How has Christianity provided a sense of community to Afghan refugees?

An Afghan woman who fled the country has said she is “free now” to pray, as she celebrates her first Easter in the UK.

Pari moved to the UK a few months ago, after the Taliban took over the country in August 2021, to join her husband, Ghul Zaman, who has lived in the UK for several years.

Ghul Zaman and his wife Pari (Danielle Desouza/PA)

The couple’s names have been changed to protect their identities.

Her husband is a Christian and although she does not currently identify as religious, she hopes to learn more about Christianity.

She told the AP news agency through a translator: “I don’t understand much at the moment because I don’t know much about Christianity, but I want to understand more. because when I was in Afghanistan, I was not able to learn much about Christianity.

“I am free now to learn more and study and I want to learn more about how to worship, so that I can worship myself.”

The couple hope to attend a mass at their church to mark the occasion, as masses have been postponed for two years due to the coronavirus.

Screenshot of Henrietta Blyth from a Zoom interview (Danielle Desouza/PA)

However, the reality for Christians in Afghanistan is much bleaker.

The Christian charity Open Doors created The World Watch List 30 years ago, which ranks countries according to where it is most dangerous for Christians to live.

Primary data is collected through questionnaires sent to the charity’s frontline partners, which are matched against secondary data, including media research, and this data is collated by the International Institute for religious freedom to give countries a score out of 100.

In 2022, Afghanistan was ranked number one, with a score of 98.

“Afghanistan was already number two, so things were already very difficult for Christians in Afghanistan,” said Henrietta Blyth, CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland.

“I think one of the most heartbreaking things is when someone comes to believe in Jesus, they can’t tell the people they love. So the parents can’t tell the kids, the wives cannot tell husbands.

“If Christian men are discovered, they risk being murdered and probably tortured beforehand…women and girls are given to Taliban fighters as spoils of war…and Christians must behave as if they were Muslims.

Ghul Zaman was made aware of the harsh consequences facing Afghan Christians when his father was killed because he was a Christian.

That day he was killed by someone, our family was over.

“That day he was killed by someone, our family was over.

“If someone is a Christian (in Afghanistan), then what happened to my father happens to them too.”

Ghul Zaman found solace in Christianity when he came to the UK after hearing from a priest.

“My heart was touched by God. I felt good when I received prayer from the head of the church. My belief was improving every day and I got baptized… The church was my new life, my new family,” he said.

“Being in Afghanistan… I can’t rejoice if I’m in danger because safety is more important than anything.

“The Taliban do not recognize the Christian religion in Afghanistan. There is no church, there is no Christian leader to help people learn and teach, speak or celebrate.

The whole story of Easter is so profound in terms of the hope it brings to Christians who have been persecuted because we know our Lord came through it first.

Although Afghanistan is one of the least safe places for Christians, Ms Blyth said that in May 2020 some Afghans made the “courageous” decision to put non-Muslims on their identity cards, but the Taliban are now actively hunting these people.

“What is extraordinary is that people remain faithful to Jesus…and what faith in Jesus gives them – hope, freedom – is more important to them than the opposition and the danger to which they face,” she said.

“I think it’s really shocking for the persecutors.

“The whole story of Easter is so profound in terms of the hope it brings to Christians who have been persecuted because we know our Lord came through it first.”

Christ First Hub where X1 Church sometimes conducts activities to help Afghan refugees feel part of the community (Danielle Desouza/PA)

Andy Smith, 55, pastor of X1 Church in Watford, said the reason refugees may be attracted to Christianity is that “the Christian church seeks to welcome the outsider”.

He added: “What certainly attracted a lot of Afghans we spoke to towards people in the Christian church is that we always seem to talk about hope.”

The church helped Afghan refugees from September 2021, with the help of the charity Welcome Churches, which connected them with refugees in hotels, with the X1 church having supported around 600 refugees, in organizing sports and crafts sessions and providing essential items.

Mr Smith added that although the Afghans he works with are Muslims, they have expressed an interest in learning more about Christianity and plan to attend an international missions event organized by the X1 Church in three weeks. .

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