By / Jan 24

Every year for the last three decades, Open Doors has released the annual World Watch List, a report ranking the top “50 countries where Christians suffer very high or extreme levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith.” In a country like the United States where the free exercise of religion is enshrined in its Constitution, the World Watch List (WWL) is a sobering reminder that our brothers and sisters around the world face real and present danger for their faith in Christ

What does the 2023 World Watch List reveal?

During its 30 year history, the WWL has revealed an alarming and consistent trend: the persecution of Christians across the globe has grown exponentially, which proved true again this year. Today, more than 360 million Christians suffer at least ‘high’ levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith. Here are some of this year’s takeaways:

  1. North Korea tops the list: With 2022 as the lone exception, North Korea has topped the World Watch List every year since 2002. And this year, with the introduction of a new “anti-reactionary thought law,” there was an increase in the number of Christians arrested and the number of house churches discovered and closed, earning North Korea its highest-ever persecution score. Tragically, those who are discovered and arrested “are either sent to labour camps as political prisoners where the conditions are atrocious“—they face starvation, torture, and sexual violence, for instance—”or killed on the spot.” Often, their families will share their fate.
  1. Sub-Saharan Africa in catastrophe: Christians in Sub-Saharan Africa face the threat of violence every day. The epicenter of the violence is Nigeria, where militants from the Fulani, Boko Haram, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), and others “inflict murder, physical injury, abduction and sexual violence on their victims,” scores of whom are Christians. In the last year, there have been more than five thousand religiously motivated killings in Nigeria, which accounts for 89% of the international total. Conditions in the region have also led to a refugee crisis, as many Christians have been displaced while fleeing persecution.
  1. China’s campaign to redefine human rights: Another development has been the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) campaign to redefine international human rights away from universal standards, leading countries like Russia, India, and others to follow suit. Christians in these countries who are seen to oppose these new rights “by refusing to support the ruling part[ies]” are often labeled “disturbers of the peace” and even “terrorists,” and face arrest and the demolition of church buildings.
  1. Afghanistan’s descent: Afghanistan, who topped the 2022 WWL, fell eight spots to land at number nine this year. While that’s a significant drop, the situation for Christians there remains dire. After the Taliban assumed power in 2021, they went door-to-door rooting out and executing many Christians. Of those who survived, many went deep into hiding or fled the country. The Taliban remains committed to eliminating not only Christians but those with ties to the old regime. 
  1. Top 10 (last year’s rankings in parenthesis): North Korea (2), Somalia (3), Yemen (5), Eritrea (6), Libya (4), Nigeria (7), Pakistan (8), Iran (9), Afghanistan (1), Sudan (13).

While there have been some positive developments, like a decrease in the total number of Christians killed for their faith (from 5,898 to 5,621) and a growing tolerance in several Middle Eastern countries such as Bahrain and the UAE, discrimination and persecution against Christians on the basis of their faith continues to grow around the world. 

What can we do?

As Christians, no matter how many miles separate us from the people represented in the World Watch List, they are our brothers and sisters. While we may feel helpless, we do have the opportunity to “stand with them in solidarity, and remind them they are not alone.” 

Here are several ways we can support and stand with our brothers and sisters who face these significant threats everyday:

  • Pray for persecuted Christians around the world. Use the World Watch List tool as a prayer prompt that both alerts you to the need for prayer and informs you of specific ways that you can pray. 
  • Partner financially with organizations like Open Doors who serve the persecuted church in difficult regions around the world.
  • Sign up to receive email alerts from Open Doors and keep abreast of how you can pray and partner with them in their work. 

Because Christians believe that God works providentially through our prayers, we can all commit to using the World Watch List to remind and motivate us to pray for believers around the world who endure such unimaginable terror. By doing so, we can be certain that God will use our prayers to encourage and minister to Christians in these countries.

What is Open Doors?

