After nearly two decades of war in Afghanistan, over 6000 Americans have lost their lives, and almost $1 trillion US taxpayer dollars have been spent without much to show for it politically or economically. However, US resources and political determination ensured the advancement of women and girls in an otherwise repressive Islamic state and created innovative ways to spread the Gospel of Christ in land previously closed off to Christianity.
I served in the US Embassy in Afghanistan back in 2004 as a political advisor. My task was to help create a civil society infrastructure that would be the first line of defense against the Taliban's Islamic radicalization and indoctrination of the youth. There were plenty of financial resources from US agencies, non-profits, and even foreign allies to build new institutions. Still, we quickly learned that our most significant obstacles would be mismanagement, security threats, and corruption. It seemed like a perpetual state of chaos because Americans were eager to accomplish the mission, but a never-ending series of setbacks made progress virtually impossible.
I will never forget being in a staff meeting while US AID representatives presented on one of the "newly built" schools in one of the most dangerous regions of Afghanistan. It wasn't ten minutes into the impressive PowerPoint that a senior US diplomat, a native Afghan, got up and started screaming at the presenter that this school did not exist! This diplomat had gone in a helicopter just days before, specifically looking for this school after our Afghan counterparts' claims of deceit and corruption. The USAID rep looked shocked and confused. It was clear from his face he didn't intend to deceive anyone purposely, but most regions in Afghanistan were too dangerous to travel directly. Hence, our folks depended on data provided by foreign allies, locals, and our contractors who had a self-interest in stretching the truth. Also, development projects relied on multi-million dollar private security contractors to operate safely, but that money often went back into the Taliban, who were causing the security problem in the first place. It was like this old adage: the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Though billions of dollars were being siphoned off by corrupt contractors, inept aid organizations, and government bureaucracy, the effort to empower Afghan women with access to education, employment, and the media was thriving. For the first time in decades, Afghan girls were back in school, and international organizations created jobs and networking opportunities for eloquent and courageous Afghan women. I spoke on defeating Islamic radicalism and building civil society institutions at many international and US events to encourage these women. I was always struck by the level of personal risk they were willing to endure for freedom and the chance at a better future. As a nation, Americans should be proud of the legacy of opportunity we created despite our many missteps. Moreover, as reported by Emily Wood in her interview with General Boykin for CP, it may be these women that pose the most lethal threat to the Taliban's desire to return Afghanistan to draconian policies of Islamic law.
My professional and personal experience with Afghanistan occurred when I was a practicing Muslim, but now as a follower of Christ, my perspective has an entirely different focus. Like others who invested time, toil and treasure on failed political and social change, I am disappointed in those failures. But my continued hope is in the seeds of faith in Christ that were planted along the way. Though active missionary work was and continues to be prohibited in Afghanistan, and even possessing a physical Bible is dangerous, the underground house church continued to grow. As one report noted, "there are mullahs who have come to Christ through supernatural means who have hundreds of followers. Some former Taliban members who have found forgiveness and new life in Christ are staring death in the face and sharing the Lord with other Taliban fighters and leaders." However, the most significant form of evangelizing came through the internet and social media. The international presence in Afghanistan meant powerful internet capabilities had to be established, and the Lord clearly used those channels to reach the people. Also a former Muslim, Isik Ibla Ministries, reported some of their most significant Facebook engagements and followers are from Kabul, Afghanistan.
I am not surprised the internet has been the most powerful tool of evangelism for Afghans because it is how I also met Christ. I was disillusioned with Islam and started watching a charismatic pastor on Youtube after seeing a Twitter post. I did not step foot in a church or have any Christian friends who witnessed me, and I was drawn to Christ through a screen. If you ever doubt that Christ can reach a person anywhere in the world, through any means necessary, then you should spend more time with former Muslims! The Lord reveals Himself in the most extraordinary ways to reach people who are hungry for the Truth. I have several former Muslim friends, including an Afghan woman, who had other miraculous encounters with Christ that brought them to faith, despite tremendous personal risk.
So though the current withdrawal of troops is a bittersweet moment in American history as we assess our failures and miscalculations, we should celebrate the victories for women and the spreading of the Gospel. It may well be these two forces that change the future of Afghanistan forever.
Hedieh Mirahmadi was a devout Muslim for two decades working in the field of national security before she experienced the redemptive power of Jesus Christ and has a new passion for sharing the Gospel. She dedicates herself full-time to Resurrect Ministry, an online resource that harnesses the power of the Internet to make salvation through Christ available to people of all nations, and her daily podcast LivingFearlessDevotional.com.