Revive Our Hearts Podcast

How the Gospel Can Transform Marriages

Leslie: Kate McCord says around the world women struggle with misconceptions about God.

Kate McCord: In America this manifests itself in, “Well, God doesn’t love me, clearly, because He didn’t give me an excellent, American life." In Afghanistan it manifests itself by, “Well, clearly God doesn’t love me or see me because I’m a woman. Because I’m in this horrible situation, God is far from me. God doesn’t care about me.”

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, August 18, 2015.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Thank you for joining us for Revive Our Hearts today. We’re picking up in the middle of a fascinating conversation with a new friend. Kate McCord is the pseudonym. She’s taken that pseudonym for security reasons and for the purpose of protecting the relationships that she’s developed in the land of Afghanistan.

Her book is called In the Land of Blue Burqas, and, of course, that being the trademark uniform of Afghan women.

Kate, thank you so much for living this story and then for sharing it in this fabulous and fascinating book, and then for joining us here on Revive Our Hearts to talk about it. I’m so glad to have you as part of this program.

Kate: Thanks, Nancy. It’s really fun to be here and to talk with you.

Nancy: You’re a consummate storyteller, which stood you in good stead during your years of living in Afghanistan. You worked as a humanitarian aid worker and got to know so many of the people that, for us, are maybe just a distant, far away, hidden, silent group of women; because once they’re behind those burqas, you just don’t know who they are. But you got behind the burqas, behind the walls, and got to know them as friends.

Kate: I did. In some ways it was really, really difficult, and in some ways it was such a rich blessing. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

Nancy: I think a lot of our listeners would be particularly interested in knowing how do these women live? How is life like in Afghanistan and in the Muslim world. I know there are differences, but there are some similarities. It’s a really gender-segregated world, which is hard for us in the West to fathom.

Kate: Yes. Throughout much of the Muslim world, the genders are segregated. Men and women occupy different spaces. Men occupy the public space. They do most of the work. Women raise the families. They stay within the households. Those are generalizations that are more true in some places than others.

There are very strict understandings of who does what kind of work. For example, Saudi Arabian women aren’t allowed to drive, and Afghan women don’t drive. Men drive. Men in Afghanistan don’t wash dishes. That’s not on their side of the list. There are very clear distinctions between the space in the world that a man occupies and the space in the world that a woman occupies, and there is very little overlap.

The women in Afghanistan who are really trying to advance women’s rights, the saying that they use is that “a bird has two wings.” Both men and women are important to this society and need to be a part of building the society.

Nancy: But that’s a counter-cultural concept there?

Kate: It’s a very counter-cultural concept, yes. So that’s true across the Muslim world. But then in each context, life can be very unique. I had friends that had come back to Afghanistan from Iran—they were Afghanistans who had gone to Iran and come back. When they compared the two countries, they said, “Oh, Iran is so modern, and it’s so free.”

Nancy: By comparison.

Kate: By comparison to Afghanistan, and we would never imagine Iran as free.

Nancy: For example, what?

Kate: For example, in Iran, women work in professional capacities. That’s normal. Women travel in buses. I believe they drive. Their faces are open. They wear head coverings, but they keep their faces open.

And so in that sense, they’re viewed as very free. There’s more equal, open respect between men and women in Iran than there is in Afghanistan, according to the Afghans who had gone there.

There’s also a modernness—houses in Iran that had hot and cold running water, indoor bathrooms, kitchens inside the house. In Afghanistan, that’s not the norm. So the lives for Afghan women, in these ways, was very unique. It was very different than it is for Muslim women in other parts of the world. It’s very conservative.

The other aspect that makes Afghanistan a little bit unique is, of course, they’re Dari speakers, or Pashto speakers, not Arabic speakers. So they’re not reading their holy Quran in their own language.

Nancy: The Quran is to be read in the original Arabic, right?

Kate: Right. The Quran is in the original Arabic, so many of their religious leaders haven’t studied the holy books in a language that they understand. So what happens in this country where many of the people, or a large percentage are illiterate, is that religious leaders are passing off teachings that are not from the Quran, they aren’t from the Hadith, and they're saying, “This is Islam.”

Nancy: The people don’t know any different.

Kate: Sometimes they know, but they can’t say anything. They can’t rebel against the religious leaders. There’s no place for that. They’ll suffer for it. They’re very much afraid of them.

Nancy: Now, back to the role of women. Would it be highly unusual to have women working in the market place?

Kate: Well, we never see women in the bazaars. They are never in the stores. We see women teaching. That’s considered an appropriate job.

Nancy: How about medical professions?

