I served in Afghanistan. I was there for a year in 2011, one of several deployments while I was in the U.S. Army. Watching the withdrawal of the U.S. forces and the almost immediate takeover by the Taliban has been emotional for me in many ways. The seizure of power by Taliban forces does not surprise me. But it is heartbreaking to have spent a year away from my family and to see soldiers lose their lives investing in a country only to have it shattered in a matter of weeks. I understand the anguish being expressed by many veterans of the 20-year attempt to bring peace to Afghanistan.
More critical to my story is my translator. Ali and I were together almost the entire time during my deployment. I shared the gospel with my Muslim friend many times. As I was leaving, he said that he had never met a Christian like me. I explained to him that, though some people may call themselves Christian, they may not have a real relationship with God. Ali wanted to leave Afghanistan. He was certain he would not get a visa, but I told him I would pray for him, so that we could continue our conversations.
In 2014, Ali and his family immigrated to Louisville, Kentucky, where I was living. I asked him if he remembered our discussion regarding me praying for him. He said that he had thought about it every day. I told him that God had brought him to the United States because he wants Ali to know him like I do. Over the next two years, our families were very close. We were brought into the Afghani community as we played soccer, ate meals, and celebrated big events.
We stayed in touch, even after I took a position in another state. Since my family moved to Illinois as I joined IBSA, we have visited several times. The last time was in late May just before Ali and his family were to leave to visit relatives in Afghanistan. They had waited until they had their U.S. citizenship.
They were scheduled to fly out of Afghanistan on August 15. On their way to the airport, the Taliban entered Kabul. The situation became very chaotic with streets closed, shooting, and Taliban pouring into the city. Ali and his family had to walk to the airport only to find out their flight was cancelled. Ali knew that if the Taliban discovered he was a translator, they would kill him. His only hope was evacuation, but there was no certainty when the embassy would call.
He decided to try and make it to the U.S. military section of the Kabul airport on Monday morning. They had to divide their family, so they did not appear to be traveling together. Ali told me it was absolute chaos. The family was separated several times before they made it to the military checkpoint. Taliban were everywhere, but they managed to make it to the airport. After showing their U.S. passports, they were given refuge.
Ali sent me a picture late Tuesday from a C-130 military transport plane about to depart for Qatar. They managed to be evacuated to safety. They still must finish the final leg of the journey to make it back to the United States, but they are out of relative danger.
Through the whole process, I told him that I and others were praying for their safe return. I shared that God had given me peace about the situation and I was certain of that he would make it back. He shared that he thought we prayed to the same God. I told him that I didn’t think so, but we could have that discussion when he returned.
My family plans to go celebrate with them very soon.
Brad Lovin is IBSA’s Missions Director. Brad, his wife, and their children minister to international residents of their neighborhood in Springfield.