Like many Americans, I was appalled and sickened by the images of desperate Afghan citizens clinging to the undercarriage of a C-47 transport plane at the Kabul airport as they sought to flee the return of the Taliban’s brutal rule.
When the news came that 13 American service members had died at the hands of a suicide bomber, my heart broke. I could only think of wives and husbands, parents, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, who would never see their loved ones again.
It was difficult to swallow since we had been promised by the administration that this exodus from Afghanistan would be “no Saigon.” Well, the mass chaos and unforgettable scenes were far worse than the sights of south Vietnamese scrambling to board a lone American helicopter. And the death of our brave and courageous service members along with hundreds of Afghans certainly shattered the notion of no one dying.
Samaritan’s Purse has worked extensively in that country, and my own son Edward served on six deployments there as an Army Ranger. We were able to work through several partners in the region to help evacuate hundreds of people to safety, including at least 80 missionary families.
In the days to come, we need to remember the American citizens who are still stranded there, and pray that our country will keep its pledge to leave no one behind. We also need to pray for the Afghan Christians who are now in extreme danger from the new Taliban regime.
Christians in that region of the world are referred to as “people of the book,” referring to the Bible.
They also have been called “people of the Cross.” They live and often die at the hands of their neighbors as men and women who have lived under the glorious shadow of the Cross of their Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
When Libyan Islamic militants released footage of the martyrdom of 21 Coptic Christians a few years ago, the video included a caption that said—“The people of the Cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church.” Each and every one identified as “people of the Cross.”
Here in America, we often see believers wearing the symbol of the Cross around their necks. That’s OK, but we must understand that the Cross in Roman times was reserved as a heinous punishment for offenders of Roman law. It was a public spectacle meant to instill fear and dread to onlookers. It was as brutal an execution as ever concocted by man, with death often taking many hours—sometimes days.
Yet it was our Lord Jesus Christ who turned this instrument of torture and shame into a symbol of life-changing victory.
This is how the late, renowned English preacher John Stott described the centrality of the Cross: “It was by His death that He wished above all else to be remembered. There is then, it is safe to say, no Christianity without the cross. If the cross is not central to our religion, ours is not the religion of Jesus.”
The Apostle Paul preached only one Gospel, the power and pardon of the Cross:
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
And despite being the foremost of the apostles, helping to spread the message of the Cross far and wide—perhaps even all the way to Spain, Paul always exalted only in the Cross of our Lord. “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).
Wherever I go to proclaim the Word of God, I preach the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, where His blood was shed for the forgiveness of my sins. You cannot preach the Gospel without preaching the Cross. It humbles men to know their sinful state, and it offers the only way to the Father.
I think of the lyrics of Isaac Watts:
“When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.”
I hope we here in the still relative comfort of America come to boast only in Christ’s Cross, learning to take up our Cross daily where we die to our old selfish, sinful ways and follow Jesus wherever He leads.
I sense the day will come when the persecution for living out our faith will be far more intense and pervasive. Already, the moral precepts of Christianity that once undergirded our civil society have taken serious blows from secular, atheistic progressives who are bent on removing any vestige of religious faith.
My hope and prayer is that the Lord will have refined our faith so that we refuse to compromise or yield to godless forces. May we—like those who endure endless and often deadly attacks for their faith—be known as “people of the Cross” who follow Jesus, no matter the cost.
And regardless of how we feel about our decision to leave Afghanistan, we are now faced with more than a hundred thousand evacuees who, after vetting, will be dispersed to locations around the world.
A number of them will be resettled here in America. Many of them will have never heard of the saving Gospel of faith and repentance in Christ, and most have been raised in a strong Islamic culture where conversion to Christianity meant rejection from their family and friends—and often death. I believe this is a great opportunity for the church to step forward in Jesus’ Name and minister to their needs.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.
Photo: Thomas J. Petrino/©2019 BGEA