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1YR AFTER TALIBAN TAKEOVER, EARLY SIGNS OF CHURCH GROWTH DESPITE CHRISTIAN PERSECUTION?

August the 15th is a year to the day since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. And the persecution of Christians is continuing unabated.

The violence and despair that has followed the Taliban resurgence are causing many young Afghans to ask searching questions about their culture and their convictions. And there are early signs that the Christian faith could be growing among Afghans despite – or because – of violent persecution.

UK-based Release International supports the persecuted Church in some 30 countries. Its latest Persecution Trends report highlighted Afghanistan as a country of particular and growing concern.

Christians in danger

Several Christian TV companies are reporting deeper religious persecution and restrictions in every area of life in Afghanistan.

One Christian viewer of SAT-7 said, ‘The security situation for someone like me who has accepted another faith is extremely concerning. Pray for us.’

Another reported soon after the takeover: ‘The Taliban have started doing house-to-house searches and are confiscating people’s smart phones.’ That viewer was concerned about the Christian content on his own mobile.

SAT-7 PARS is SAT-7’s sister channel and a Release International partner. Viewer ‘Daanesh’ said: ‘Fear and dread have taken all of Afghanistan and have especially affected religious and ethnic minorities. At checkpoints, peoples’ mobile phones are checked.’

Early reports of the Taliban demanding to see phones are persisting. Similar accounts are reaching another Christian TV channel broadcasting into Afghanistan.

‘Daily threat’

‘Christians live under daily threat and in danger,’ said Shoaib Ebadi, president of Square One World Media. ‘The fighting is ongoing,’ he told Release International sister ministry, Voice of the Martyrs Canada. ‘We hear that the Taliban are stopping people and wanting to search their mobile phones. The people are afraid.’

And the latest report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom stated: ‘The Taliban have reportedly gone door-to-door looking for US allies, former government workers, rights activists, and Christian converts. Christians have received threatening phone calls.’

It continued: ‘Religious freedom conditions in Afghanistan have deteriorated since the Taliban seized control of the country on August 15, 2021. Converts who already faced ostracization and the threat of honour killings by family and village members are now at heightened risk with the Taliban in power.’

A new United Nations report has accused the Taliban of carrying out ‘160 extrajudicial killings, 178 arbitrary arrests and detentions, and 56 instances of torture and ill-treatment’ of Afghan National Security Force and government officials alone.

Even though many Christians have fled Afghanistan, some have chosen to remain and face the danger so they can continue to be a Christian witness in their country and serve the needs of their people.

Some are still finding ways to privately worship with others, said Shoaib Ebadi. ‘In the midst of darkness, Christian followers of Jesus are still trying to help the poor and be salt and light.’

‘Questioning’

According to the TV channel president many younger Afghans are disillusioned and asking questions. ‘They are eager to hear about new things because their way of life that has continued for centuries has not brought peace or forgiveness, and the people are not prospering. It’s always fighting and revenge.

‘They are questioning everything: their own faith, their past, their present, their future. And all of them have mobile phones. Short videos about Jesus’ teaching and his life are being watched by hundreds and thousands. We teach the Afghan people how to know Jesus and understand his teaching. That’s the big thing that can change the hearts of people inside Afghanistan.’

View the Voice of the Martyrs Canada interview with Shoaib Ebadi here

Church growth

Shoaib Ebadi believes the spread of the Christian faith in Afghanistan has overtaken even that of Iran, where it has been growing rapidly – despite or because of persecution. ‘The growth of the church in Afghanistan is ten times faster than in Iran,’ he claimed.

He said hundreds of Afghan Christians had fled to Pakistan, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi. But even there, many continue to face insecurity, from communities hostile to Christianity, and so-called ‘honour’ killings by their own families.

There is a risk some refugees could be forced to return to Afghanistan. ‘They are in a very dangerous situation,’ said Shoaib Ebadi. ‘Every day is a challenge.’

Through its partners, Release International has supported efforts to rescue and relocate 150 Afghan Christians since the Taliban takeover in 2021.

Those partners are calling for prayer for Afghan Christians to be touched by the Holy Spirit and strengthened in their faith, and for breakthrough in their country.

Release International is active in some 30 countries. It works through partners to prayerfully, pastorally, and practically support the families of Christian martyrs, prisoners of faith and their families.

It also supports Christians suffering oppression and violence, and those forced to flee.