Afghanistan: Serving God in ‘the most desperate place on earth’
Now online, find our report on the work of John and Jan Bradley, members of the Hillsboro Church of Christ in Nashville, Tenn., and founders of the Lamia Afghan Foundation. The couple traveled to Afghanistan recently, in the midst of protests over the burning of copies of the Quran and the March 11 killings of Afghan civilians.
“We think this is the most desperate place on earth,” John Bradley said. He and his wife pray that the Afghan people “will remember that someone reached out to them with very simple actions, like putting a knit cap on their heads, handing them a cute, homemade wooden toy, rubbing lotion on very rough hands.”
Insurgents — and the people who kill when books burn — are a minority in Afghanistan, Jan Bradley said. Most of the people she encounters express sincere thanks. They feel that, after the U.S. helped them drive away the Soviets in 1988, they were abandoned by the West, allowing the Taliban to rise.
When U.S. forces leave in 2014, “life for our people will be worse than ever,” a village elder told the couple recently. “America cannot leave us again.”
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The Lamia Afghan Foundation is named after a girl John Bradley met while serving with the U.S. Air Force in Afghanistan. Her request for a decent pair of shoes sparked the creation of the nonprofit. (See Joy McMillon’s feature on the Bradleys from 2009 for more of Lamia’s story.) John Bradley sent me a recent photo of Lamia, now a teenager.
He sent me several other photos as we were getting the May print issue together. Choosing which one to include on our front page was easy. It’s a photo of a young girl, who begs on the streets of Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. Her bright, sea-green eyes have an almost piercing quality about them. The photo grabs your attention and doesn’t let go.
Several of our readers (and personal friends — and a pressman at the facility where we have the paper printed) have pointed out the striking similarities between this photo and one of another Afghan girl — Sharbat Gula — who was photographed by Steve McCurry for the June 1985 cover of National Geographic. The iconic photo, taken while Gula was living in Pakistan as a refugee from war in her homeland, became one of the most recognizable images in the magazine’s history. Gula often is referred to as “the Afghan Mona Lisa.”
These photos — of two young Afghan women, taken more than a quarter-century apart — represent the plight of Afghanistan’s children. For more than three decades, they have suffered the unimaginable, due to circumstances beyond their control.
We dare not look away.