Was Afghanistan Worthwhile or Wasted? Christians Lament, Pray, and Learn as Taliban Retakes Control

Written by on August 19, 2021

It will be hard to forget the images of Afghans mobbing outgoing aircraft, some clinging on to planes with their bare hands, in their desperation to leave their country following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul.

President Joe Biden’s follow-through on former President Donald Trump’s planned withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban’s prompt takeover, and the seeming lack of coordination and planning to evacuate translators and others at risk of persecution have sparked intense outrage and sadness worldwide.

Christians both inside and outside the United States disagree on what the US government and military should have done. But they are trying to apply their faith to help them understand how to best advocate for justice in the aftermath.

CT surveyed 12 leaders on what they are lamenting about the American withdrawal and Taliban takeover; how they’re praying for Afghanistan’s future; what they think American Christians can learn from the war; how they see the long-term impact on the mission field; and whether the decades of investment by Americans troops and foreign christian workers were worthwhile or wasted.

Click to navigate through the following questions:

  • What do you lament the most about the American withdrawal and the Taliban takeover?
  • How are you praying for Afghanistan’s future?
  • How should American Christians reflect on this war?
  • If the US entered an unwise war to begin with, was it best to stop and fully withdraw, as a sign of repentance?
  • What type of longterm impact do you think this will have on the mission field in Afghanistan and surrounding region?
  • To what extent were the decades of investment by American forces and foreign christian workers worth it or all for naught?
  • Anything else?
What do you lament the most about the American withdrawal and the Taliban takeover?

Afghan pastor’s wife: It happened so quick and no one was ready. It was said September would be the date but they left so soon. My single sister could not escape.

Hurunnessa Fariad: First is knowing that a nation full of resilient and tenacious people is going to continue to suffer. More than 40 years of bloodshed and fear is too much and it shouldn’t be happening in today’s society. Afghanistan has gone back to the dark age, literally overnight.

Second, how cowardly President Ghani abandoned his responsibility to serve the people of Afghanistan. … He sold and left Afghanistan for the wolves. Third, the American withdrawal was so poorly planned and executed. The panic and rush which ensued at the airport in Kabul could have been avoided. What happens to the over 80,000 SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) applicants who were promised protection by the US government yet are stuck in Kabul, fearing for their life as the Taliban take inventory?

Fourth, the violence and control which will be placed on the women of Afghanistan. The idea of women being forced to wear the burqa again, not be allowed to leave their homes without a lawful male escort, not be allowed to go to school and work, forced into marriages with Taliban members, just makes my blood boil and my heart bleed for my people.

Paul Miller: I hardly know where to begin. I lament lost lives, lost freedoms, rampant injustice, the victory of tyranny and terror. The bad guys won. We live in a world where a coalition of the richest and most powerful nations in history collectively persuaded themselves that they were powerless to stop the descent of a nation into anarchy and barbarism—and, since they were powerless, they told themselves the comforting myth that it was inevitable, that there was nothing to be done. I lament the lies we tell ourselves and the myths we weave to help us feel better about the morally callous and cowardly decisions we make.

Jenny Yang: I’m concerned about the humanitarian fallout from the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the lack of planning that has put many vulnerable Afghans in a very difficult situation and limited options for those who need to be evacuated. There are many groups of people who are fearful of what the Taliban’s return to power will mean: those associated with the US military, Christians and other religious minorities, and women and girls—particularly those who have taken up the opportunity to pursue education. We’re grieving with them and asking that the US and other countries push the Taliban to expand as many protections for them as possible.

Mansour Borji: Hard-gained values of human rights and democracy being further tarnished because of the lack of long-term vision and commitment by Western powers that give so much lip service to these values, and thereby giving ammunition to despotic regimes and ideologies to exploit countries and denigrate their people’s dignity.

Mark Tooley: This war like all wars reflects human depravity. It’s inevitable and inescapable. And yet we can admire the sacrifice and courage of all—American, Afghan, and various NATO personnel, along with many NGOs—who labored and sacrificed that Afghanistan might escape the ravages of the past. There were many successes: longer lives, greater health, more education, more freedoms—across 20 years. These victories will not be entirely smothered by the Taliban. And we can assume that the church in Afghanistan, however small, has planted seeds whose fruit will be harvested across future generations in ways we cannot imagine.

[Return to list of questions above]

How are you praying for Afghanistan’s future?

Afghan pastor’s wife: For women’s freedom.

Chris Seiple: My prayer is that new ways of being equipped and serving will be revealed to the church in Afghanistan, and the rest of Central Asia. I especially hope that churches throughout Afghanistan, and the region, as well as the Middle East/North Africa region, will become places of trauma care—and thus internal and external reconciliation—that serve all of society.