Kate: We see some women doctors, and, thank God. They’re so important because a woman patient can’t be touched by a male doctor. So we need women doctors, and we need women’s nurses to tend to these patients.

Nancy: Offices?

Kate: Very, very few.

Nancy: Let’s talk about marriage.

Kate: Oh, marriage.

Nancy: It’s such a different concept. First of all, it’s assumed that a woman will be married?

Kate: It’s the law. In Islam, you have to.

Nancy: It’s the law?

Kate: In Afghanistan, it’s the law. If you are a woman, you have to marry. If you are a girl, you have to marry. You don’t even become a woman until you are married. But a girl doesn’t make her own arrangements.

In America, the young man and the young woman, they find each other and decide they want to marry. In Afghanistan, that’s not the way it’s done. The parents of the bride and the groom make the arrangements. Usually the girl doesn’t know the boy she is marrying.

Nancy: Until she marries him?

Kate: Until the wedding night. And it’s terrifying. Girls go into their wedding crying.

Nancy: Now, you said a lot of them are as young as eleven, twelve, thirteen years of age?

Kate: Yes. In the rural areas, it’s still the norm to marry your daughters between eleven and thirteen years of age.

Nancy: So some of them even before puberty.

Kate: We have heard stories where extremely young girls . . . There was a girl six years old who was given away in marriage. Her father died, and a woman doesn’t have custody of her children. They belong to the father’s family. So if a father divorces a wife, or if he dies, or if he leaves, the children belong to the family of that man. That’s really heartbreaking.

Nancy: Painful for the women.

Kate: Yes, it’s very heartbreaking. We did hear a case a couple of years ago where a six-year-old girl was one of these orphaned girls, and she was sold off in marriage. But the Afghans did not accept that. They considered that a horrific thing to do. It crossed the line. Yes, it was done, but it was wrong and unacceptable. A girl should at least be through her first menses.

Now, in the days of the war, that wasn’t the case. I interviewed a woman who said that she had lost her milk teeth in her husband’s house.

Nancy: Are the husbands usually quite a bit older?

Kate: They’re usually older. In the days of the war, they were often much older.

Nancy: You say the war. You’re speaking of the war with Russia?

Kate: The war with Russia and then the Civil War. The country was in such chaos that often mothers would give their daughters young into marriage to strong men to prevent their daughters from being taken by warlords.

We have too many stories during the days of the war when warlords, when soldiers would come to a house and just demand the daughters.

Nancy: Even the young girls?

Kate: Yes, even the young girls, and that was just horrific.

Nancy: So they’re married off. These are arranged marriages, and did the girls go into this with any sense . . . I mean, today a girl thinks about getting married, and there’s something happy or anticipation or expectation of life together. Is there any of that among these young Afghan women as they’re getting married? Or is marriage something that is just part of their lot in life?

Kate: I think that God has put in the heart of a girl, of a boy a desire for marriage as companionship, as emotional, physical intimacy. I think that’s a God-given thing. When we talk to young women, young girls in Afghanistan, or teenage girls in Afghanistan, we ask them to tell stories, to write stories.

When they write those stories, they’re always love stories: girl meets boy; girl and boy fall in love; boy asks family for the girl; family says, “No, you’re not good enough;” family sells the girl to someone else; the girl either commits suicide or the girl’s husband dies and she becomes a widow and marries the boy she loved in the first place. We hear this story over and over and over. It’s like the common fantasy.

Nancy: Where would they even get the concept?

Kate: I think they get this from God. I think this is something God has put in the human heart. So when girls and boys—and I’m using girls and boys, but they’re really teenagers—are looking ahead to marriage, they’re dreaming of something. They’re dreaming of companionship and intimacy.

Nancy: But the point of marriage there is more of an economic arrangement than companionship, right?

Kate: Yes. They don’t find it.

Nancy: So how would you characterize those marriages?

Kate: Marriage is service. Marriage is a contract. It’s work. A woman has a responsibility to provide cleaning and cooking and babies and pleasure to her husband, and the husband has the responsibility to provide protection for the family and to put food on the table. It’s an economic arrangement.

Nancy: You talk about protection, and yet you made a comment that I thought was interesting. You said you had never met an Afghan woman who said that her husband never hit her.

Kate: Right. It’s considered the norm. I’ve heard of many men who were told to do that early in the marriage to force their wives into submission, even to hit their wives or to take their wives by force on their wedding nights. The culture for many teaches that this is the right way to be, that this is what it means to be a Muslim husband.