Open Doors began in the mid-1950’s when a man known as Brother Andrew “started smuggling Bibles to the persecuted Christians in Communist Europe.” After a visit to Warsaw, Poland, Brother Andrew’s encounter with an “oppressed, isolated, and apparently forgotten church” compelled him to travel throughout Eastern Europe for the next twelve years, “delivering Bibles, encouraging those he met, and recruiting others to help him.” After the publication of God’s Smuggler in 1967 — an account of Brother Andrew’s work in Eastern Europe — his ministry became known worldwide, and “an entire generation caught the vision of supporting Christians who faced persecution and discrimination for their faith.”

Nearly 70 years later, Open Doors has steadily expanded its reach, “serving persecuted Christians in more than 70 countries, working with churches and local partners to provide Bibles, Christian materials, training, livelihood skills and advocacy.” The aim of Open Doors “is to encourage and raise up people in every nation to pray, support and speak up for Christians around the world who suffer for their faith.”

What is the World Watch List?

Beyond its ranking system, the World Watch List is an interactive tool that enables users to “explore the country profiles to find information, stories and prayers for each of the countries, along with ways that [Christians] can stand with [their] persecuted church family in prayer and action.” The list apprises readers of information such as the percentage of Christians persecuted worldwide (along with each specific region), the number of churches attacked and Christians detained or murdered annually, and country-specific information like its dominant religion and system of government. 

Truly, the World Watch List is a tool of immense value, informing Christians like us of how we can pray for and serve those who find themselves in locations hostile to Christianity. For information on the WWL methodology, visit this site.

By / Aug 15

August 15th will mark one year since the fall of Kabul and the official collapse of the Afghan government. The anniversary is a somber reminder of the chaos that entailed following the U.S. withdrawal from the country. We remember the horrific images that came out of Afghanistan as mothers hoisted their children over the airport fences and as people desperately clung to the landing gear of departing airplanes. When it could not seem to get any worse, it did. A suicide bomber detonated near a gate at the Kabul airport killing 13 U.S. service members along with at least 60 civillians. Sorrow ensued as millions across the world watched helplessly. 

Over the last year, much has happened causing the world to shift its attention away from Afghanistan, the war in Ukraine being one of the most notable. While the unjust war in Ukraine deserves our attention and full support, it should not come at the expense of forgetting the thousands of Afghans displaced from their homes and those left behind. They are not afforded the luxury of moving on to the next story, even if the world seems to. 

The evacuation of Afghans

The evacuation of Afghanistan was far from normal operating procedures. Under normal circumstances, someone who is fleeing their country will go through a lengthy process while abroad in order to gain the status of “refugee.” The Department of Homeland Security will approve cases after significant screening. However, a number of factors have made an already extensive process, that typically takes two to five years, nearly unworkable for those who need it. Since, as the State Department put it, “It is undeniable that we were surprised at the pace by which the Taliban were able to pursue their territorial advances,” their response was forced to rapidly evolve. 

Because there was not time for the normal refugee resettlement process to take place, the priority had to be shifted to protecting life on the ground and getting Americans and Afghan allies out as quickly as possible. In the midst of the chaos, many people who had faithfully served the U.S. military or who would otherwise qualify as a refugee were tragically left behind. In order to maintain the highest level of security screening, even in such an unusual process, the first stop on those flights out of Kabul was not the U.S. Everyone was taken to a U.S. military base in Europe or the Middle East for intensive security screenings. Biometrics were taken and cross referenced to criminal and terrorist related databases. If anything was flagged in the databases or in questioning, the individual would not be allowed into the U.S. Those who cleared security were then allowed to eventually travel to the US, where they were subject to additional security and health screenings. 

The arrival of Afghans

Given the unprecedented evacuation of 120,000 people from Kabul in a matter of days, there was not sufficient time for bureaucratic paperwork to be completed and for the formal status of “refugee” to be acquired. As a result, those who fled Afghanistan were brought to the United States using “humanitarian parole,” a tool the U.S. government may use to deliver people quickly to the U.S. in the case of a humanitarian crisis, instead of through the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). 

