The Rev. Douglas Van Bronkhorst, the executive director of Interserve USA, spoke to The Christian Post last week on the mission group’s work in Afghanistan. Interserve has served in the country since the 1960’s and recently featured the country in its quarterly publication.
CP: How did you first become involved with Interserve?
Van Bronkhorst: I first visited, as a pastor, missionaries that the church supported which included meeting some Interserve folks on the field. That was well over 20 years ago. I really appreciated who they were and what they were doing and I got interested in the organization. Eventually I served on their board and from there moved over to the office.
CP: Could you tell us a little about Interserve’s work in Afghanistan?
Van Bronkhorst: Interserve has been in business for about 154 years. We emphasized sending professional people to use their skills in needy countries and to do that as Christians.
For most of our history we were involved in medical work and we have since branched out to all sorts of things.
The work in Afghanistan began primarily as medical service and still continues to have that general flavor.
CP: Have you been to Afghanistan?
Van Bronkhorst: No I haven’t been there personally. I have that coming up actually next year. I divide the world with my personal director and he was there this past year and I go next year.
CP: How does Interserve conduct missions in Afghanistan?
Van Bronkhorst: Our mission is to do our profession there. So first and foremost we send Christian doctors, nurses, and teachers to be the best doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers and so on they can be and to do that job as a Christian. When I say do it as a Christian I mean to do it with integrity and excellence, and to look for opportunities to talk about their faith with people who are interested in those discussion. It is quite common to find people interested in these discussions because Muslims like talking about religion in general so those conversations do occur.
CP: How big is the Christian community in Afghanistan?
Van Bronkhorst: It virtually is non-existent. There may be a few hundred Afghan Christians, but really there isn’t a Christian community there. There are many foreign Christians there but not many Afghan who are believers.
CP: How hard is it to evangelize in Afghanistan?
Van Bronkhorst: The number of native Christians is an indication of how hard it is. But also you have to understand that it has been made more difficult by the constant conflict that has been going on there going back centuries. In our century, there weren’t many times that Afghanistan wasn’t involved in some kind of conflict. So that has made all kinds of work there more difficult.
CP: How do the Christians live?
Van Bronkhorst: They live normal lives. They are Afghans trying to make a living, doing what they can to find work and a job to take care of their families.
It is difficult to be a Christian in a Muslim society so they certainly have to be careful how they express their faith.
CP: Do they have to be underground Christians or can they hold services?
Van Bronkhorst: Any services they hold would be small house church situations. There are no churches in Afghanistan, at least not church buildings as we would think of it.
CP: Is there any progress in the country?
Van Bronkhorst: Right now the whole concern is whether the country can be made stable enough for real progress to be made. It is still not certain what its future will be with its current government and situation there. So a lot of things in Afghanistan feel like they are on hold in a way.
But some places in the country are more peaceful than others so there is a difference between one place and another.
CP: Are there any further comments you would like to add?
Van Bronkhorst: Afghanistan is difficult but it is not hopeless on any level. If it can be relatively peaceful then it can make real progress as a country; it has got very industrious and intelligent people. I think the gospel does well when there are opportunities to share with people so I am hopeful even though I understand the challenges.