Baptist churches plan trips to Afghanistan
August 29 2002 by George Henson , Associated Baptist Press

Baptist churches plan trips to Afghanistan | Thursday, Aug. 29, 2002

Thursday, Aug. 29, 2002

Baptist churches plan trips to Afghanistan

By George Henson Associated Baptist Press

KELLER, Texas - The U.S. State Department advises against travel to Afghanistan, but that isn't stopping one Baptist minister.

Bob Roberts, pastor of the 2,200-member NorthWood Church in Keller, Texas, takes seriously the gospel command to "go" into even dangerous parts of the world. He is looking for seven other churches to join him and members of his congregation in traveling to southern Afghanistan to build schools and share Christ's love.

Roberts already has made one trip to the war-torn region, working with the organization CURE International to start construction of a hospital. In December, his church plans to begin sending teams to work at the hospital and train the Afghan doctors there.

More than 40 members of NorthWood have signed up for the teams, and other Texas Baptists are being invited to participate as well.

Roberts acknowledged that isn't a decision to be made lightly. Travel in all areas of Afghanistan is considered unsafe due to military operations, land mines, bandits, armed rivalry among political and tribal groups and the possibility of terrorist attacks.

"It's not safe, but why is that an option for us?" Roberts asked. "The church should be actively making peace, not just being peaceful or peaceable."

Roberts said he believes "the church should be on the front lines" when a crisis occurs. Is he afraid? "Yes, I'm afraid," he said. "I had long talks with my wife and children before I left. But we really don't have a choice - not if what we believe is real."

Roberts said frankly that "some things are worth dying for ... and the gospel is one of those things."

Roberts wants to provide much-needed aid and education in southern Afghanistan, a region he said has gone neglected in other relief work.

"Most of the aid goes to northern Afghanistan, to Kabul," he said. "For comparison, if Kabul is Boston, then Kandahar is Dodge City. It's still wild and wooly in southern Afghanistan, and the people there are not getting a lot of help."

For $15,000, he said, a church could fund the construction of a school and pay teacher salaries for one year. But he sees this type of investment paying even greater dividends.

"My vision is to take those imams, take those young pastors, live out Christianity in front of them, for them to see so much Jesus inside of us that it is appealing to them and that they would want to become Christians."

NorthWood Church has purchased a $200,000 mobile medical unit that will enable dental, eye and general health treatment to travel to the villages outside Kandahar.

The highly publicized plight of Christian aid workers Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry, imprisoned last year by Afghanistan's then-ruling Taliban, illustrated the peril faced by Christians ministering in areas dominated by Islamic fundamentalists.

But Roberts said he makes no bones with government authorities about the faith of the volunteers coming to help.

"I told them that we are Christians," he said. "We won't preach or pass out tracts about Christianity, but we do want to be able to talk one-on-one to people about our faith, and to not do so would be to deny our faith."

Roberts has told his congregation he believes God is opening doors for Christian ministry in Afghanistan.

In the days he spent there after the July 25 hospital groundbreaking, Roberts had an unexpected encounter that opened his eyes.

He was invited to the home of a stranger he had seen hanging around at events related to the groundbreaking. The only thing Roberts knew about the man was that he was a car dealer. He later learned the man was the son of a regional warlord.

Roberts at first balked at the invitation, but a friend told him it "probably would be all right." From that point on, Roberts saw it as a divine appointment.

To get to the house, Roberts traveled in an SUV with rocket launchers mounted on the roof and men wielding machine guns stationed at the windows.

During the five-hour drive across a hot, barren desert, Roberts learned his host's father is the leading warlord in southern Afghanistan and aspires to become the nation's president.

Before arriving at the home, they drove to a nearby village where the man told Roberts the children needed a school.

They later had dinner at the home, surrounded by rocket launchers and machine guns. After dinner, the man decided it would be safer to spend the night elsewhere, so he and Roberts drove farther into the desert, where they slept on cots in a building with walls but no roof. Roberts heard gunfire and rockets exploding in the distance during the night.

The next day, Roberts said, he was taken to meet eight mullahs, lower-level Islamic clergy. His host introduced him as "my Christian American mullah." After an uncomfortable silence, questions followed, such as "Why do you believe Jesus is God?"

At the end of the meeting, Roberts wanted to give his Bible to one of the mullahs, but his escort stopped him, saying: "He can't read English. I can; give it to me."

Roberts and the man discussed the Bible from cover to cover, paying particular attention to things that are also mentioned in the Koran, such as the three wise men and Jesus.

The man knew about Jesus but not the resurrection, and he was fascinated by the idea, Roberts said. While he didn't convert to Christianity, the man is planning to visit Texas, where Roberts plans to continue the dialogue.

Roberts said those kinds of relationships will be more important than the money raised to build a school. "Money is not going to change the issue or cause them to evaluate our concept of God," he said. "But if we get to know them and live out Christ in front of them, then we have an opportunity to make a difference."

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8/29/2002 12:00:00 AM by George Henson , Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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