Though it may seem like a minor distinction, it can and has had an extensive impact on the lives of Afghans brought to the US. Typically, parole does not allow for financial assistance such as food stamps or cultural orientation resources such as language classes that would typically be provided to a refugee through a resettlement agency. Thankfully, H.R. 5305 was signed into law to address some of these shortcomings by allowing Afghan parolees to access basic services provided by resettlement agencies as they arrived into the country and began to try and make a home. 

In addition, churches and people of faith stepped to the front lines to meet the needs of vulnerable Afghans who arrived to the U.S. Historically, people of faith have led the way in resettling refugees. On a national level, six of the nine agencies that work with the U.S. government to resettle refugees have religious roots that motivate their work. This instance was no different. Churches opened their doors, families made meals, and Christians rose up to welcome our new Afghan neighbors. In response to the crisis, World Relief, a Christian refugee resettlement organization, saw their number of active volunteers double.

Significant challenges still remain

Despite the work of volunteers and organizations to meet the needs of Afghans and Congress’ move to provide resettlement benefits, other challenges still remain. One of the severe limitations of parole status is that it is intended to only be temporary. Though it can potentially be renewed to avoid deportation, it does not provide any pathway to permanent status and will never allow Afghans to fully settle. Sadly, just as with Dreamers and Temporary Protected Status recipients, they will similarly live in legal limbo and have a fear of future deportation as a permanent fixture in their lives. With the Taliban continuing to search for those who aided the U.S. during the 20-year campaign, deporting our allies and other vulnerable Afghans back to their country is not an option. For the foreseeable future, those who are returned will likely be jailed and potentially killed. Unfortunately, parole ultimately serves as a short-term solution to a devastating, long-term crisis.

The ERLC has joined other evangelical organizations in repeatedly urging “the passing of legislation that would allow Afghans to adjust status to a lawful permanent resident once in the United States. Without a change to law, individuals with humanitarian parole status will face an uncertain future, lacking a clear, direct path to permanent legal status and eventual citizenship.” Though many of these individuals could ultimately qualify for asylum, our asylum system is so significantly backlogged already that adding tens of thousands of new cases would leave Afghans in legal limbo for years. Without an act of Congress, many Afghans are left without a real solution.

Additionally, hundreds of Afghan allies who assisted the U.S. remain stuck in Afghanistan or in third countries unable to legally enter the States. Following the immediate evacuation, the U.S. government has been very limited in its granting of parole requests and Special Immigrant Visa requests. This has forced many of these individuals to enter the severely-backlogged and time-consuming refugee resettlement program, which may take years for them to be granted status. Many continue to face intense persecution from the Taliban and are in urgent need of assistance to find safety in the U.S. 

The role of the Church

God provides no ambiguity in where he stands on helping the most vulnerable. The greatest commandments in the Bible are to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:37-38). Vulnerable, displaced people from Afghanistan are attempting to begin new lives in our neighborhoods, churches, and communities. Many are scared, lonely, and in need of help. For most, their family, friends, and livelihoods had to be quickly left behind. They have been forced to start at ground zero. An immense opportunity exists for the Church to continue rallying around this community and helping people in desperate need of care. A mission field has come to us, and the hope of the gospel remains our greatest gift. 

Below are some resources from Southern Baptist missions entities and other faith-based relief organizations to assist you and your church in meeting both the physical and spiritual needs of Afghans in your community. 

  • Submit a World Relief form to open up your home to Afghan parolees. 
  • Get coaching from a Send Relief team member. Learn how to engage and minister to Afghans. 
  • Watch the “Care for Refugees Workshop” put on by Send Relief. 
  • The IMB has resources for sharing the gospel with Afghans in the US. 
  • Donate to support the efforts of Send Relief in assisting refugees and displaced people around the world. 

Though the world has in many ways moved on from those who have suffered in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, we must intentionally choose to see these people, made in the image of God, to remember their loss, and to offer our help. We have been given an opportunity to show the love of Christ to those who are in desperate need of hope. As we find ourselves in proximity to these individuals forced to flee, let us commit to loving them as Jesus would through extending the good news of the gospel to the broken, meeting the needs of the vulnerable, and welcoming the stranger with open arms into our homes, churches, and communities. (John 13:34-35; Matt. 25)

By / Sep 13

Fady Al-Hagal was born and raised in Damascus, Syria, mere steps away from the house of Judas where the Apostle Paul came after meeting his Lord on the road to the city (Acts 9). Although Al-Hagal was aware of many things about Christianity in this context, he never experienced a personal relationship with Christ until a pastor in Martin, Tennessee, began to take interest in the young Syrian man who was attending his congregation in 1983. 

Today Al-Hagal serves as the executive director of the International Leadership Coalition, a ministry focused on creating awareness of the international community in Middle Tennessee, supporting international ministers in the United States and creating partnerships between the the international church and local church in the States. 

Over 300,000 internationals live in the area of Middle Tennessee, with 91 people groups represented in Nashville alone. Al-Hagal’s ministry regularly connects him with immigrants and refugees in the state and Christians all over the world. He is currently ministering to local Afghani families that are still trying to help their relatives leave Kabul, Afghanistan, as well as corresponding with Christians leaders who have remained in the embattled nation.

He shared with the ERLC his perspective on the Afghani church, as well as the ways Christians and local churches can serve refugees.

Jill Waggoner: What are you hearing from Afghani believers? What is the ILC doing at this time? 

Fady Al-Hagal: We are trying to provide instant humanitarian support for people who are wanting to come out [of Afghanistan]. We have an active efforts to generate resources and support for things like flights or transportation to nearby nations. 

We are also in communication with several house churches in the underground church of Afghanistan where the believers have decided that it is their mission to stay. According to history, any time there is a shift politically, historically, geographically, there is always a shift spiritually. Just as it was after 9/11, for example, the Holy Spirit brought about an awakening and an awareness, and the underground church was empowered through suffering and endurance to continue the mission. Many believers in Afghanistan and the surrounding nations feel like these coming few months are critical to reimpress the story of the gospel into the hearts of those who are searching. This type of shifting politically creates an opening for the gospel spiritually, and many people will be open to hear where mercy, goodness, purpose and eternity can be found. 

The physical danger is awakening many to the fact that they need to examine their safety and survival eternally. Is it found in the religion they grew up with and had no choice in? The gospel provides them with a will and a choice to follow. Many believe this is our time and what we do today is what will last for generations in Afghanistan and the surrounding nations.

JW: How can American Christians remain involved after the public attention has faded from Afghanistan?

FA: Believers in the West should become involved with refugees in four ways:

1. Practically: We must engage the suffering nations, such as Afghanistan. This is the ‘what’ we need to do. First, we must learn. What is a refugee? What do they go through? Why do they leave? Most people don’t know that a refugee is a person who has been pushed out because of race, religion, nationality, or social affiliation. What do they go through to get to America? What are the stages? What is their experience like? They have tough decisions to make, and they must make them instantly. There is a lot of waiting. And when they do arrive in a new place, a refugee has to live with a new identity, most often in a place where they don’t speak the language. It is good for American believers to know what refugees, as well as immigrants, go through. Then we are able to better relate to them and learn how to assimilate them in a healthy way. 

Secondly, we must practice the goodness of God to refugees. This means you take the fruit of the Holy Spirit and flesh it out: peace, kindness, long-suffering. Practice hospitality in a way that their ethnic community understands. This requires relationships and availability. 

2. Ethically: ‘Why’ are we doing this? Our mandate comes from no other place than the Word of God. God cares about the alien and sojourner. He is the provider to those who are vulnerable (See Psa. 9; 146:9; Deut. 10:18; Isa. 25; 58:6-11; Luke 10) Scriptural mandates give us the ethical reasons for why we do what we do. We demonstrate God’s love for those in need. We become God’s ambassadors to fulfill what he desires in people’s lives. We become God’s healing agents for those who have gone through suffering and persecution. We become God’s way of bringing joy and celebration in people’s lives. We become an expression of God’s kingdom to people who have never known there was another. We display God’s peace to people who haven’t had peace. We show God’s sufficiency to those who are without. 

3. Intentionally: Our engagement must become intentional, having direction and goals to accomplish. We should all have the missionary spirit about us. Not everyone is going to another country, but every believer in America should have a missionary spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Great Commission Spirit, making disciples of all nations. The missionary spirit leads us to the ‘where’ we should go and makes us consistently aware that we have a mission to fulfill. This is why some Afghani believers are remaining in the country, but also why others are headed into Pakistan. The missionary spirit is leading them. The church in America needs to come alive to the missionary spirit inside of us so that he can lead us to our neighbors, as well as the refugees in our midst.  

4. Eternally: If things are shifting all around us, they are not shifting in the story of God. In spite of calamities and disasters, the kingdom is the Lord’s, and he rules over the nations (Psa. 22:28). God will give Jesus the nations as his inheritance (Psa. 2). Even if the nations rage against God and his anointed, God’s eternal mission hasn’t changed. He is not willing that any would be lost but that all would come to salvation in Jesus (2 Pet. 3:9).  He desires that all mankind would be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). This means we present the gospel to all. The body of Christ needs to stay focused. While we hand [out physical] bread, we remember that the eternal bread is Jesus Christ. While we give clothing and shelter, we remember that eternal shelter is through Jesus. 

We [must be] prepared in prayer and ask God for opportunities to share our story. We are to be prepared by being informed and not just instructed. Take the time to learn and discern what needs to happen—not just instructed by news, but informed by the Holy Spirit. Learn the people groups in your city. Learn how to associate with them and how to help them assimilate. And at some point, we are called to invite them into the hope of Jesus Christ. There are some organizations that will shy away from this point, but this is our mandate. Many people will feel cheated if you do not invite them to follow Christ. They have been longing for the message of freedom all their lives. Let the Holy Spirit guide you.

JW: What can a reader do to become involved in this type of ministry in their city?

FA: Connect with nonprofits with a gospel intention, like ILC, or other resettlement ministries who serve refugees. They have practical programs to help you get started. Look for churches that are actively involved in international communities. Retired missionaries are an amazing resource who can educate us about people groups, as well. 

The most important thing is for every church to make margin in their ministry life to “do international missions” locally, training their people to look for internationals they can serve in their own communities. When the church makes that an intentional purpose, the missionary spirit is developed, and people will create their own mission opportunities. 

By / Sep 9

ERLC’s acting director of public policy, Chelsea Sobolik shares the top three stories from Washington, D.C., that you need to know about, shares how Christians ought to think about these issues, and ways Christians can get involved. 

Resources from the Conversation

By / Sep 3

In this episode, Lindsay is joined by Chelsea Sobolik. They discuss Biden’s defense of his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, how Christians can speak up for women in Afghanistan, the new Texas abortion ban, and what we are seeing in the aftermath of Hurrican Ida. They also give a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Jordan Wootten with How the grace of Jesus enables us to say no to pornography: An interview with Ray Ortlund on The Death of Porn: Men of Integrity Building a World of Nobility, Herbie Newell with “3 ways Christians can remember the people of Haiti: Showing generosity to a joyful people amid tragedy,” and O.S. Hawkins with “The legacy of George W. Truett: Pastor, builder, and defender of religious liberty.” 

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. Biden defends decision to withdraw from Afghanistan
  2. U.S. withdrawal leaves Afghan allies grappling with fear, anger and panic
  3. Christians Must Speak Up for the Women of Afghanistan
  4. Texas abortion ban goes into effect after justices fail to act
  5. The Texas Heartbeat Bill Is a Preview of a Post-Roe World
  6. The aftermath of Hurricane Ida
  7. SBC ready to help following Hurricane Ida

Lunchroom

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By / Sep 3

Earlier this week, the military completed its mission to evacuate American citizens, third-country nationals, and vulnerable Afghans from Afghanistan. Over the previous few weeks, more than 123,000 civilians were extracted in what was the largest noncombatant evacuation in the U.S. military’s history. Here is what you should know about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Why was the withdrawal and evacuation from Afghanistan conducted so suddenly? 

