KELLER, Texas –The U.S. State Department advises against travel to Afghanistan, but the gospel should compel some Texas Baptists to go there anyway, according to Keller pastor Bob Roberts.

Roberts, pastor of NorthWood Church, is looking for seven churches to join his congregation in traveling to southern Afghanistan, building schools and demonstrating the love of Christ.

Roberts already has made an exploratory trip to the war-torn region himself, in which he worked with the aid organization CURE International to start construction of a hospital. And in December, his church will begin sending teams to work at the hospital and train the Afghan doctors there.

More than 40 members of NorthWood have signed up for the teams, and other Texas Baptists are encouraged to participate as well.

But that’s not a decision to be made lightly, Roberts acknowledge. The U.S. State Department says travel in all areas of Afghanistan is unsafe due to military operations, land mines, banditry, armed rivalry among political and tribal groups and the possibility of terrorist attacks.

“It’s not safe, but why is that an option for us?” Roberts asked. “The church should be actively making peace, not just being peaceful or peaceable.

“In a crisis, the church tends to huddle together. But when all hell breaks loose, the church should be on the front lines. Yes, I’m afraid. I had long talks with my wife and children before I left. But we really don’t have a choice–not if what we believe is real,” he said.

“Some things are worth dying for, though, and the gospel is one of those things.”

Roberts’ goal is to provide much-needed aid and education in southern Afghanistan, a region he said has been neglected in other relief work.

“Most of the aid goes to northern Afghanistan, to Kabul,” he explained. “For comparison, if Kabul is Boston, then Kandahar is Dodge City. It’s still wild and wooly in southern Afghanistan, and the people there are not getting a lot of help.”

For $15,000, a Texas Baptist church could fund the construction of a school and payment of teacher salaries for one year, he said.

And this type of investment could pay even greater dividends, he predicted. “My vision is to take those imams, take those young pastors, live out Christianity in front of them, for them to see so much Jesus inside of us that it is appealing to them and that they would want to become Christians.”

NorthWood Church also has purchased a $200,000 mobile medical unit that will enable dental, eye and general health treatment to travel to the villages outside Kandahar.

Roberts makes no bones with government authorities about the faith of the volunteers coming to help.

“I told them that we are Christians, (that) we won’t preach or pass out tracts about Christianity, but we do want to be able to talk one-on-one to people about our faith and to not do so would be to deny our faith.”

Roberts told his congregation he believes God is opening doors for ministry in Afghanistan.

In the days after the July 25 hospital groundbreaking he attended there, Roberts had an unexpected encounter that changed his perspective.

The Texas pastor was invited to the home a stranger whom he had seen on the periphery of events he attended related to the hospital groundbreaking. The only thing Roberts knew about the man initially was that he was a car dealer. He later learned the man was the son of a regional warlord.

While Roberts was reluctant to accept the man’s invitation, a friend from the region told him it “probably would be all right.” Roberts saw the invitation as a divine appointment.

To get to the man’s house, Roberts traveled in an SUV with rocket launchers mounted on the roof and men wielding machine guns stationed at the windows.

In the five-hour drive across a hot, barren desert, Roberts learned his host’s father is the leading warlord in southern Afghanistan and hopes to become president of Afghanistan in the near future.

Before arriving at the man’s home, they drove to a nearby village where the man told Roberts the children needed a school.

Later, they had dinner at the home, surrounded by rocket launchers and machine guns. After dinner, the man decided it would be safer to spend the night elsewhere, so he and Roberts drove further out in the desert, where they slept on cots in a building with walls but no roof. Roberts heard gunfire and rockets exploding in the distance during the night.

The next day, the Texas pastor he was taken to meet eight Islamic mullahs and introduced to them as “my Christian American mullah.” Roberts was greeted by an uncomfortable silence, followed by questions such as “Why do you believe Jesus is God?”

At the end of the time with the mullahs, Roberts wanted to give his Bible to one of the mullahs. But the man who was his escort stopped him, saying: “He can’t read English. I can; give it to me.”

Roberts and the man discussed the Bible from cover to cover, he said, paying particular attention to things mentioned in the Koran, such as the three wise men and Jesus.

The man had heard of Jesus but not the resurrection, and was fascinated by it, Roberts said. The man did not convert to Christianity, but a visit to Texas is planned, and Roberts plans to continue the dialogue.

That kind of education will be more important the money raised to build school, he said. “Money is not going to change the issue or cause them to evaluate our concept of God. But if we get to know them and live out Christ in front of them, then we have an opportunity to make a difference.”

George Henson is a staff writer for the Baptist Standard. Used by permission.

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