Jesus invited me to walk with him in Afghanistan, and I was just crazy in love with him enough to say yes.
Here’s how it happened…
In late 2000, God drew my attention to Afghanistan. At the time, I’d just finished a project in Europe and was on my way home for the Christmas holiday. I was tired, pleased with the work we’d completed, and ready to go home.
I arrived at the airport early, found a bookstore and picked up a travel book called “An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan” by Jason Elliot. I thought it would be interesting. That’s all. No intentionality. Just a book to pass the flight, but God had other ideas.
Captivated by Afghanistan
By the time I landed in the States, I was captivated. I logged onto the Internet and read story after story about Afghanistan. In those days, the country was under the harsh rule of the Taliban. Every news story tugged at my heart. I found myself praying for the Afghans and hungering to know more.
I ordered books from Amazon and checked out stories on other websites. I couldn’t believe what was happening there. Villages bombed, valleys destroyed, men forced to grow beards and imprisoned until they did, women covered in head to heel burqas, forbidden to wear fancy shoes or to allow their voices to be heard in public. I read about refugees fleeing to Iran, Pakistan and anywhere else they could go. I read about the windows of homes being painted black to prevent anyone from seeing the women inside. I read about public executions, brutal amputations, beatings and whippings. My heart broke within me.
I read and prayed and read and prayed. I knew I was obsessed. I just didn’t know if my fascination was from God or some crazy distraction.
In the meantime, I continued to work, tend my garden, celebrate in my church, and enjoy my friends.
Admitted my interest
One night, at my small group I shared my obsession with Afghanistan. I offered an idea, timidly, more as a wonder than a decision. “I think God wants me to get involved with Afghanistan.” My small group leaders shook their heads. “No way. Stay home.”
Hid the dream
I kept praying. I had the sense that God was saying, “Pay attention.” I was sure He wasn’t saying, “Go.” Still, every time I lowered my head to pray, I thought of Afghanistan.
Embraced the call
September 11, 2001 changed everything. I was at a meeting in Paris when the news reached us. The first phone call came just after three o’clock in the afternoon. I struggled to understand. Then the second call arrived. Shocked, I internalized the news. Even before the press speculated, I knew Afghanistan was involved.
In that moment, in that conference room in Paris, I knew, with absolute certainty, I would go to Afghanistan. At the time, I didn’t think about the dangers nor how much it would cost me. I just knew I would go.
Again I prayed. This time; where? How? With whom? The answers came slowly. In early spring 2002, I passed a television showing a clip of Afghan women covered in light blue burqas walking back into their country, their babies in their arms and their children by their sides. I stopped midstride, turned toward the soundless TV and began to weep. I knew I wanted to help those women.
Moved to Afghanistan
In 2004, I disengaged from my career and took my first trip to Afghanistan. A year later, I moved there full time. By the time the door closed, I’d spent 9 years working in Afghanistan. Those were hard, beautiful, glorious, terrifying years. I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world.
Wrote “In the Land of Blue Burqas”
In 2010, security in the small Afghan town I lived in disintegrated. My co-workers and I had to evacuate. The loss was heartbreaking. I returned to the States and wrote the book, “In the Land of Blue Burqas.” As I wrote, I heard again the voices of my beloved Afghan friends and the words of Christ spoken into their suffering. Those memories are so precious, full of life and hope. Moody Publishers heard about the book and decided to publish it.
Continued the Work
After the evacuation, I returned to Afghanistan, spending another three years in country. During that time, I wrote “Farewell Four Waters”, a novel. In that book, I explored the experience of beauty, loss, and finding Christ in the journey.
Final Departure from Afghanistan
After 9 years of work, I left Afghanistan for the last time. The leaving was heartbreaking. When I returned to the States, I wrote “Why God Calls us to Dangerous Places”. I wanted to give voice to the call, the cost, the joys, and love and faithfulness of God through it all.
I am immensely grateful for the privilege of living and working in Afghanistan for so many years. And now, through the books and speaking events, thousands of readers have joined me in a journey with Christ into Afghanistan.
When I went to Afghanistan for the first time, I had faith, and it was rich and strong. Still, my experiences in country took me deeper than I could have imagined possible. Now, I continue to harvest the lessons I learned in that dusty, war-torn land. Throughout it all, Christ has been with me.