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Kidnapping brings unwanted attention to Afghan Christians

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By Chris Sands in Mazar-e-Sharif

The Independent (UK)
Published: 24 July 2007

The kidnapping of South Korean church volunteers by the Taliban has sparked vigils in Seoul, and shone the spotlight on Afghanistan’s small, underground Christian community.

In Mazar-e-Sharif, home to one of Islam’s most revered shrines, Ahmedi, 33, says he would be killed instantly if his faith were exposed. In this staunchly traditional society, conversion from Islam remains reviled by many Afghans – and by government officials.

“If the war had not happened, if the Americans and foreigners had not come to Afghanistan, we would not have this freedom and we would not have this office,” says Ahmedi, who was fearful of giving his full name.

The “office” is a community centre set up by a Christian charity, and Ahmedi is one of 100 or so Christians living in the northern city.

Rumours abound here that many aid organisations are used as a cover by foreigners to indoctrinate people into Christianity. And in Ahmedi’s case, there is an element of truth – he converted from Shia Islam three years ago after meeting an American evangelical. Now his wife and four children are also Christian, and he is the priest of a local church. He has even helped convert other Afghans.

The 23 South Koreans were kidnapped last week at gunpoint from a bus in Ghazni province, and belong to the Saemmul Church in Bundang, which says they are working as volunteer nurses and English teachers.

However, boasts from some evangelical church leaders in South Korea about unofficially sending missionaries to Afghanistan has muddied the water between Christian volunteers doing humanitarian work, and those whose primary mission is to seek converts overseas.

In Mazer-e-Sharif, a recent convert called Abdullah recalled how his family reacted when he revealed his change of faith. “When I received Jesus, I went to my house and I didn’t say prayers any more like other Muslims,” he said. “One night my father asked me to get up and pray, but I told him I can’t. He asked me why, and I told him I was a Christian. He started to fight with me.”

Abdullah’s parents have come to accept his religion, but his oldest brother continues to ostracise him, and most other people do not even know he has converted. “If I go out and say I am a Christian they will curse me, hit me and kill me,” he said, matter of factly.

Last year Abdul Rahman, a Christian convert, was arrested by police and threatened with the death penalty until the Italian government offered him asylum. His case is cited by many Afghans as evidence that President Hamid Karzai is a puppet of foreign powers.

Mazar-e-Sharif is home to the shrine of Hazrat Ali, a cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohamed. According to Ahmedi, there are also two large churches and a number of smaller ones in the city, all hidden inside houses and offices.

Meanwhile, a group of foreign missionaries continues to work in the area and in other northern provinces. Taliban militants say the South Korea church volunteers are in good health, but they have threatened to kill them unless Seoul withdraws its troops from Afghanistan and the Afghan government releases Taliban prisoners. Yesterday the deadline for their lives was again extended.

Despite the dangers they face, Afghan Christians refuse to give in to the fear that they will be found out. “If I am afraid I will never receive Jesus,” said Abdullah.

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Written by afghandevnews

July 25, 2007 at 4:50 am

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