Now, I’ve also heard people say very clearly, and I want to stress this, that that is not Islam. I’ll leave that to Muslims themselves to discuss among themselves, but we can’t assume that because these things are happening in Afghanistan, they’re happening in every Muslim home. We really ought not to do that, but domestic violence really is common in Afghanistan. It’s considered the norm.

Nancy: And so these young women just live with that? Is there a fatalistic approach about it?  Here if a woman is suffering in her marriage, is she likely to pour out her heart to others about it. She’s going to do something about it. Do these women just live with that?

Kate: Everything happens in community. So the community knows when a husband is beating a young wife or an older wife, and the women in the community talk about it. They try to encourage the girl to endure. Often the wisdom is: Endure because eventually he’s going to stop beating you. He’s going to grow out of it; he’s going to get weak, or he’s just going to get over it. That really is often the case.

What I’ve seen with older women is that they just expected this, and so when it happened, they endured, and they learned how to appease the men in their lives so that they wouldn’t beat them.

What I’m seeing now with more and more younger women is a refusal to accept this kind of treatment. There’s a hope and a dream for something more. Now, many of these young girls, young women, are educated now, and they’re not accepting it.

Unfortunately, there’s no place for them to go. There’s one friend of mine whose niece was in such a situation. She went to the village elder and said, “Look, my husband and my father-in-law are beating me, and now I’m pregnant, and I can’t live like this.” The village elder said, “If you don’t go home, we will put you in jail for adultery.” So this young woman went home, and she poured a can of petrol over her head and lit herself on fire. That’s not uncommon.

I have another friend of mine who works in the women’s prison and helps women prisoners. Most of those young women are there either because they left their abusive husbands or because they killed their abusive husbands.

Nancy: So that happens, too?

Kate: That happens, too.

Nancy: But that woman’s not going to be protected by the law, is she?

Kate: No, of course not.

Now, here’s a challenge for us as Christ’s followers: I want to go and fix all of these things. I want to go and make the world a better place. There are times for me to do that, to advocate on behalf of people. But if we took every woman in Afghanistan who’s being abused out of her bad situation, there wouldn’t be families left.

I don’t think that’s God’s will. I think God’s will is to redeem the family. Sometimes that redemption, in some situations, that redemption takes a lot more work and a lot more time, but I think that’s God’s will.

And I also think it’s God’s will for us to experience Him, His love, His peace, His truth in the places of our difficulties. There are times when God delivers us through things. There are times when God is with us within them.

When I think of America, I think of some of my friends who are my age who have walked through cancer. They’ve walked through chemotherapy, and God was with them, and they found God in their place of trial and suffering.

As I’m in Afghanistan talking to women, I’m helping women find God in some of these very desperate family situations, and in those places where they find God, we see God transforming them and sometimes transforming their whole families.

Nancy: So it brings incredible hope to that woman to hear that there is a God who sees and loves and cares, that it’s not God willing this on her. It’s the enemy who steals and kills and destroys, but there’s a God who really does care for her.

Kate: Absolutely, and that comes to our identity, right? Who are we? What were we made for? We all as human beings struggle with this. In America this manifests itself in, “Well, God doesn’t love me, clearly, because He didn’t give me an excellent, American life." In Afghanistan it manifests itself by, “Well, clearly God doesn’t love me or see me because I’m a woman. Because I’m in this horrible situation, God is far from me. God doesn’t care about me.”

If we believe that God doesn’t care about us, then we believe that we were created just to be destroyed, that we’re just trash. And yet, if we begin to come to know God as revealed in Christ, we recognize that we have value because God has given us that value, that we are loved because God has chosen to love us. And we can endure a lot of hardship if we know who we are and that God loves us.

Nancy: Boy, that’s a message not just for Afghan women but for all women and men. It goes back to the heart of God’s love for the world.

Now, another factor in marriage is not just the violence, but also the taking of multiple wives. Is this the way of life there?

Kate: In many of the tribes, it’s the norm. One of the towns that I lived in in the end, almost every husband I knew had other wives. In other parts of Afghanistan, it isn’t the norm.

Remember, they’re following the example of their prophet. Their prophet had, apparently, up to thirteen wives and concubines. The teaching is that a Muslim man should have four, and so many Afghan men believe that, “Well, that’s the good and right thing to do.”

I’ve never met an Afghan woman who wants her husband to take other wives. There’s a fear that they’ll be discarded, but there’s also within a woman’s heart a desire to be loved. And what we see happening is a man will take his bride, and he’ll call that the happiest day of his life, and she’s young. Now she’s had several children, and she’s thirty, and she looks like she’s fifty, and then he goes and gets another fifteen-year-old.

And what does that tell her about who she is? “You’re worthless now. If you weren’t very much before, now you’re worth even less.”