Mark Morris: Praying for the salvation of Taliban leaders. Praying for God to hide those most at risk from the wicked hands of evil men. Praying for the gospel to advance and Christ to refine his church in Afghanistan.

Mansour Borji: That people’s lives be spared, especially those with a faith and/or convictions that intolerant groups like the Taliban find dangerous and undermining their totalitarian rule. That Afghanistan would rise up like a phoenix from the ashes, this time stronger and wiser. Last time the Taliban ruled, the Afghan people realized the emptiness of the promises made by Islamist revolutionaries. A new generation is going to relive that experience.

Paul Miller: I pray for the victory of God’s kingdom, for peace and justice, when it is clearly humanly impossible for those things to come about for the foreseeable future.

Bishop Peters: We are praying that the Holy Spirit touches the Taliban and they remain softhearted and recognize the human rights of all the people. The global body of Christ needs to express christian love and compassion to the Taliban and share the blessing and joy that God has given us. If prior to the withdrawal we were praying once a day for Afghanistan, now we should pray 10 times.

Jenny Yang: I’m praying most urgently for those desperate to escape, that God would preserve their lives and make a way—whether through the US government or otherwise—to find refuge in a safe place where their rights and dignity are fully respected. Beyond that, I’m praying for the flourishing of Afghanistan’s people, especially those who are particularly vulnerable, that they would experience freedoms and joys in the midst of a challenging environment. And I pray that the international community would continue to push the Taliban to promote the rights and freedoms of women and children, of religious and ethnic minorities, and others who often disagree with and may suffer under their rule.

Hurunnessa Fariad: I’m praying for Afghan children to never have to go to sleep under the sounds of bombs and gunfire. I’m praying for a nation which will be thriving in all areas of life—education, business, tourism—promoting and protecting women and human rights for all ethnicities which make up Afghanistan. I’m praying for Afghanistan to be recognized as a nation of strength, dignity, and perseverance as it was before the Soviet invasion.

Eugene: That the Afghan people begin the process of deciding their future without other countries’ militaries in their country controlling and talking about nation-building when this is what any state’s people have the right to do themselves. That the Taliban stick to their promises of a freer society with women participating in all aspects of life and girls/women in schools. That followers of Jesus grow in number and maturity and bless the country with transforming deeds and words.

Mariya Dostzadah Goodbrake: I am specifically praying for a generation of courage, resilience, and determination to rise up. I believe that the generation that received a taste of liberation and basic dignity will not forget. We serve a God that constantly reminds us to not forget, to remember, to ponder the path we have ventured. My deep prayer is that this generation will not forget the fragrance of democracy but will rise up with courage to defeat the enemy. I pray for supernatural intervention in the hearts of the Afghan people, that kingdom values and principles are miraculously planted as seeds in the soil of Afghanistan, to grow as trees and bear fruit beyond our comprehension. No democracy is built in 20 years. Nothing is wasted.

[Return to list of questions above]

How should American Christians reflect on this war?

Ryan Brasher: American Christians should a) be thankful for that period of openness in Afghan history; b) be wise and discerning, rather than uncritically patriotic, when the US government proposes foreign military operations (which may well be justified, but there are very few examples, post-World War II, of successful (and ethical) military interventions, particularly in the Global South); c) be open to accepting refugees from Afghanistan and other war-torn countries—including into their own neighborhoods.

ChrisSeiple: The phrasing of the question begs another: Are we Americans who happen to be christian, or Christians who happen to be American? Either way, there are secular and ecclesial ways to reflect on the war, recognizing that God is sovereign over—and that the Holy Spirit actively works within—both.

On the “spiritual” side, it is fair to ask whether a christian should even care about such things, especially since the “victory is already won.” I think so—unequivocally—as we are called to build God’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”

But we need some more work on a theology of citizenship, as well as a theology of engagement and a theology of suffering, all of which must inform and form the secular theory of positive change that explains how the operationalization of our beliefs serves the common good. To do so, we must be credible Christians, and credible Americans. And to be credible, we must be equipped with the skills of engagement. Remember: God does not need us to do his will. But he longs for us to come alongside what he is already doing, precisely because we engage the world not to change it but because he has changed us.

Mark Morris: We should never forget the high price that our own sons and daughters have paid. We should never forget that when this country called, they self-sacrificially gave their lives in service. We also should recognize that God is at work. For generations, God has been at work to draw Afghans to himself. He will continue to do that until he returns. We should not forget that over the past 20 years, people such as Dr. K., an Afghan christian, a man of peace, were placed in high positions to open doors for the gospel. We should remember and tell the story of miracles that God performed that allowed thousands of Afghan Muslims to come into the kingdom of God through Jesus Christ. Through this limited period of openness, God worked for 20 years. Those of us working there for many years knew this was a strange but blessed time. Now a new chapter starts.

