KABUL, Afghanistan-What if things aren't as they appear? What if headlines blare a surface realism but ignore a truer reality?
On the surface it looks like 2011 will grow only more chaotic, nonsensical. Greece teeters toward government default, but its parliament just voted, 198-102, to put $21 million in government funds toward a new mega-mosque. Muslims in Tunisia, where Arab street revolts began, are attempting to take over ancient churches and turn them into mosques. Iranians want to hang pastor Youcef Nakarkhani for the crime of protesting the teaching of Islam to Christian schoolchildren.
The West looks loony, too. We just enacted major social change in the U.S. military-allowing gays to serve openly as homosexuals-in the midst of two of the longest-running wars in our history. In England the vaunted BBC is ditching the terms BC and AD that might "offend or alienate non-Christians" in favor of BCE and CE ("Before the Common Era" and "Common Era"). These, it said, are "religiously neutral" alternatives. (It took the former Anglican bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, to point out the obvious: "Whether you use Common Era or Anno Domini, the date is actually still the same and the reference point is still the birth of Christ.")
But what if in the midst of all that it turns out all is not being lost in Christendom but much may be gained? What if the ground around us is being plowed to make way for important works of service and evangelism, to carry out more of the Great Commission and advance the kingdom of God?
Take Afghanistan, where I have been traveling now for some days. In many quarters, especially among young people, the disillusionment with Islamic movements of all shades is palpable. The Afghans speak more openly than I have heard before. They deride whole communities as "fundamentalists" and have no time for the Taliban. Young men in their 20s showed me their Facebook pages, where they have both male and female friends-and the women aren't wearing burqas in their profile photos. Several of them asked me, an infidel, to friend them.
A young Afghan who has become a Christian told me, "I know the people. Like myself they are born in war and have spent their lives in war. It is the same everywhere and then we die in war ... with no specific activity and no vision. What was all of it for?" Decade upon decade of war, he said, has made Afghans "dull in their thinking," and they need help to find purpose and meaning in their lives.
His words, to me, suggest plowed ground, a field ready for planting. Yet for me and my fellow Christians in the West, too often we put more faith in the headlines from this place-boasting of insurgency, casualty figures, and the futility of the U.S. mission-than we do in the words of Jesus Christ, whose Great Commission begins with the call, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations."
When horses and chariots sent by the King of Syria surrounded Elisha at Dothan, the prophet's servant despaired. And Elisha prayed for God to "open his eyes that he may see." And the servant saw horses and chariots of fire protecting Elisha. Then the prophet prayed for the Syrian army to be struck blind, and it failed to see Elisha as he led the unseeing troops into the midst of Samaria. So, surrounded by Israel's army, the king of Israel ordered the army not to strike the Syrians but to feed them a great feast and send them away. Thus were they so thoroughly confounded that Scripture says the Syrian army "did not come again on raids into the land of Israel" (2 Kings 6:23).
There was no pitched battle, no bribes, no vexing diplomacy. All that happened to turn war into peace in Elisha's day was this: God opened the eyes of His people to see and struck blind His enemies.