There is within the human heart—within the woman’s heart, and I think with a husband’s heart, but certainly within a woman’s heart—a desire to love her husband and to be loved by her husband. And so we see that in every culture of the world. That’s an Afghan woman’s desire, and one of the greatest disappointments in her life is that it doesn’t happen, and she doesn’t see it happening around her.

Nancy: So you have rejection, and a potential for rejection and hurt on every side.

What about divorce? Is there a culture of divorce there at all?

Kate: There is. Men will divorce their wives, especially if they disappoint them or if they don’t have any children. And all they have to say is three times, “I divorce you; I divorce you; I divorce you,” and it’s done.

Also, men will abandon their wives. They’ll go to America or Iran or to some other country, and they’ll just abandon their wives, and their wives are stuck. They can’t remarry because they’re still married.

When a woman is abandoned, she’s not divorced unless her husband’s father frees her to marry someone else.

Nancy: And when she’s divorced, if he does divorce her, is there hope of her being remarried then?

Kate: Yes. If a woman is divorced and she has children, she loses her children, of course, because the children don’t belong to her. She’ll go back to her mother and father, and they will usually just give her to another man where she’ll become a second or a third wife. And that’s a humiliating situation for a woman.

Nancy: As you got to know some of these Afghan women with the stories, the backgrounds, the pain, the rejection, does a woman come to mind, as you just shared stories with her about the love of God and His concern for women, did you see that really make a difference in a woman’s life and give her hope?

Kate: I did. I immediately think of some friends of mine. The husband actually worked for our NGO, and his wife was a very dear friend of mine, so we spent a lot of time together. We talked a lot over meals about how to treat one another.

The husband watched my foreign co-workers. I had a married couple working with me, and he watched the way they interacted with each other. He learned from their model how to treat his wife, and he watched the way I treated him, and because he worked for me, I was the boss. So instead of criticizing him all the time to make him get better, I would always tell him, “Well, you did this really well, and it might help if you did this a little differently.” So he took that model to his wife.

The practice in Afghanistan is that people are always criticizing women about their cooking. They’re terrified of their cooking because if anything’s even half wrong, they’re going to get in trouble for it. So he began to encourage his wife and to say, “I really like this food that you cooked for me tonight. Tomorrow could we have this also?” Or something like that.

On her side, she learned from me the practice of thanksgiving. What I mean by that is to just step back and say, “Okay, I’m in a bad mood right now. Let me look around and thank God for everything He’s given me.” Maybe you start with the tree and the wind and the roof over your head. Then I thank God for my family, and I thank God for my healthy son and my healthy daughter. And she began doing this.

I didn’t know she was doing it, but I knew that she and her husband weren’t fighting as much. Over several months, I found out that every day she was practicing this thanksgiving. And what she said to a group of Afghan women—not to me; I just happened to be there—“This is a great thing to do. I used to be angry with my husband all the time, and we used to fight all the time, and I would stay mad at him, and I was never patient with my children. And then I started giving thanks every day, and now I’m calmer. I’m happier. My husband and I laugh together. Our children are happier.”

I just wept. I thought, “Yes. That’s discipleship. That’s people coming to know God and His ways, and it changing their lives.”

Nancy: And not only does it change Afghan women’s lives, it’ll change American women’s lives. I love how you talk about that in your book. You said that gratitude or thankfulness became the means for keeping your heart and mind sane in a very difficult place.

Kate: Absolutely.

Nancy: And isn’t that true whatever continent you’re on, whatever circumstances you’re in?

Kate: Absolutely. It’s so important. The oppression that’s around us, or the frustrations, the things that we can’t accomplish weigh on us, and they wear us down. Our problems wear us down, and often with very, very good reason. But when we step back and we practice thanksgiving, or we practice praise, we’re reminded of the blessings we have, and we’re able to breathe again. I don’t know any other way to say it. We’re just able to breathe again.

Nancy: It’s oxygen for the soul.

Kate: Yes. It’s oxygen.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been talking with Kate McCord about her experiences in Afghanistan.

Kate learned so much about God and about discipleship while living among Afghan women. You’ll learn a lot, too, when you read her book, In the Land of Blue Burqas. The book will help you learn how to engage with your neighbors, whether around the world or next door. You’ll also learn how to pray specifically for women in other parts of the world who are desperate to know the love of God.

We’ll send you In the Land of Blue Burqas when you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Ask for it when you call us at 1–800–569–5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Well, as Kate McCord got to know women in Afghanistan, she realized how many had been deeply hurt by the men in their lives. Tomorrow she’ll show us how the gospel can set women free from bitterness. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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