Mansour Borji: Americans paid for this war with their sweat and blood. Their taxes were invested in the war effort and their young died in the battlefields. This war was to uproot an ideology that gave birth to 9/11; and that is not like going on a picnic! American Christians should hold their governments accountable so that they demonstrate the values Americans want to be known by, and not repeat the same foreign policy disasters that only embolden their enemies.

Hurunnessa Fariad: War and invasion shouldn’t be the first answer. Diplomacy and engaging others should be sought out till the very end. We are all inhabitants of this Earth and a war in one place will affect everyone everywhere else. As a Muslim, I can say that we have to stand up and fight for what’s right and morally sound, which is huge in the christian faith as well. I just feel as Americans, we left most of our sacred tenets when we decided to leave Afghanistan to the reign of the Taliban.

Paul Miller: Just war is supposed to aim at a better peace, for lasting conditions of shalom not only for ourselves but for our enemies and for those in whose country we fight. We should think long and hard about how we, the electorate, allowed and enabled our elected officials to ignore those requirements of justice through our passivity, neglect, and apathy. We waged a war of convenience, an endless campaign of whack-a-mole against terrorists without regard for building lasting conditions of peace in Afghanistan or for ourselves—because we told ourselves it was too hard and too expensive. We are, of course, witnessing just how expensive the alternative is. And the worst thing is this: Building lasting conditions of peace would not be simple charity; it would be prudent strategy that would have been ultimately more effective than what we ended up doing.

Bishop Peters: Millions of Pakistanis are celebrating the Taliban rule as the victory of Islam over the infidel America. The Pakistani christian minority (1.2 percent of the population) has been apprehensive, careful in their response. They fear spillover of the Taliban into Pakistan.

The global church cannot be critical and negative all the time. There is high illiteracy and unemployment in this region and British, Russian, and the American superpowers have not been successful in establishing their rule here. Given this volatility, we need to accept the Taliban rule. This further becomes important when we compare the way Taliban had atrocities and bloodshed back in 1995, but this time—so far—they have behaved in a much humane way and this can be attributed to the 20 years of American presence in Afghanistan.

Eugene: I am American and Swiss and have lived among Afghans for 25 years and related with them for about 40 years. In any war, and especially this one, as Americans we have to bear a terrible responsibility for not allowing the people to be free. In the first instance, we provided enough ammunition to the Afghans to defeat the Russians but not enough support to replace the war culture with support for a robust civil society to replace that and replace it with good. We are now in the position of not being able to say we have behaved as a godly people in that country.

Now it is imperative we pray that the Afghan peoples find a way forward to establish their own civil society and give generously of our prayers, time, and energy to support that growth. Being humbly bold about the fact we are followers of Jesus and that it breaks our hearts what our country has contributed to in the destruction of Afghanistan. Then to share and practice the love of Christ and to respect the peoples of Afghanistan as they find their way forward for their country.

Mariya Dostzadah Goodbrake: In our reflection, we want to stay encouraged and to say the right christian things: “God will prevail”, “This is a broken world”, “Justice is not on this side of life”, or “We already have victory”. Yes, these comments remind us that we have a God that has already prevailed, but can we just grieve for a moment and not say the right christian thing to say. Can we stand in righteous anger? Can we say that for this moment, evil prevailed? Can we just sit in the hurt and injustice for a moment? Why? Because only this way can we even feel an ounce of the pain and turmoil of the Afghan people and those who lost and sacrificed for the war. Then, when we have done this, aligned ourselves with the sorrow, we remember that tomorrow we continue the fight.

[Return to list of questions above]

If the US entered an unwise war to begin with, was it best to stop and fully withdraw, as a sign of repentance?

Afghan pastor’s wife: It was a bad decision to leave so fast, but they ultimately had to leave. But not this way.

Mark Morris: Respectfully, that’s really not even a helpful question. We can all speculate and recalibrate the past, to no end. We cannot go back. Yes, the usual egocentric, culturally ignorant, and self-serving foreign policy blunders have been repeated by both parties when each held the reigns of power in our country. I don’t hold my breath for the US to repent. Rather, we will watch our leaders point at one another and blame the other party. Each leader, each party will be held accountable by God for the decisions they have made and the damage or the good done to humanity by those policy decisions. Now we must decide how we are to respond now.

Ryan Brasher: I am a bit hesitant to speak of “repentance” when it comes to US foreign or military policy. The US government is not the representative of the church or a christian body. Furthermore it was not clear in 2001 that things would end up the way they did. It does seem to have been wise to end US engagement in Afghanistan, although perhaps unwise in the speed in which it was done.

Jenny Yang: I’m not able to comment on the question of the US military role in Afghanistan, but what’s clear to me—and to many Christians—is that we have an obligation to prepare for and assist those who will be vulnerable as we leave. When we do leave, we should have done so in such a way that protects the individuals who have risked their lives to stand with the United States. To abandon our allies now, after promising them for decades that we would have their backs, would be a moral stain on our nation with reverberations that will last for decades. The way we leave Afghanistan will be an enduring mark on our nation’s history.

