Friday, March 1, 2013

Stories from Afghanistan: A Journey of Faith and Friendship

This is the first post in the "Stories from Afghanistan" series.

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of visiting Kabul, Afghanistan as a guest of a Muslim non-profit focused on education projects. I was inspired and encouraged by both my new Muslim friends there and by the way I experienced God in Afghanistan!

In the coming weeks, I intend to unload some of my stories and impressions here on Incomparable Treasure. The order promises to be random in a stream-of-consciousness sort of way, and it is my hope that as I put fingers to keyboard that my “Stories from Afghanistan” series will offer you a window into the hopes and dreams of the people who live and serve there and ultimately into the broader story of God and His vast, relentless love for all people.

To get started, I will offer you a bit of background and foundation for the stories that will follow.



The Backdrop: A Journey of Faith and Friendship

For me, this recent visit to Afghanistan was the latest high point in an amazing, life-changing, three-year journey of faith and friendship. It began with an assignment in New Delhi as Interim Director of an English language institute. In that context, I met a young Afghan man—a Muslim who quickly became like a brother to this evangelical, Bible-believing Jesus-follower from America. As our friendship grew, we each invited the other deeper into our respective worlds. I introduced him to my Peace Catalyst colleagues and our Jesus-centered work, and he invited me ever deeper into his global Muslim network known as the Gülen Movement.

My smart, spirited, compassionate Afghan friend and I have laughed together and cried together. We have studied the holy books with one another and have spent countless hours talking about God and His Kingdom and how one lives in right relationship with Him and others. We also dreamed often about working together for the common good, acknowledging that both Christians and Muslims have too often embraced peace-breaking attitudes and actions. My friend and I surmised that we need each other, because I can challenge Christians in ways that he could not and likewise he can admonish Muslims in ways that I could not.


The Invitation: Muslims Invite an Evangelical to Serve

Against this backdrop, my friend persuaded the leadership of the Afghan-Turk Educational NGO to bring me to Kabul to offer a 15-day language seminar for their teachers and to see their work up close so that we could explore more and bigger partnership for the future. The invitation came in late November. A month later, I was en route to Kabul on a journey fully funded by generous-spirited Muslims who invited me to serve alongside them, apparently undeterred by my passion for Jesus and his ways, words, works, and worth.


The Context: The Afghan-Turk Educational NGO

My generous hosts in Kabul comprise the Afghan-Turk Educational Non-Government Organization (NGO), a Muslim non-profit based out of Turkey. The NGO is an affiliate of the Gülen Movement, an international network of Muslims working in 180 countries with a focus on practical service to the less fortunate and on building bridges of friendship between Muslims, Christians, and others.

In Afghanistan, the NGO runs over 30 schools across the country, offering over 5000 Afghan children rare access to high quality education with solid emphasis on the foundational values of human rights, human dignity, and respect for all people. I was seriously honored to serve alongside these kind-hearted educators, many of whom are foreigners (mostly Turks but also Indians and Egyptians) making significant sacrifice to serve in a challenging environment.


Next in the Stories from Afghanistan Series—When God Ran

Both God and my Afghan and Turkish hosts gave me some encouraging and sometimes surprising gifts during my journey. In the coming weeks, I want to share some of those gifts with you—stories about 

  • the strength of diversity as the love of children overcomes the hatred of adults
  • the sacrificial love of Turks and Afghans in the face of enormous risk
  • bald heads and snowball fights
  • jihadists and communists laying down their arms and ideologies
  • friendship, honor, and fake airplane tickets
  • finding common ground and discussing differences in the context of real friendship.


One major gift was the spiritual conversations along the way with new Muslim friends. In the next "Stories from Afghanistan" post, I will share the story of "When God Ran: Jesus, the Prodigal Son, and Unexpected Common Ground in a Kabul Classroom!"

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