EMQ » January – April 2024 » Volume 60 Issue 1
Summary: In August 2021, many people fled Afghanistan when US troops withdrew. Afghan believers were a vulnerable group amongst them. Seeing a unique opportunity for Afghan believers to both escape danger and serve as global workers in the US, a local church and ABWE (Association of Baptists for World Evangelism) partnered to bring a group of Afghan believers to the US on religious worker visas.
By Scott Brock
“I can’t do this anymore – I would rather stay here and die!”
These words were spoken by an Afghan believer in Christ after several failed attempts to escape from Afghanistan. The family had walked for miles in harsh conditions carrying their one-year-old son. The husband was on the Taliban hit list; they were on the run. But God heard their cry.
Just as they were ready to give up all hope of ever escaping, they received a phone call from a pastor in another country. The pastor told them that if they could get to the airport, they would have seats on a flight out of Afghanistan that night. The family flew to another country, where they were placed in a camp with other displaced refugees to await a decision regarding their final destination. During these unsettling times, they prayed continually that God would provide them with a way out of the refugee camp.
The Taliban quickly took control after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in August of 2021. Multitudes of people became vulnerable to terrorism. All Christians remaining in country were in danger. Many underground church pastors and ministry leaders were persecuted. Families were separated. Livelihoods were lost. Everyday life changed forever.
It was then that the Lord began to intervene in our organization. ABWE (Association of Baptists for World Evangelism) was contacted by a church in the northeast US regarding Afghan believers fleeing the war-torn nation. In partnership with this church, ABWE began vetting and interviewing potential Afghan believers to welcome to the US. This came to be called the Afghan Initiative.
At this point, ABWE committed to bring as many Afghan believers as they could to the US. Many at ABWE sensed God’s leading in this entire process from the very beginning, and all involved began to pray corporately that God would make a way for these believers.
The Afghan Initiative
After spending a term with ABWE in Trinidad and Tobago, my wife and I moved to a Muslim community in a major US metropolitan city. We are here as part of EveryEthne – the North American division of ABWE. Our focus is serving Afghan immigrants and refugees.
Our ministry encompasses various aspects including distributing food to newly arriving Afghan families. We often encountered a cultural rift when we delivered food, especially if I went alone. Afghan women were hesitant to answer the door of their apartments knowing there was a man on the other side. When my wife was with me, these interactions went more smoothly but were still marked by awkwardness.
Since our arrival, we prayed for God to provide us with teammates to work alongside us. In 2021, ABWE contacted us and asked if we would like to be involved in their new initiative with Afghan believers. Our answer was a resounding “Yes!”
Over the next several months, a team of numerous people worked together to bring a group of Afghans to the US to serve as global workers with ABWE. At the ABWE headquarters alone, 12–15 people at the ABWE headquarters – across financial, legal, communications, member care, and human resources departments, together with executive leadership – invested themselves in the process.
Initially, ABWE was informed of more than 40 qualified Afghans, but this reduced during vetting. Every candidate family went through a detailed process, including multiple interviews conducted by US authorities.
Afghan families were brought into the US on R1 visas. These are designed specifically for religious workers. As part of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) guidelines for these visas, ABWE was required to submit a daily schedule for each family member, outlining their tasks and activities. At first this was challenging to incorporate into our routines, but over time, we discovered that it provided more accountability and intentionality. ABWE also established these newly arriving Afghan families with a connection to a local church focused on reaching the Muslim community.
We now have Afghan Christian teammates who have a better understanding of the nuances of Afghan cultures and languages than we ever will! This has made a difference in every aspect of ministry with the community we serve. For example, my wife takes the Afghan women with her to do food distribution. This now takes a full day! Relationships are being built as Afghans in the community invite my wife and her Afghan colleagues into their homes for tea.
While we are still learning the languages of Afghanistan, our Afghan colleagues easily share the gospel in Afghan languages with the cultural context in mind. One Afghan colleague in particular, a woman, has often shared about Jesus in conversations with people in this community. She has multiplied our efforts and been a great encouragement.
Here’s what two of our Afghan co-laborers have to say about how they see God at work in their lives through this ministry:
“When I walk in our town here in America and see different people groups from different countries, it makes me to think and talk to God. What would their stories be like about leaving their homeland? It can be lots of reasons like war, racism, politics, and religious issues. But none of these reasons can avoid God’s love in their lives and our lives. We believe that God wants to use us to speak to Afghan Muslim families where we live and see them become Jesus followers.”
“Coming from a Muslim background I understand how much our Muslim friends and family are trying hard to be accepted by Allah. I am so grateful that God opened a door for my family and I to see the light of the gospel. We have connections with Afghan Muslim families where we live and we are able to share the love of Jesus with them. I want that our Muslim brothers and sisters to experience the saving truth of the gospel of Jesus.”
