Two years ago we followed God’s prompting to move our family to Kabul, Afghanistan and live life there. I am a pilot and mechanic serving in a humanitarian flight organization there. Teresa teaches local Afghans mathematics at the international high school. Our ultimate goal is to be “a sweet aroma” to the people we live with and interact with. You or your church supports us financially so that we can live there, but we are not professional ministers or clergy. People label us as missionaries – but we view ourselves as a family who happens to live/work in a different culture – and our hope is that our relationships and conversations may be used by God to reconcile some of our friends to Himself.
We love living in Afghanistan. We love the people. We love the arid climate. We love the food. We love the landscape. But our hearts are broken for the people. Many of those we “do life” with in Afghanistan are hurting, tired, and hopeless. Many have no job or a very low paying job. Due to over 20 years of war most have seen a gruesome death with their own eyes. Everyone has lost one or two family members to violence. Many have no education. Many have been sexually abused. Many suffer from malnutrition. This truly is a broken people – an extreme on the negative end of a spectrum.
However, I still see glimmers of hope in the eyes of some of my Afghan friends. Many are taking opportunities that are given to them to make their lives better. One of our employees who recently left for a better job worked with our group for eight years. He started as a guard, then a driver, then fixing our houses, then an airplane ground handler, then a flight follower, then as our dispatcher. He now works for a mid-sized airline making 4 times what we can pay him. Occasionally an entire community will stand up and say enough is enough and stop selling their sons to fight for the Taliban, and stop providing places of refuge for the rebel fighters.
Most of you know that it is illegal to “proselytize” in Afghanistan. This means that we can’t start a religious conversation and begin sharing about Jesus. However, this is not really an obstacle for us. Islamic society is a very homogenous society. Religion, government, family, friendships are commonly intertwined. Conversations about spiritual things happen naturally in Islamic culture. The two most common phrases you hear are “God’s Peace be upon you” and “If God Wills”. Prayer is public and frequent.
For example, recently a street vendor, someone I didn’t know well, asked me how my family was doing. I replied that “my wife’s father is very sick”. Immediately the person I was speaking with – an acquaintance – broke out in prayer on the spot and prayed that God would heal him and give him long life. It was very humbling.
Another time I was having lunch with a young Tajik who was teaching English to Afghan refugees. We had formed a relationship over several months. I asked him what some of his struggles were. He began to tell me about his struggle with sexual addiction. How some of his female students were offering themselves to him and how he was willingly taking advantage of them. He told me he was powerless to stop himself. I then shared with him, how as a man, I too had similar temptations but because I had a personal relationship with Jesus, God had supernaturally given me the ability to resist those temptations.
One time I was discussing the health of our children with a co-worker. I mentioned that my son David had a birth defect with his kidney when he was an infant. We discussed that whole ordeal and I was able to share how God brought me a supernatural peace to me. We took the conversation deeper and discussed our need for God, our sinful nature, and I was able to share my story about how God had reached out me. There was nothing awkward about this conversation. It was just a normal, open, honest conversation about life between two people who cared about the well being of the other. What about here in the US? Is it natural to speak honestly with the people you interact with about what God is doing for you personally? Are we able to get beyond the “How are you’s, I’m fines”? Do we have enough margin in our lives to get to know people deeply?
I find the biggest obstacle to sharing the gospel where I live is not the government and cultural restrictions – but rather myself. For example, a few weeks ago I had just returned from a flight. I did my fuel calculations and determined that I needed just 50 liters of fuel in each wing. So the fuel truck pulls up, one of our ground staff sticks his head in the door of the airplane and asks how much fuel I need. I tell him. A minute later I get out of the airplane and I just happen to look at the fuel gauge on the truck and notice that he has already pumped 200 liters into the left wing. I yell at the pump operator to stop. And then the questions start, and the blame game starts. And a group of fueling staff gathers and my ground staff gathers around and I’m yelling loudly in Dari, and everyone is getting excited. The fueling manager comes over and he starts yelling at his guys. Soon we’re all yelling and getting excited. (This is very Afghan). Eventually we come up with a solution. And the energy level starts to decline and eventually we were all smiling, shaking hands, and saying our farewell greetings. This type of scenario happens thousands of times a day in Afghanistan. In fact afterwards, I was actually proud of myself for communicating contextually. But then later one of my coworkers asks me if I thought I handled it as a representative of Jesus. Whoa! Did my bubble just get popped. After further reflection, I realized I had just missed an opportunity to demonstrate God’s character. Instead of behaving as a follower of Jesus, which is many times “counter cultural”, I behaved out of my flesh. You see in my emotional outburst I didn’t realize that the pump operator, the one who made the mistake, never once raised his voice or got excited. I didn’t notice that after a few days I never saw that pump operator again. Not only had I missed an opportunity to create a relationship and perhaps have future conversations with this pump operator – but I had probably gotten him fired. Way to go Noel.
I tell you these stories so that you can be encouraged, so that you can learn from them, and so that God can be glorified and not myself. God wants us to tell our story, which is actually His story. We can’t hide or keep these stories to ourselves because Jesus didn’t just die for you. He died for your co-workers, your family, your friends, and yes he also died for the Afghans, the Tajiks, the Arabs, the Russians, the Asians, and the Europeans. He wants to reconcile these people to Himself and He wants to use you to do it.