Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Power of Forgiveness in Afghanistan

Leslie Basham: Kate McCord discovered that among the women she met in Afghanistan, forgiveness is a foreign concept.

Kate McCord: Here's a people who have really been traumatized by their experiences of war, of being married to men who have abused them, and there’s no expectation of forgiveness for their own sins, for the things that they have done. There’s no understanding or very little understanding of what it means to forgive someone else. So they’re carrying the burdens of the things that have been done to them.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, August 19, 2015.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Well, we’ve been having such a great conversation with Kate McCord. That’s not her real name, but that’s the pseudonym she’s used for the book she’s written called In the Land of Blue Burqas.

Kate has been a humanitarian aid worker in Afghanistan for a number of years. Kate, thank you for just opening our eyes and our understanding to know more about these Muslim women, particularly the ones in Afghanistan. This is fascinating to me, and I know it is giving me more of a heart and a burden for women who were heretofore unknown to me. So thank you for being with us here on Revive Our Hearts.

Kate: Oh, it’s a pleasure, Nancy. Thanks so much. I’m enjoying our conversation.

Nancy: We’re having conversation inbetween recording each of these programs. We keep saying, "We want to talk about this . . . we want to talk about this." On the last program we talked about the role of women in marriage, being one of multiple wives, and the whole issue of domestic violence. After we finished recording that last conversation you said, “Oh, there was something else I wanted to say in relation to marriage and God’s perspective on marriage" as you found yourself sharing it with the Afghan women. Jump in with that thought now if you would.

Kate: I remember a young man in Afghanistan who was coming up to his wedding. We had been talking a lot about Jesus and what He teaches us. The young man asked me, “What does Jesus teach about marriage?”

And I said, “Well, Jesus says that men should love their wives the way Christ loves His students.”

And the young man thought about that for a few minutes. I wondered how he was interpreting that Scripture. And I said, “How do you think that Jesus loved His students?”

And the young man said, “Well, He talked to them.”

I’d never actually thought about that before. We always focus on the last part of it when Christ gave His life for His Church. But even before that, Christ lived in companionship with His students. He talked to His disciples. He ate with them. He slept beside them. He traveled with them. He worked with them. His life was lived in social and emotional intimacy with those that followed Him—both His women students and His male students.

That’s part of what God calls us to in marriage—to live in that kind of companionship that Jesus exemplified with His disciples. And that is revolutionary in Afghanistan. And when I tell men that, they say, “Oh, it’s not possible. We can’t really have friendship with women. Women are . . .”

Nancy: Including their wives.

Kate: Including their wives. They’re different. They say, “We really can’t talk to women. Women are different. They don’t know about the things we know about. They’re less.” They’re so segregated that they don’t even know how to have good healthy interactions with one another. In America we talk about how the enemy is waging a battle against marriage, and I think that’s true. I think that’s manifested in different ways in different cultures.

In that core relationship between men and women—that first relationship in the Garden—that first human relationship between men and women has been under attack since the Garden. What we see in Afghanistan is that the manifestation of that attack is segregation, oppression, and subjugation, and that’s not the will of God. That’s not His desire for us.

Nancy: Yes, the devil will undermine that picture in any way that he can, whether it’s in Afghanistan or the United States, because marriage is intended to be such a picture of Christ’s love for His people and the relationship—the oneness that we can have with Him—the redemptive story. So when he busts up marriage, by whatever means, he is doing a frontal attack on the whole redemptive plan.

Kate: And we see that everywhere. So I get to share the story of creation and Adam and Eve in Afghanistan. I get to talk to men and women about how God created us in the first place. And it’s such a wonderful story for them—such a dream for them. What I want to tell them is that, “Even in your Afghan situation, even in your arranged marriage, God can heal your relationship. God can bring His light and His love into this relationship.”

You had asked me in the previous discussion about where I’d seen that. I have seen that happen perhaps not in its fullness as much as I want, but I’ve seen it happen in really beautiful ways. I think that’s the same hope that God offers to us here in America as we see God healing marriages in our context as well. I think it’s God’s desire for us.

Nancy: And of course, the New Testament was also written in an era where women were not valued. They were considered property or less than. And so into that world, Jesus comes, the apostle Paul comes, the New Testament writers come. They have this message—this radically counter-cultural message of love and respect and oneness and intimacy. So really what you were trying to explain in the Afghan culture was probably not all that different than what the New Testament writers were trying to speak into their culture.

Kate: Absolutely. And Jesus was so revolutionary in His culture.

Nancy: Just the valuing of women.

Kate: The valuing of women—the talking to women. The message that He gave to the woman at the well. She said, “Where can I worship?”

And He said, “Right where you are—trapped in your bad situation, you can worship God in spirit and in truth.” And Jesus is still saying that to Afghan men and women, “Right where you are. There is hope for you in your situation right where you are.”

Nancy: And that’s the message you took to the people of Afghanistan—it’s the message you’re sharing with our listeners, because it’s a message we all need. One of the themes that runs through your book is this whole concept of forgiveness. This becomes hugely important in a broken world where people do sin against one another—whether it’s in an Afghan culture or an American culture. But you found that was a message that was perhaps really new to the women in Afghanistan.

Kate: It was very new for both the men and women in Afghanistan. The concept that Afghans have of God’s forgiveness is just that God looks the other way or chooses not to hold that crime or fault against the person. The idea of forgiveness as a release—as forgetting—as throwing an offense as far as the east is from the west—of never bringing it up again is just not well understood in Afghanistan. So what’s happened is that here’s a people who have really been traumatized by their experiences of war, of being married to men who have abused them, of bribery, and being violated in so many different ways.

