During the first few decades of OM, special prayer was promoted for nine countries with no known believers. Today, there is no country without followers of Jesus, although there hasn’t been a viable church in Afghanistan for centuries.
Gordon Magney was obsessed with changing that, first going to Afghanistan in the 1960s. When Mel Warden* — who joined the work among Afghan refugees in Pakistan in 1981 — was returning to Canada to study in 1989, Gordon asked him to re-launch radio programmes for Afghan audiences after a month of training.
Mel and his wife met with a number of Afghans in Toronto who had come to faith as refugees, but not one had continued with the Lord. When they met Karim* in 1991, they formed Pamir Productions (named after a major mountain range in Afghanistan) in the Warden house, producing four 15-minute programmes each week in the majority language of Dari. Within a year, they increased to seven half-hour programmes.
Mel remembers the first letter they received from a listener. ‘We could hardly believe it. This person’s appreciation — and courage to write — was a huge boost for us. We started to answer letters (this was pre-internet in Afghanistan) and eventually created a programme called Answers to letters, reading listeners’ questions and answering them on air’, he said. This programme continued through to the end of the 1990s.
Different course, same destination
9/11 changed everything: though over five million refugees poured back into the country, responses to the radio programmes plummeted. Was there justification to continue? Or were there new technologies that would attract more listeners’ feedback?
Then, in October 2008, linking callers to a Western phone number made it possible to engage with Afghans in live conversation. Phone calls from Afghanistan had a massive impact on the team as they quickly built an effective means of follow-up.
‘We track every call, and follow up every lead. Today, more than 4,500 Afghans are in our database, at different points in their spiritual journey; many are sincerely interested in Christ, but feel isolated. Some callers criticise the ministry and defend Islam. Others have come to faith and are eager to be discipled. Four to five Afghans call every day to talk. Television programmes, launched in 2010, are appreciated by a different segment of society’, notes Mel.
Pamir Productions has always been passionate in using all media to spread the gospel. The team, in conjunction with other groups, was instrumental in producing a new translation of the Bible in the Dari language in 2008. Despite the near impossibility of importing and distributing materials, a good deal of material, including the Scriptures, is now available online and in apps through the Pamir website, both directly for seekers and for Christians to pass to Afghan friends worldwide.
In order to help new believers in their walk with God, a Virtual Bible School (VBS) was launched in 2016. Different team members call Afghans weekly using internet and mobile phone, to study God’s Word. Ten ‘classes’ are running this way, as of late 2016.
Because Afghan culture is built upon social networks that distrust outsiders, trying to plant a church by uprooting individuals from their networks to join an unknown one simply is not effective. Pamir envisions that these VBSs will bridge that gap.
Afghans across the world
It’s more organic as well. These contacts can draw other family members and friends into that study time, which resonates with Pamir’s vision of Afghans discipling Afghans. While security concerns have made in-country visits impractical, Afghans continue to spread across the world.
Looking ahead, Pamir wants to grow in two areas. One is the production of more creative media at street level (not just studio programmes). The second area is in discipleship. One dream is a Christian training centre for Afghans in Europe.
As Pamir Productions continues engaging with Afghans day in, day out, there is hope that it will be better than ever before. One listener said it best: ‘I love how you talk about love and peace. We are tired of war and warlords. I give out your frequency. I want all our people to listen to these programmes’.
* Name changed
Greg Kernaghan joined OM in 1978. He and his wife, Anni, have served on OM’s ships, in Finland, in Canada, and as part of the OMNI (communications) team internationally. ©2017 OM International.