Thoughts of Afghanistan bring images of war, violence, and terror. In the face of decades of suffering, it can be easy to forget the many people who live this reality day after day. Seventy-seven people groups, both tribal and nomadic, dot the beautiful Afghan countryside. This diversity is also shown in landscapes that vary from grassy and arid mountainous regions, to plains with lush valleys, and even cities like Kabul with bustling open air markets. Though their history is plagued by instability, the unique culture of Afghanistan continues to thrive.
The Afghan people have suffered greatly from over thirty years of conflict both from internal factions and external groups. A devastating civil war, followed by the oppressive rule of the Taliban, an extremist Islamic group, has created a society where over half the population has known nothing but war. These conflicts left over a million dead, an estimated four million children orphaned, and approximately 2.5 million refugees. Even though the Taliban was driven out and a democratic government established (2002-2004), corruption remains rampant, and the still-prominent Taliban and tribal warlords continue to destabilize the nation. The government has struggled to rebuild its infrastructure and continues to rely heavily on foreign aid. With one of the world’s lowest living standards, most live in poverty, and over half lack access to clean water. Additionally, Afghanistan’s destructive opium production rate is the highest in the world. These harsh conditions contribute to a life expectancy of only fifty years and a population where 40% are under the age of fourteen. Under the oppressive Taliban reign (1996-2001), girls were often forced to marry as children, could not receive an education or be employed, were required to wear a full burqa in public, and could not leave the house unless accompanied by a male chaperone. Though conditions for women have improved, they remain a particularly vulnerable part of society.
One of the least reached nations on earth, Afghanistan is 99.9% Muslim with 72 unreached people groups. There are roughly 48,000 mosques and zero church buildings. Afghanistan is one of the world’s most persecuted nations, where any belief contrary to Islam is illegal. Converting from Islam to Christianity can result in death, and believers gather and worship in secret. Yet extremist violence has caused many Muslims to question their faith. Though impossible to document, it is undeniable that the Church is growing, and Muslims are turning to Christ. Some have encountered Jesus in dreams and visions; others have heard the Gospel through Christian radio. Christian relief agencies also manifest the love of God through meeting the nation’s immense physical needs. Some of these humanitarian workers have even died as martyrs. But amid great persecution, there are perhaps several thousand believers in Afghanistan today!