|Vigil for Afghans killed in massacre. |
(Photos by Alan Greig)
Afghanistan (MNN) -- The threat of reprisal violence is building in Afghanistan.
An unnamed U.S. soldier reportedly went AWOL in the middle of the night, walked off his base in Kandahar province and shot 16 civilians dead, mostly women and children. Carl Moeller, President of Open Doors USA, says, "Afghan extremists are accusing the U.S. of covering up several soldiers doing this. The U.S. is saying, 'No, it was a tragedy. It was one soldier who lost his senses and reacted in such a terrible way.'"
Enraged, the Taliban threatened to behead American troops to avenge the killings, giving some teeth to their threats of violence with a drive-by shooting on Tuesday.
Insurgents targeted a government delegation that included two brothers of President Hamid Karzai who were attending a memorial service for the dead. The attack left at least one Afghan soldier dead, and it destroyed the calm officials hoped would sustain in the wake of the news.
Things had just settled down from the deadly riots across the country, a reaction to the unintentional burning of the Koran by U.S. troops. Patience is wearing thinner with each incident, which has led to calls to move up the deadline for getting troops out to 2014.
What's more, warns Moeller, "these situations are never just isolated incidents. They always produce repercussions." The group most likely to bear the brunt of anti-American sentiment will probably be Christians. Moeller explains, "In places like Afghanistan--and particularly in this place, Christians represent a 'soft target' when someone is looking to lash out at western forces."
That's something they've already seen happening in other countries in the region. However, the violence aimed at believers is nothing new, Moeller confirms. "Completely unrelated to the fact that this massacre took place, Christianity is persecuted in Afghanistan at an extreme level. It's one of the worst places on earth by our World Watch List."
Afghanistan ranks 2nd on the Open Doors World Watch List 2012, a list of the top 50 countries in the world known for persecution of Christians.
According to their research, since all Afghan Christians come from a Muslim background, they often face discrimination and overt hostility. But that treatment hasn't silenced the Gospel. "Of course the Christian community there is exclusively an underground church," Moeller explains. "We believe that there are thousands of Christians in Afghanistan as a result of a very courageous witness and Bible distribution in that country. We are working with that underground church."
The tiny Christian minority cannot meet in public. Meetings in private homes are possible but require great caution. Not a single official church building remains, not even for expatriate believers. New converts often face apostasy charges.
That threat, in addition to the assumption that Christians, the U.S. and the military presence are connected could slow outreach, though, Moeller notes. "Frankly, this is just going to keep the possibility of that church emerging--and someday contributing positively to the society--much further off. It's likely there will be more extremism; these types of events inflame that extremism so that it's even going to make it more difficult to have Christians in that country."
While Open Doors comes alongside the Church with support, Moeller asks prayer for courage and perseverance for isolated believers. Pray that Taliban threats against Christians will come to nothing, and pray for the church to grow despite the difficulties. "It is a fact that the church is growing in Afghanistan. It's growing because men and women are boldly sharing Jesus Christ with those they love, despite the risk of them being turned in as a Christian, being incarcerated, or even killed."