Crisis in Afghanistan prompts warnings, calls for help and prayer

Calls from Southern Baptist leaders and others for immediate assistance, warnings of devastating consequences for Christians and prayer requests followed the rapid takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban.

The terrorist organization that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 regained control of the country when Kabul fell Aug. 15 after a stunningly swift advance to the capital city. The Taliban’s rout of any Afghan military resistance came as the United States neared a complete withdrawal of troops after nearly 20 years in the Central Asian country following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

Particularly vulnerable to the militant Islamic organization were Christians and other religious minorities, women and citizens who helped the U.S. effort. Many Afghans were seeking to escape, and the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul was reportedly flooded Aug. 16 with hundreds of people as U.S. Air Force cargo planes lifted American embassy workers and others to safety.

“What we are witnessing in Afghanistan … is as shocking as it is heartbreaking,” said Daniel Patterson, acting president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Regardless of how one feels about the policies that led us to this point, Christians are called to be a voice for the vulnerable. Clearly, a humanitarian crisis is unfolding, and both prayer and immediate action are urgently needed.”

As The Courier went to press, the ERLC was working with its partners at the Evangelical Immigration Table on a letter to be sent to the Biden administration, calling for it to assist Afghan refugees.

“We’ve joined this letter to request our national leaders do everything possible to help those refugees who are fleeing for their lives,” Patterson said.

In a statement issued to Baptist Press, Paul Chitwood, president of the International Mission Board, called for prayer.

Chitwood asked Southern Baptists to pray “that God would intervene and glorify His name in this tragic situation. Please pray for Afghan believers whose lives are being threatened. Ask God to give them courage and strength and to help them be light to those around them. Pray for seekers, asking that they will find God and put their hope in Him, and that the millions of Afghans who have never heard the gospel will have an opportunity to hear. Pray as well for the neighboring countries as they attempt to host the surge of refugees coming out of Afghanistan.”

International Christian Concern (ICC) — a Washington, D.C.-based organization that aids the persecuted church overseas — reported that the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul has raised religious liberty concerns throughout the Middle East. Multiple terrorist organizations, many supported by Turkey, have applauded the Taliban’s success, according to the ICC.

In a written statement, Claire Evans, ICC’s regional manager for the Middle East, said the “atmosphere throughout” the region has changed with Kabul’s fall to the Taliban.

The Taliban’s action is being “openly legitimized,” she said. “This is potentially a significant turning point for religious freedom across the Middle East.”

Christians are among several religious minorities that face persecution in Afghanistan. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan panel of nine members, recommended in its annual report in April that the Taliban be retained on the State Department’s list of “entities of particular concern” regarding religious liberty.

— Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.