The night they came

If believers like Gulshan are found by the Taliban, they will be killed on the spot.(Photo: Open Doors International)

Gulshan*, an Afghan Christian woman, recalls the agonising moments when her family realised the Taliban had taken over Kabul. She spoke with the partners of the Christian anti-persecution charity Open Doors.

It was the night of the 15th of August, and we were sleeping.

There was a strange heaviness on us all. We were afraid that Kabul would fall into the hands of the Taliban at any moment. A pain that was buried for 20 years. We were faced with a harsh and bitter reality.

Our worry was not that the Americans were leaving. Our real fear was that we were given over to the mercy of the Taliban.

Not just the regular Taliban, but those Taliban who have a religious ideology that mandates them to kill. Those Taliban who consider the education of women not just a crime but an actual sin. The Taliban who stone women simply for communicating with a non-family member. Once again, they will rule us and take over the Government.

How can I look in the eyes of my daughter? How do I tell her that the dispenser of death will not spare her life? If they discover the truth about our faith, what will the dreaded consequences be?

In April, when the U.S. President announced the withdrawal of the American troops, our world was turned upside down. Nothing made sense anymore. It felt as though a nightmare had begun. And it felt as though that night would only end after our own demise.

Should we flee for our lives, or should we stay? But where would we flee to? If we stay, what will become of us? The shadow of death will follow us, whether we stay or flee. When I think of escape, I am reminded of the bomb explosion.

I will never forget that day when an explosion caused our walls to shake. It felt as though at any minute our spirit would depart from our bodies. It was impossible to silence the crying of the wailing children. Their eyes were filled with terror. They violated those delicate and fragile lives. We were terrified that the sound of the crying children would attract the undue attention of the Taliban. The explosions were very intense.

That day 13 U.S. soldiers and more than 160 Afghans lost their lives. It was more than an act of terror. It was a threat and warning to us that if we tried to leave the country, they would destroy us.

We live in fear that either the Taliban will come for us or we will die of hunger. For the last three days, my entire family has been surviving on one bowl of lentil soup. I don't know how to continue to take care of my family as the lentils are about to finish.

Our neighbour's children are very young. I wonder whether they are able to get milk for their children. I wonder how the youngest one is. I have not heard his voice for many days.

The night Kabul fell to the Taliban, that very night, my sister gave birth to a baby boy. What future is there for my nephew? He will neither understand the significance of his own faith nor value and uphold the dignity of women. That tiny fragile child ... There has to be more in his future!

The Taliban are going door-to-door, snatching young girls and destroying families. And God alone knows who has informed them about the whereabouts and identities of the believers. They are conducting a door-to-door search to find us and if they find us, they kill believers on the spot.

Just like what happened to my relatives.

Who knows when they will show up on our doorstep. If they find out that we are believers of Jesus, they will annihilate us immediately. At times like this, I feel like I am losing my mind.

Our neighbours who are believers have disappeared. We have no idea where they are. I wonder if they are safe. We miss them dearly and pray for them. We pray that they have left the country and are living a better life in a new country.

Young female university students who would have become our future lawyers and doctors are now confined to their homes. It seems their fate is fixed: forced marriage to a Taliban soldier. All of her life she will be his slave, his victim and will endure his abuse. And then one day he will most likely be killed in conflict and will leave her and her children to be ravaged by more wolves.

It is our great desire to join with our brothers and sisters and worship God together. But now this is not possible. We can only meet our pastor in the dead of night, so no one can identify him or us.

The story that is heard outside the country and our reality are two different stories. I do not have the courage to share with you the sensitive details of my joys and sorrows. It is so dangerous...

Following the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan became number 1 on Open Doors 2022 World Watch List, a ranking of 50 countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian.

It was already almost nigh-on impossible to be a Christian in Afghanistan – but now it got even tougher. Afghanistan had been number two on the Open Doors World Watch List for several years, and Christian persecution remains extreme in all spheres of public and private life. The risk of discovery for Christians has now increased since the Taliban now controls every aspect of government. This extends to owning documentation – including paperwork from international troops – that may help identify Christians. Leaving Islam is punishable by death in Afghanistan.

*Name changed for security reasons

Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians for over 60 years and works in over 60 countries. Open Doors provides practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources.