Afghanistan is the second most dangerous country for Christians according to the 2021 World Watch List.
Jan Vermeer, Communications Director of Open Doors Asia, gave us some insight into what’s happening for Christians caught up in the Afghanistan conflict.
1. What’s happening on the ground?
The situation is still very chaotic.
Some women are being kidnapped, being taken from their houses, being forced into marriage, although we don’t know the exact number. Of course, many women will have to buy burqas, especially in the big cities.
In many rural areas, it was like the Taliban never left during the last 20 years. For them, it was still the same, very strict. In other places, there was more freedom, but now they have to go back.
We also know from local sources and from the media that many women haven’t returned to work because they’re afraid that they will be punished for it later.
There is a lot of fear. It’s not just the girls who are at risk, it’s the boys too. They may be recruited by the Taliban.
This is really a difficult time to be a parent in Afghanistan – how can you protect your children?
And then there are the Christians who face all that and also have to hide their faith. They are thinking, how much does the Taliban know? How much do my neighbors know? Will they betray us?
So, it’s really a country ruled by fear at the moment.
We understand that there may also be food shortages very soon.
2.What’s the situation for Afghan Christians?
Looking at the facts, there is no official church for indigenous believers in the country. The last church building was destroyed 50 years ago. The number of indigenous believers is quite small.
The Taliban are hunting down anyone who is not with them – if they are Christians they won’t be spared.
Many people are saying that in the last 20 years, Christians were a lot safer, and the church has really grown. The church might have grown but it has little to do with the extra safety that the western troops have provided.
Our World Watch List is proof of that– the persecution score for Afghanistan has increased over the past 20 years. Now we have the added layer of the Taliban taking full control.
3. Are believers being evacuated out of the country by international ministries?
All the government evacuations have stopped now, but these private evacuations are not something that we can confirm. We are not able to say if or how many Christians were able to leave.
Of course, like all citizens, Christians are afraid.
They might want to stay in Afghanistan because of their beliefs, but want to stay hidden and serve Jesus in secret. Or it might also be that they make a run for the border, or they would like to escape but they can’t – all of these scenarios are happening.
4. What will the future look like for those who have fled the country?
Life for the refugee is very hard. People who have fled will have to go to the refugee camps in nearby regions, although those countries may not be happy with them either.
The circumstances in refugee camps tend to be very bad. Winter is coming and it will be cold as well. Their basic need for shelter has to be met, but not only that – what about education for the children? What about food? What about prospects?
You don’t speak the language. You may not know if you can actually stay, or if you have to go back, or if you want to go back. Maybe you have been separated from your family. This is a huge human tragedy.
5. How can we pray for believers in Afghanistan?
The number one thing is for survival and safety. This is the physical thing.
The spiritual thing is that they would trust in Jesus, rely on Him, and that we will be faithful to the end. Some are afraid that the end will come very soon, and they would like to stay faithful in that moment.
A local source told us, “It’s only thanks to you, to your prayers, that we’re still here. If it had not been for your prayers we would have been long gone, because the situation is very difficult.”
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.