How has Christianity given Afghan refugees a sense of community?

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

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

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

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

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

She told the PA 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 I couldn’t learn much about Christianity when I was in Afghanistan.

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

The couple are hoping to attend a mass at their church for 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)

The reality for Christians in Afghanistan, however, is far bleaker.

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

Primary data is collected using questionnaires sent to the charity’s frontline partners which are compared to 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.

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

“Afghanistan was already number two, so it was 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 faith in Jesus, it’s impossible for them to tell the people they love. So parents can’t tell children, women can’t tell their husbands.

“If Christian men are discovered, they will likely be murdered first and likely tortured first… Women and girls will be handed over to Taliban fighters as spoils of war… and the Christians must behave as if they were Muslims.”

Ghul Zaman was made aware of the harsh consequences Afghan Christians are facing when his father was killed for being a Christian.

The day someone killed him, our family was devastated.

“The day someone killed him, our family was devastated.

“If someone is Christian (in Afghanistan), what happened to my father also happens to him.”

Ghul Zaman found solace in Christianity when he came to Britain after listening to a priest.

“My heart was touched by God. I felt good when I received the prayer from the church leader. My faith improved every day and I was baptized… Church was my new life, my new family,” he said.

“Being in Afghanistan … I can’t celebrate when 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 Easter story is just so profound in terms of the hope it brings to Christians who have been persecuted because we know our Lord went through it first.

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

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

“I think that’s really shocking for the followers.

“The whole Easter story is just so profound in terms of the hope it brings to Christians who have been persecuted because we know our Lord went 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 drawn to Christianity is because “the Christian church is trying to welcome the stranger”.

He added: “What certainly attracted many of the Afghans we spoke to to the people of the Christian church is that we always seem to speak of hope.”

The church has been helping Afghan refugees from September 2021 with the help of the charity Welcome Churches, which put them in contact with refugees staying in hotels, with the X1 church supporting around 600 refugees by organizing sports and craft lessons and providing essential items.

Mr Smith added that while 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’ time .

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