In February 2020, the Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw the U.S. military presence by May 29, 2021. President Biden renegotiated that agreement to complete withdrawal from Afghanistan to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. That deadline was moved up by the Biden administration to Aug. 31. 

The military withdrawal was completed on Aug. 30 at 3:20 p.m. EDT, officially ending the 20-year war in Afghanistan. 

How many Americans remain in Afghanistan, and what happens to them now?

In the weeks since the Taliban took control of major cities and the capital of Kabul, roughly 5,500 U.S. citizens were airlifted out of the country. There are between 100 to 200 Americans remaining in the country. President Biden has said that most of those remaining are dual citizens who did not want to leave because of family ties.

Biden has promised to help get out any Americans who still want to be extracted from the country. “For those remaining Americans, there is no deadline,” said Biden. “We remain committed to get them out if they want to come out.” But getting those Americans out will now require diplomatic negotiation with the Taliban.

How many Afghan allies were extracted from the country?

From Aug. 14 to Aug. 31, U.S. military aircraft have evacuated more than 73,500 third-country nationals and Afghan civilians from Hamid Karzai International Airport in the capital city of Kabul. That category includes those with special immigrant visas, consular staff, and at-risk Afghans as well as their families. Regarding those left behind, the ERLC joined other organizations in an Evangelical Immigration Table letter to President Biden and requested that the administration “keep our commitment to those at risk for their service to the United States and to others fleeing a credible fear of persecution globally.”

How many Afghan refugees will be coming to the U.S.?

The U.S. government is currently declining to say how many Afghan refugees have arrived in the U.S. since the evacuation from Kabul began last month. 

How many translators, interpreters, and other workers were extracted from the country?

Afghan nationals who worked for the U.S. government in such roles as translators and interpreters and who feared reprisal from the Taliban were allowed to apply for a special humanitarian visa.

In July 2021, the Emergency Security Supplemental Appropriations Act authorized 8,000 additional Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) for Afghan principal applicants, for a total of 34,500 visas allocated since Dec. 19, 2014. These visas were available to Afghan nationals who meet certain requirements and who were employed in Afghanistan by or on behalf of the U.S. government or by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), or a successor mission, in a capacity that required the applicant to serve as an interpreter or translator for U.S. military personnel while traveling off-base with U.S. military personnel stationed at ISAF or to perform activities for the U.S. military personnel stationed at ISAF. Afghans seeking SIVs must complete a 14-step application process that includes a visa interview and security screening.

An estimated 5,000 SIV applicants have already been evacuated from Afghanistan, according to a report released by the Association of Wartime Allies, a group advocating for SIV applicants in Afghanistan and Iraq.

There is also a SIV program available to persons who worked with the U.S. Armed Forces or under Chief of Mission authority as a translator or interpreter in Iran and Afghanistan. This program offered visas to up to fifty persons a year (plus spouse and children).

The Association of Wartime Allies estimates there are around 65,000 SIV applicants remaining in Afghanistan.

How much military equipment was left behind in Afghanistan?

The U.S. Central Command says that about 170 pieces of equipment were left in Kabul during the evacuation. The equipment left behind included 70 light tactical vehicles, 27 Humvees, and 73 aircraft. All of this equipment was demilitarized (i.e., rendered unusable for military purposes). The only equipment left operable were a couple of fire trucks and forklifts that could be used at the Kabul airport. 

By / Sep 2

As the United States departed from Afghanistan, there remains an urgent humanitarian crisis in the country, both for the U.S.’s Afghan allies and those fearing persecution from the Taliban.

Chelsea Sobolik welcomes Matthew Soerens, the U.S. Director of Church Mobilization for World Relief to discuss how and why Christians can serve Afghan refugees who qualified for the Special Immigrant Visa Program and the Refugee Resettlement Program.

Guest Biography

Matthew Soerens is the U.S. Director of Church Mobilization for World Relief, where he helps evangelical churches to understand the realities of Afghan refugees and immigration and to respond in ways guided by biblical values. He also serves as the National Coordinator for the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition that advocates for immigration reforms consistent with biblical values.

