Afghanistan suspended two church-based aid groups on Monday over allegations that the organizations are proselytizing in the Islamic country.
Church World Service and Norwegian Church Aid cannot operate while authorities investigate the claim.
“We are not proselytizing,” said Maurice Bloem, deputy director for international programs at CWS, to The Christian Post. “If you would speak with the local community and organizations they will confirm that we stick to the code of conduct for an NGO (non-governmental organization), which is you should do your work and not proselytize.”
Bloem said as far as he knows this is the first time Afghanistan has accused CWS of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. CWS has worked in Afghanistan since 1979 and has about 300 staffs in the Pakistan/Afghanistan area.
NCA also stated that it does not try to convert people to Christianity in Afghanistan or in other parts of the world where it works.
Afghan television station Noorin TV broadcast on Sunday a report in which it claimed Westerners were baptizing Afghans, according to the New York Times. The report specifically named CWS and NCA, even though officials at Noorin TV confirmed with the Times that it has no evidence to support its claim.
The report sparked a demonstration by hundreds of students at Kabul University on Monday. Protesters demanded the expulsion of foreigners who try to convert Muslims.
It is illegal to proselytize in Afghanistan.
In 2007, a group of 23 Christian volunteers from South Korea were abducted by Taliban militiamen. The hostages said they were in Afghanistan to provide free medical aid to poor Afghans. But their kidnappers accused them of proselytizing and held them captive for six weeks.
During the course of the hostage drama, the Taliban killed two men in the group. Pastor Bae Hyung-kyu was reportedly killed for refusing to convert.
The hostage incident drew international attention to the danger of Christian volunteers being accused of proselytizing in Afghanistan.
Similarly, the Taliban had captured eight Western humanitarian workers in 2001 and falsely accused them of proselytizing. The workers spent 105 days in prison and were eventually freed. But some of the Christian workers returned to Afghanistan to serve the poor.
Church World Service’s Bloem said he “trusts” that the local authorities will conclude that the organization is not trying to convert Afghans while serving them.
Bloem said CWS and NCA leaders will hold a meeting Tuesday morning to further discuss their suspension in Afghanistan.
U.S.-based CWS is a cooperative ministry of 36 Christian denominations and communions. It operates relief and development programs in more than 80 countries.
Norwegian Church Aid operates in some 125 countries and provides emergency relief and development aid to poor communities and people in need.