By now, we’ve all seen pictures of burqa-cloaked Afghan women peering out at the world through woven screens. Perhaps we wonder how they live at all. As an aid worker in Afghanistan for five years, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know some of these women, by entering their homes, drinking their tea and sharing their lives. I can tell you that despite outward appearances, they are not so very different from ourselves—and just as desperately in need of God’s love. This is where the gospel begins, and there are a few ways we can communicate God’s love to our Afghan or American neighbors.
Establish a Relationship
Let me paint a picture for you. Imagine a mud-baked brick wall, 12 feet high, and a rusted metal gate that swings open before you. A woman takes you by the hand and gently pulls you into a grass-less, tree-less dirt yard. She is wearing a pale yellow and white scarf over her head, draped around her shoulders. Her clothes are bright green and blue with plastic flakes that sparkle in the afternoon sun. She kisses your cheeks and draws you into her home.
You step out of your dusty sandals and enter a cool, dark room. The walls are whitewashed. The floor is covered with a swirling red carpet. You sit down on a burgundy cotton mat and lean against a wall. A child brings you tea.
Now, you are with me, sitting in a home surrounded by a group of Afghan women. We’ve just met these women. Some, we will see again, and others, we will not. We know their lives are hard. We also know that, in a very real sense, they are alone. They know there is a God, but they don’t know that He loves them. We want to tell them.
Tell the Story
I ask the women if they would like to hear a story. They say yes, because a story is a wonderful thing. They lean in to listen as the tale unfolds.
I have chosen the story of the slave girl who has been carried away from her community by a foreign family. She grieves the loss of her land, her language, her mother and father, her friends. She feels alone.
By now, the room is quiet except for the story. Our Afghan women friends can each relate to the girl and her loss. Most are married to men they didn’t choose, carried from their mother’s home and forced to live with strangers. They live their lives behind walls—cooking, cleaning and, if they were fortunate, raising children. They have also experienced the turmoil of war and many resulting losses. They know very well what it’s like to be alone.
Introduce the Conflict
The story builds in intensity. The slave girl’s mistress, an old woman, gives the girl to her equally old husband. The man is gray bearded and wrinkled—not the husband the slave girl dreamed of. He takes the girl and she conceives a child. The mistress is both delighted and jealous. She mistreats the girl and finally, in desperation, the girl flees.
Our tea has grown cold and no one cares. The story is good. Each woman in our gathering sees herself in the main character.
The girl runs to the wilderness. She is ready to die.
The women around us begin to cry. They have each been in their own wilderness. They recognize the girl’s desperation.
Reveal the Climax
But suddenly there is an angel and he speaks to her. He asks her questions and tells her what to do. He shows her a well full of water and invites her to drink. She drinks from the well and realizes what has happened.
Here is the climax: God has seen her. The girl is no longer alone. God is with her. He sees her and He cares about her. He loves her—enough to seek her out and rescue her in the middle of her wilderness.
The women around us gasp. They recognize the slave girl, Hagar, from their own literature but they had not realized the story’s importance. They didn’t know that God saw the girl and that’s why she can live. Perhaps, just perhaps, God sees them too. Perhaps He sees beyond the blue screen of cloth they wear in public. Perhaps He sees beyond the walls they live behind.
Perhaps, He is with them.
Perhaps, He loves them.
And perhaps, this story has taken them to the place where the gospel always begins—God’s love.
Take It Home
You and I have visited our neighbors in Afghanistan. We have walked through their gates, sat with them in their homes, and shared the very beginnings of the gospel. But now we are back in America where there are no mud walls, no blue burqas and no colorfully clothed Afghan women gathered around us with cups of tea.
Instead, we are at the office, the supermarket, our child’s softball game. We know that many of our neighbors here do not know the Jesus we love. We also know that Jesus sees and loves them, no matter how far away from Him they are. And this is the first and most important message we have to share—with our friends in Afghanistan, and with our neighbors back home. Love is where the gospel begins.
Wherever you are, learn about the lives of your neighbors. Listen to their stories, and share yours. Ask good questions and try to understand perspectives that may be different from yours. After we have really listened to our friends, coworkers, or neighbors, and after we’ve shown them that we are, then we can tell them God is with them, that He sees them, that He loves them. Then stand back and watch as God’s love opens the door to all the stories that follow.