Matthew previously served as a Department of Justice-accredited legal counselor at World Relief’s local office in Wheaton, Illinois and, before that, with World Relief’s partner organization in Managua, Nicaragua. He’s also the co-author of Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis (Moody Publishers, 2016).

Resources from the Conversation

By / Aug 27

In this episode, Lindsay and Brent discuss how Christians should navigate vaccine mandates, explosions at the Kabul airport, how many Americans remain in Kabul, ICU beds running out once again, colleges cracking down on unvaccinated students, Pfizer’s full FDA approval, masks in school, and one father’s response to mask mandates. Lindsay also gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Jason Thacker with “Why Christians should navigate questions of vaccine mandates and religious exemptions with wisdom,” Julie Masson with “3 ways parents can talk to their kids about Afghanistan,” and Jordan Wootten with “Explainer: Texas law banning abortion procedure upheld by court of appeals.”

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. ICU beds are running out again
  2. Colleges crack down on unvaccinated students as campuses reopen
  3. U.S. regulators give Pfizer vaccine full approval
  4. Texas father strips down over masks in schools
  5. Explosions rock Kabul airport
  6. 1,500 Americans remain in Kabul

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By / Aug 26

In the aftermath of the sudden, tragic fall of Afghanistan into the hands of the Taliban, thousands of refugees have been fleeing the landlocked nation to escape persecution and retaliation from the extremist group. Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm of Southern Baptists, has begun the process of helping Afghan refugees as they resettle around the world by working with World Relief and other ministry partners.

Photos of packed aircraft and video of desperate Afghan people surrounding planes as they take off have captured the world’s attention in recent days. Those who served alongside the United States military in some capacity are among the groups in the direst situation, but there are thousands of others whose lives and livelihoods are now at risk because of the Taliban.

“We need to pray for the Afghan people as many are fleeing with nothing but the clothes they have on,” said Bryant Wright, president of Send Relief. “Any remaining Christians will be targeted. The women and girls who are left behind will lose the freedoms they’ve gained over the last 20 years. May the church minister to any refugees our government allows in who have supported American efforts or faced persecution there.”

Thousands of Afghan refugees are expected to arrive in the United States in the coming days and weeks, and World Relief — a global Christian humanitarian organization that partners with local churches to serve vulnerable populations — has 17 offices across the United States where they aid refugees who will settle there.

As churches seek to respond, Send Relief will provide training and materials to equip churches that want to serve refugees in their communities and connect churches with organizations, like World Relief, that will help make direct connections with refugee families.

Most refugees arrive in the United States and need to find places to live, figure out how to enroll their kids in school and purchase basic household and hygiene items. Many also need assistance with learning English. Organizations like World Relief often work with local churches to help meet some of these needs.

“We don’t view this through the lens of politics or even through the lens of the images coming out of Afghanistan right now,” said James Misner, senior vice president of strategic engagement for World Relief. “We view this through, and we respond through the lens of the commands of God in scripture—which tell us over and over again to welcome the stranger in need.”

Matthew Soerens, World Relief’s U.S. director of church mobilization and advocacy, also addressed concerns about the vetting process for refugees entering the United States with Baptist Press.

The U.S. government has, in recent decades, taken steps to ensure that those applying for refugee status receive background checks against several databases, according to The Heritage Foundation.

Afghans who provided assistance to the U.S., and are seeking to flee Afghanistan apply through a process called the Special Immigrant Visa program, a long vetting procedure that often takes more than two years to complete. Christians, women and other religious minorities are likely to flee the nation and seek refugee status in the U.S. or elsewhere.

Along with assisting in the refugee resettlement process in the United States, Send Relief also coordinates with international partners in resettling refugees in other nations around the world, helping those forced to leave their homes adjust to life in what is oftentimes a strange, new land.

To learn more about how you can give or serve refugees in this current crisis, visit sendrelief.org.