Advice for Others
Other cross-cultural workers and mission agencies may be intrigued with what we have done and may want to consider if this model of ministry could work for them. We would urge them to consider our advice before proceeding.
Be willing to innovatively challenge traditional missiological paradigms. We hear countless stories of impact from the ministries of our Afghan brothers and sisters. When an Afghan hears their mother tongue in the US, doors are opened in ways of which many Western missionaries could only dream. As a result, the script has been flipped. With so much of the world coming to us in the West, we need to continually challenge our thinking about what missions means in our changing world.
Be flexible. Because of normal cultural differences, we are frequently challenged to see things from a different perspective than we might be accustomed to. Listen to understand what expats in the US are really saying beneath discussions of cultural differences and pain points.
Build a strong team of coworkers. Everything from accounting guidance and legal support to simple words of encouragement has proven essential in our partnership with ABWE. Not only the agency but also churches and individuals must provide prayer and financial support. Communicate with your team well and build trust for when you need it.
Be sensitive to felt needs. In working with migrants or refugees, remember that they come from a vastly different culture and are experiencing many mundane things for the first time. Despite their efforts, this transition remains difficult. They miss family and fear for loved ones far away in harm’s way. We must not only see needs but meet them where possible, and doing so speaks volumes.
Be sensitive to the spiritual health of your group. This applies to both expat colleagues in resettlement (in our case, these are our Afghan colleagues) and to the immigrant or refugees who are being ministered to. Avoid the temptation to get caught in details and neglect relationship with the Lord. Mentor, disciple, and encourage those in your sphere to prioritize personal devotion, remembering that your expat friends have the same spiritual needs – and the same God – as any other believer you know.
Count the cost. Reflecting on the past two years, it’s abundantly clear that God orchestrated the Afghan Initiative. When we first settled in our current location, the full scope of God’s plan was unknown to us. Our mission was to engage with Afghan refugees and immigrants, shining the beacon of God’s kingdom upon souls shadowed by the enemy. Yet, just two years into our journey, the US’s departure from Afghanistan catalyzed a rapid shift in our circumstances. We witnessed a surge in Afghan refugees in our vicinity, paving the way for the initiation of the Afghan Initiative right where we were.
Prior interactions with Afghan refugees laid the groundwork for our bond with Afghan believers. This sequence of events underscores the divine orchestration at play, reminding us of the distinct nature of our mission. While many are generous-hearted, their benevolence often has limits. Therefore, assessing the depth of commitment is crucial.
View your involvement not merely as a rescue operation but as the genesis of a movement to train and empower a group to advance the gospel amongst their own people. This initiative exemplifies how God leverages unforeseen chances and bonds to further his kingdom. The Afghan Initiative transcends a mere ABWE narrative; it beckons the wider Christian fellowship to contemplate analogous approaches. It encourages us to remain receptive to God’s guidance and to seize the distinct prospects that may emerge in the most unanticipated locales.
Keep God in the Center
God has taught us much through this two-year journey. From an organizational standpoint, the Afghan Initiative has taken a village. However, it has brought us great joy to minister to, co-labor with, and receive insights from our Afghan family of believers. The learning curve remains large, whether we are navigating immigration processes, monitoring unrest in Afghanistan, interceding for those still in Afghanistan, helping migrants adjust to life in a new culture, or overcoming language barriers. But we count it a privilege to walk alongside these brothers and sisters who minister with us and continue to face loss.
Every day we witness the many ways in which Christians culturally removed from the West can educate and edify us as Westerners. Above all, the most valuable lesson we have received is to keep the Lord at the center of our efforts. To do that requires actively resisting the temptation to look only at daily details and forget all that our miracle-working God has done.
This journey is rewarding, yet it brings challenges. It is invigorating, and it can be tiring. It is unparalleled, but also deeply satisfying for us and glorifying to God. We remain deeply grateful to the Lord for the chance to participate in this part of his work.
Scott Brock* (email@example.com) and his wife serve with EveryEthne – the North American division of ABWE (Association of Baptists for World Evangelism). They are based in a major metropolitan city in the US, and their ministry focus is Afghan immigrants and refugees. They work alongside a team of expatriate Afghan believers brought to the US through ABWE’s Afghan Initiative. Scott and his wife previously served with ABWE in Trinidad and Tobago.
* Author photo is representative.
EMQ, Volume 60, Issue 1. Copyright © 2024 by Missio Nexus. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from Missio Nexus. Email: EMQ@MissioNexus.org.