God is in Afghanistan

Here’s the bad news: John Weaver isn’t the greatest author.  Here’s the good news: He tells an important and compelling story.

His book Inside Afghanistan: The American Who Stayed Behind After 9/11 and His Mission of Mercy to a War-Torn People is now 9 years old, so I readily admit that this book isn’t especially timely in light of recent history (i.e. ongoing war, the assassination of Osama bin Laden).  And given his tendency to rely on cliché and forced poetic construction, I almost didn’t make it past the first 20 pages.  Pressing on into the story, however, shows that the subtitle is just a little bit misleading.  This book is not a 9/11 story.  It is a story of a hurting people greatly in need of the love of Jesus Christ, and that is always compelling.

To more specifically categorize this book, I would say that this book is John’s missional memoir.  His first few chapters walk you along his path to first, Christ, then school, then a love for Afghanistan, and finally his harrowing journey trying to get there.  This part, not his primary focus, moves along quite quickly but I think serves as an important reminder to the power of hindsight.  When John wrote this book he knew that he achieved his ultimate goal-working in Afghanistan.  But before he got there the setbacks, delays and frustrations must have been torturous, as well as nearly convincing evidence that God was closing the doors.  John doesn’t downplay these frustrations, but the reader, I think, should be aware that what appear to be current setbacks and delays in life might be temporary and will eventually pass.

Soon enough, John moves on to his experiences in Afghanistan.  He is white.  He doesn’t fully know the language.  He knows that there are dozens of cultural issues that he is unaware of.  He knows God is on his side.  And with this knowledge John works hard, for years, to serve the people of Afghanistan and show them God’s love.  His experiences are impressive, his work hard and often lonely.  And despite all that is going against him, color, race, religion, 3rd world living, the Taliban, he is able to earn the respect of those he serves.  In so doing, he is able to share in the most real of ways who Jesus is.

I don’t want to give away the best parts from John’s story, but I feel that there are two brief episodes he describes that should also be shared here because they are very powerful anecdotes.  Obviously, Afghanistan is a muslim country, and very closed to the idea of Christianity, so John was living in an extremely precarious position.  Still, the Holy Spirit gave him great opportunities.  As a way to fit in to the culture and gain the respect of the community, John decided to fast during Ramadan.  (Don’t forget this important point-he is not capitulating, or caving to religious pressure, he makes it clear that he fasted as Jesus fasted, that his own fast was his opportunity to grow closer to the one true God.  John just allowed it to coincide with the muslim holiday.)  And it was noticed.  At dinner, one local asked why Mr. John was fasting, which allowed him to explain the entire basis for his faith in Christ.  At another dinner, a religious elder quoted from muslim religious texts as well as words of Jesus.  He then asked John point-blank, “Do you believe Jesus Christ is alive?”  Again, John declared “Of course” and shared his faith.

Unfortunately, this book has no miracle hidden inside.  The country of Afghanistan is not saved.  There are no mass conversions and the Christian church does not seem to grow as a result of John’s work.  On top of that, there are reasonable reasons not to read this book.  The world, and Afghanistan, have changed drastically since this book was published in 2002.  I don’t know if John is working there anymore.  As a result of years of war, every humanitarian cause John worked for might be completely destroyed at this point.  And so, with a historic perspective, reading this book now will be a little disappointing.

But I believe the reasons for reading this book are far stronger.  This book will show you real people of Afghanistan.  People who are not hate-filled Taliban.  People who run from their own countrymen, the Taliban.  This book makes their lives sympathetic.  I feel that we hear a lot about Afghanistan but we know almost nothing about the people.  Here they are brought to life.  This book also vividly portrays dedicated service to God’s work on earth.  John is an incredible man because of the incredible effort he put into loving a broken part of the world.  Finally, anyone who loves missions will enjoy this story because it clearly delineates a path one should take to doing Christian missions well.

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