This article was originally published here

By / Aug 23

The news about the Taliban taking over Afghanistan is nearly unavoidable, and rightly so. We are watching a horrific human rights atrocity happen before our very eyes. Our children are likely seeing the images but are not as tuned in to this historic event, and that’s OK. But as Christian parents, it’s important that we teach our children to mourn with those who mourn. Here are three things my husband and I did with our children to help them understand what is happening right now and how Christians should respond.

Find a good news source

I’ve found that listening to news for children can be an effective way to introduce them to complex world topics. While we will often show them video footage of current news at times, some events feel too weighty for children to watch. So, we chose to listen to this podcast from the BBC while we ate supper. A podcast allows us all to listen while doing something else (like eating a meal) which makes it seem more natural and less forced. 

We listened to the first 10 minutes or so of the episode and paused when needed. This segment included a few fascinating interviews with those being directing affected by these events, including a female activist who refuses to leave Afghanistan out of a commitment to the women and girls that she has mentored and led over the years; and a journalist in neighboring Pakistan. The news felt even more real and pressing to them because of the ability to hear from people halfway around the world. 

Allow plenty of time for questions

Our children are 13, 11, and 9, and they had a lot of questions. Who are the Taliban? Are they like Al Qaeda? Why are the U.S. troops leaving the country? Why are we in Afghanistan? My husband and I had read a few articles that day and watched several clips online about the horror happening, so we tried our best to explain what we were seeing. But most of the questions they asked were not cut and dry. We had to answer “I don’t know” several times and explain to them that some things are more complicated than we’d like them to be. 

Ultimately, we made every effort to point our children back to the fact that we need to pray for the Afghan people because God is the only one who can fully understand and deliver them. We also tried to humanize things for them so that they could better understand how to pray for the Afghans. We told them that some people were so desperate to leave the country that they held onto the tires of evacuation planes in hopes that they would be able to survive, only to fall to their deaths. We wanted them to think about what it would be like to feel that desperate. We’ve found that it’s always good to help children cultivate empathy for others, especially in a crisis like this.

Pray together

The final thing we did as a family was to pray. My husband read Micah 6:8 and talked to our children about the injustice that is happening in Afghanistan and why it’s right that we pray for justice. I then picked five things we could pray for and let each member of the family pick their topic. Since we have five people in our family, it made sense to identify that number of topics. This makes praying a bit easier and helps us avoid generalities. 

These are the things each one of us prayed:

  • The U.S. government, military, and President Biden: Our 11-year-old son prayed that God would give President Biden and the generals involved in the military wisdom to do what is best and to help the people of Afghanistan. 
  • The Taliban: Our 9-year-old son prayed that these people would stop doing wicked things and that God would soften their hearts toward the Christians living in Afghanistan. 
  • Women and children: Our 13-year-old daughter prayed for women and children to be protected and that their value would be seen by those who seek their harm. 
  • The church in Afghanistan: I prayed for our brothers and sisters in Christ that live in Afghanistan and asked for the Lord’s protection, while also asking God to give them courage to endure and face possible persecution and execution. 
  • The country of Afghanistan: Jesse prayed for the Afghan government, for justice, and for God to bring structure to the chaos. He closed our time in prayer with some reiterations of what we all had said, thanking God for his sovereignty in this moment and always.

You can also find another ERLC prayer guide here

If you are a parent, especially a parent of elementary age children and older, I encourage you to talk to your children about big world news like this. If you’re like me, you will probably feel inadequate. But, we can trust that God is working on our children’s hearts through our imperfect efforts. 

Our time together didn’t go as I’d planned, though. While listening to the podcast, we still had to deal with real family issues. We had to stop a few times to deal with relational conflicts that occur at any family dinner table. And in between listening to the podcast and our prayer time, we had to deal with a child that was mad about someone eating their food. This is real-life parenting.The kids were not perfectly enraptured with the podcast or our answers. Sometimes I could tell their minds had wandered off. But we were faithful in the moment to model empathy for another people group, and to take those concerns to the Lord. That is all we can do as parents. I encourage you to trust God with your inadequacies as you walk your kids through important moments in our culture.