Impressions of Afghanistan included, for me, a sense of a people traumatized by decades of armed conflict in their nation – wrecked buildings, landscapes stripped of trees and vegetation in an attempt in previous decades to get rid of hiding places for attacking insurgents or terrorists, people living in shipping containers (and not because they wanted a “tiny home”), fountains that didn’t work, and people who seemed resigned to a future where it would not be safe for them to live in their homeland.
To be sure, I encountered Afghans who had big dreams for their country – a politician and engineer who envisioned millions of new trees planted, fountains repaired, and street intersections made navigable by installation of traffic lights or presence of policemen, women who imagined educational and career opportunities that recent decades had not enjoyed, vendors and shop owners who anticipated a resuscitated legal economy. Others, however, seemed still fearful of the Taliban’s return or surrendered to government corruption as a fact of life. Still others, I realized, thought that the return of Taliban-led government would bring order, and perhaps peace. Competing tribal, religious, and political allegiances made future conflict probable. Even a decade ago, too many (in my impression) already were trying to put together an exit strategy, determining how they might leave and where they might go.
Kabul, Afghanistan became more beautiful in the nine months I was there. The politician’s dream of more trees and flowers began to become reality, some intersections had policemen, and more color appeared in decoration and fashion. Stores seemed to be better stocked, and I enjoyed my introduction to pomegranate ice cream. Still, cultural clashes occurred that stoked conflict and shortly before I left, protesters gathered outside our camp. I had positive interactions with Afghan community leaders too, that both reminded me of challenges going forward and of possibilities for a brighter future. We discussed values held in common and how damaged buildings might be restored. We debated whether actions on either side represented exceptions to the rule or were intentional insults. A Muslim cleric asked with a smile how I could be a religious leader since I didn’t have a beard (Obviously, I have since corrected that.). I dreamed of someday returning with family as a tourist.
Today, I mourn because it seems less likely that that dream will become a reality. I mourn because fewer educational and career choices will be available for many Afghans. l mourn because discussion of both differing and common values will be discouraged more often. I mourn for the visionaries of Afghanistan whose dreams have been crippled, if not dashed entirely. I mourn for the women and children who will struggle more in a nation still torn by uncertainty and conflict. I pray for them and for foreign (to Afghanistan) missionaries who chose to remain there to continue discussion of agricultural improvements, educational reforms, and yes, the claims of Jesus.
While in Afghanistan, I read a history of Afghanistan which helped me understand its heritage of conflicting allegiances and successful resistance to foreign superpowers, whether Greek, British, Russian, or others. It has been called the graveyard of empires. I read both the Koran and the Bible. I listened to and talked with American and coalition soldiers about their vision of the mission, and their need to express their religious beliefs even as they engaged in armed conflict. I saw Afghan shopkeepers and vendors closing their business during a busy part of the day so that they and their employees could pray together. I heard dreams of hope. I heard nightmares of destruction.
So, I mourn the ending of a mission that seems incomplete despite having achieved its initial aims several years ago. I mourn for a scattered people who need hope, love, faith, and opportunity as they forge new paths. I pray for them. I pray for American and Afghan families who lost loved ones during a bombing at the Kabul airport during the evacuation process. I pray for my own nation that a spirit of divisive hatefulness will dissipate and that love for one another will prevail. I pray for those whom I served alongside and for myself, that our own scars may continue to heal and that we too may discover brighter and safer roads to travel. I pray for Afghanistan, that its people may know hope and peace once more.
“You, LORD, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation. Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long? Restore us to yourself, LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure” (Lamentations 5:19-22).
- Quotations from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.
Lord, our God, misery and fear pervade swaths of our world. Large groups of people stoke the fires of enduring mistrust and hatred toward other groups or nations. Armed conflict has crippled the hopes and dreams of so many in Afghanistan for fifty years. That nation’s future still looms as murky and potentially violent, derailed by fear, hatred, and ignorance. May they remember how to hope and how to listen, how to work for justice and to defend the helpless. May they have courage to defend what and whom they love. I pray for those from so many other nations who have worked hard over the past twenty years trying to help a crippled nation build unity and restore infrastructure for agriculture, for travel, for education, and for self-government. Heal us as we stagger under the weight of physical and emotional scars, of unfulfilled dreams, of a sense that our sacrifices might have been wasted. Help us to see purpose in the good that we did. Help those whom we helped to remember that help. Restore faith, hope, and love around this globe. May we all learn to stop crippling ourselves by lashing out hatefully, seeking to find someone to blame. May you “fill [us] with all joy and peace as [we] trust in [you], so that [we all] may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” That prayer of Paul’s in Romans 15:13 is my prayer as I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.