Mariya Dostzadah Goodbrake: America went into Iraq and Afghanistan as mavericks. There was no turning back, no matter the cause. The war was not unwise, it was miscalculated. The US did not enter this war with the sole purpose to revenge the perpetrators of 9/11 as stated by President Biden. President George W. Bush captured the hearts of Afghans and Americans with a bigger narrative to bring dignity, safety, and security to the Afghan people. This justification for war was far more enduring and sustainable. American soldiers did not stay in Afghanistan for 20 years for revenge on terrorists, they stayed to free the hearts of Afghans to new hope. For Biden to minimize the war to [only] revenge is a slap across the face to those who lost their lives in the war, and the families of soldiers who must ask themselves now, “Was the sacrifice for nothing?”

[Return to list of questions above]

What type of long-term impact do you think this will have on the mission field in Afghanistan and surrounding region?

Afghan pastor’s wife: If there are people who are weak in their faith, some will fall away. Social media will be destroyed by the Taliban and this will make it difficult for the believers to get encouraged from outside.

Mark Morris: One question that there is no good answer to is: Where are the missionaries? Where are the international charities? Afghans feel abandoned as expats post on Facebook expressing their gratitude to the military transport that brought them out. Afghan Christians have been talking today about how insensitive that is. “You celebrate your escape, but you don’t even mention those that you left behind to suffer.” There is a need for much prudence in the words we share right now, because the West is not appreciated right now for the nature of our departure. A better plan could have demonstrated our humanity and concern in a more tangible way.

Mansour Borji: Just yesterday I was informed of how some Afghan Christians are now burning literature and other christian materials in their homes which could expose them to Taliban who are now searching house to house to identity their targets. Many of these believers desperate to find safety and security outside Afghanistan were fruits of many years of prayer, discipleship, and faithful ministry in a harsh environment. Of course their impact on their communities can still continue, but perhaps not as effectively as before. Additionally, the Iranian regime now feels more secure as they don’t have US forces on either side of their soil. They feel that they can continue their reign of terror which has already hurt the church not only in Iran, but also in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon.

Paul Miller: Afghanistan will be a closed country to missions, as it was prior to 2001. Western and Southern Pakistan are likely to be effectively closed as well. Missions will be extremely dangerous and difficult.

Eugene: It has always been challenging to win the right to share the gospel holistically with Afghans or other peoples from this background. We can talk freely but humbly about Christ and his wondrous transforming power; but now we have a number of huge hurdles to overcome because of our disempowering technology-driven intervention and subsequent hasty withdrawal.

Bishop Peters: China has expressed interest in having diplomatic relations with Afghanistan. So if the situation develops in this direction, we expect that Pakistani and Chinese churches can play a pivotal role in making inroads based on Islamic teachings. Muslims hold Jesus and Mary in great respect and awe. This is the bridge to reach out to these people.

Jenny Yang: According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, less than 3 percent of people in Afghanistan personally know a christian—not just that almost no one has heard the gospel or read the Bible or visited a church, but almost no one knows a christian. Sadly, with the Taliban in power, that situation is not likely to change for the better.

However, while we lament and grieve a horrifically unjust situation that forces people to flee their country, I also have seen how God has worked through the movement of people to draw people to himself, which Acts 17:26–27 makes clear is part of God’s sovereign purpose in history, that men and women “would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” There is a unique opportunity for Christians in neighboring countries to welcome Afghan refugees, and even in the United States as well. If the global church is welcoming of Afghan refugees, I believe it will lead many Afghan refugees to understand and feel the love of Christ.

Mark Tooley: The Taliban win is a huge blow against any approximation of religious tolerance in a region already very hostile to non-Islamic voices. There will be greater persecution. But the torments of the Taliban regime will ultimately discredit its brand of Islam, just as Iran’s theocrats have created generations of agnostics and religious skeptics with a still very small but growing church in Iran.

[Return to list of questions above]

To what extent were the decades of investment by American forces and foreign christian workers worth it or all for naught?

Afghan pastor’s wife: It has been worth it because in 2001 so many received Christ and are practicing their faith because they heard the gospel from foreigners.

Chris Seiple: If your lens is a spiritual one, and your definition of success is not secular metrics, just obedience, the practical ministry of presence exercised by the followers of Christ in Afghanistan will yield fruit in ways that we cannot yet imagine. That said, such times are always good for christian ministries to reconsider and reevaluate their theology of engagement, as well as their theology of suffering, in reflecting on what “presence” now looks like. Accordingly, organizational approaches to leadership and (board) governance should also be revisited, ensuring that engagement strategies are rooted in Scripture and the culture (not necessarily the sending country and

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