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Sharifullah* is a traditional craftsman in Afghanistan. He is also a secret believer, devoting his life to shepherding the people God has entrusted into his care. He and the small group of people he has mentored have spent many years turning sketches and ancient designs into colourful masterpieces, reaching out to their community with the gospel and their craft intertwined.

Living out their faith behind a veil of secrecy, Sharifullah and his fellow believers knew that though 20 years of the Taliban’s reign had passed, they could very well return. Despite the dangers, they have continued their secret ministry, training women and men how to make beautiful and colorful crafts in a bid to share the gospel.

When what they feared happened few weeks ago, Sharifullah’s life came to a standstill. Within weeks of taking over the country, many artisan shops in Kabul were warned about the designs they were using in the crafts on display.

“You see, the Taliban want their ideology reflected everywhere, and so all signs of color, life and hope have been removed,” he says.  Signs of joy have been painted over and replaced with Taliban slogans, which are a far cry from hope.”

Sharifullah describes watching men climb ladders to pain over “anything that was beautiful and hopeful.”

“Everything beautiful is considered ‘sick,’ ‘infidel,’ ‘murtid’ and filthy—a ‘friend of the West’ and therefore a friend of the ‘Kafir.’

“The Taliban are killing our souls and spirits. They don’t have to shoot us for this to be painful and hard, but they will shoot us. They are killing the souls of our children by taking all that is beautiful away from them.”

Hidden symbols of hope

Sharifullah’s business is temporarily closed for now; they are unsure of how women working will be received in the new regime. But even as the Taliban wipe out memories of beauty, Sharifullah and his brothers and sisters are committed not to give up. He recalls the message his mother often shared with him:

“Jesus came to us in a dream and opened up our imagination. It is a door that has been opened that can never be shut.”

“They may try to stop us, but I have this hope, since we have trained so many people to create beautiful things,” Sharifullah says. “I doubt we can stop the movement of beauty and hope that was begun, by giving the most vulnerable people access to skills and allowing them to use those skills along with their imagination.

“So often we would find birds to represent the Holy Spirit and freedom, sheep to represent us, and roses to represent Jesus. Sometimes, there are even crosses hidden and woven into our designs.”

Today, Sharifullah asks for prayer. His greatest concern at this point is his brother-in-law, who he believes could be a Taliban sympathizer. “My wife is a very good artist, and her brother used to come and destroy all her paintings to hurt her,” he shares. “He used to tell us, ‘You are too free with your lives. One day the Taliban will come back, and it will be better for you that you destroy all this.’ Now, that day has come.”

Sharifullah explains that his brother-in-law would point at his art and threateningly ask about the symbols. (The art doesn’t portray Jesus and His followers but does use symbols that mean one thing for the world, yet have a spiritual meaning for believers.) “He will come and trouble us. Pray for us that he will not be tempted to set our work on fire and God will keep him away from us and our work.

“We will never let [our] hope be silenced,”Sharifullah says resolutely.

“We will make sure the world hears the gospel through every breath we take. And we know you will help us by living the gospel, using your freedom and sharing Jesus with those who have come to your neighborhoods. Please continue to stand with us.”

* representative name and photos used for security reasons; all photos used with permission by IMB.org

AFGHANISTAN IN CRISIS

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