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms." I Peter 4:10 (NIV)