Nancy: Hard, hard, hard life!

Kate: Hard lives. There’s no expectation of forgiveness for their own sins, for the things that they have done. There’s no understanding or very little understanding of what it means to forgive someone else. So they’re carrying the burdens of the things that have been done to them. And what I was privileged to do was to be able to share with people, both men and women, what it means to forgive.

Nancy: You used an analogy of wells?

Kate: I used the analogy of the well. I said that our heart is like a well. Every Afghan knows what a water well is like. They’re very important, and they’re big. They get filled up with rocks. And when they’re filled up with rocks, the bucket won’t reach the water.

I said that every offense that happens against us is like another rock that’s been thrown into the well of our hearts. Eventually so much has happened to us and done to us that we can’t get to the water any more. We’re thirsty. And what we have to do is go into that well and pick up every rock and take it out of the well. And that’s what forgiveness is.

And then I modeled forgiveness for them. I said, “When we forgive we don’t pretend that someone didn’t hurt us. Instead, we look straight at the hurt and we say, 'This person hurt me in this way and Lord God, You know that’s wrong. I know it’s wrong, and it affected me. And yet in that place where they hurt me, I forgive this person. I release them, and I ask You to forgive them as well.' And when we do that, we’re taking a rock out of our well and throwing it away. We’re bringing healing and peace into our lives. And we can live in that place where bad things have been done to us."

And you know Afghans would say to me, “Well, in America everything is easy, right? I mean you don’t have problems. Marriages are perfect. People don’t get hurt.”

And I would say, “Oh, no. Oh, no.” And I’d share some of my stories.

One of the things that happened to me is that I had a step-father who beat me several times—many times. It was a painful and horrible experience. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the man for doing it, and eventually I grew to hate him. When I became a Christ-follower, God said, “You need to forgive this man.”

And I said, “You need to send him to hell. You need to judge him. You need to condemn him.”

And God said, “No, that’s not the way. You need to forgive him.” And God brought me to a place where I could forgive this man.

And so I would go to Afghanistan and women would share their stories with me. And I would say, “Well, this is what happened to me.” And their first reaction was shock. “What? There are bad people in America? What? There are husbands who leave their wives? There are fathers who beat their children? There are men that abuse women? That happens in America, too?”

They think that the only place where horrible things happen is in their own context. And then to go further and to learn that they can forgive and it brings forth healing is just such a rich blessing that we shared. It wasn’t just “Let me minister to you.” It was “This is the road I’m on. Join me on this road, and let’s share the freedom that forgiveness brings.”

Nancy: Did you see some people respond to that message?

Kate: Oh, yes, beautifully, beautifully. There was one woman. I had a small group. We were drinking—we were eating—actually, we were eating lunch. We got onto the subject of all the horrible things that happened during the war. In that context I shared this story (not the analogy of the well but about my step-father).

And then I modeled forgiveness. I lifted my hands in prayer, and I modeled the prayer. And in the middle of it one of the women sitting with me just gasped. And I thought, Uh oh! What happened? But I didn’t want to look up. As I finished I waited. I looked around at the women and I said, “Is there someone any of you want to forgive?”

One of these Afghan women about fifty years old lifted her hands in prayer. She prayed to forgive a man who had violated her when she was a teenage woman. I was just stunned—I was just stunned to see it. And when she finished she said, “Oh. That was wonderful. I can breathe.” 

And then later that week, one of the other women sat with me and she told me her story of something that had happened to her. And at the end of that conversation, she prayed to forgive that man and found the freedom that brought. Many, many times I watched women do that.

Nancy: Kate, I know there are women listening to this conversation right now who have had horrible things done to them. They have lived in deep pain and maybe have come to hate the person that so violated them or wronged them. I wonder if you’d just take a couple of minutes here and walk us through that prayer of extending forgiveness.

You talked about lifting up your hands. I know people can’t see us here, but they can hear our voice and God is speaking by His Spirit to people’s hearts. And it’s not just Afghan women who need to forgive. There are women right now listening to us that God had them tune into this program today or download it on their iPod because He wanted to bring to them a message of forgiveness and healing so they can breathe. Just walk us through. We’re hurting women. We’re women who have been wronged—men as well. How do we go through that process of extending forgiveness?

Kate: The first thing we need to do is to come before God and to speak the words that define what has been done to us. We need to say out loud, “This person did this to me, and it hurt me in this way.”

Nancy: Yes. So this is not pretending like this didn’t happen—not just trying to bury the pain. Let’s bring it out into the light and face it.

Kate: Yes. It’s bringing it out into the light. It’s speaking it very honestly before God because that validates the experience. And then when we’ve expressed who they are, what they’ve done, and why it hurt us—that’s important also. Then we’re able to say, “Lord, God, I forgive this person for this thing that they did. And I ask You to forgive them as well," and we release it.

Nancy: So when you say, “I forgive this person.” What does that mean?

Kate: What it means is we say, “I no longer carry this with me. I no longer ask You or anyone else to punish them for it. I release it entirely. It was a wrong done to me, and I don’t want to carry it with me anymore. I will never exact revenge for it. I will never gossip about it or try to get someone else to hurt this person for it. I will never ask You, God, to punish this person for it. I release it completely from myself and I will never bring it up again. It’s gone.”

Nancy: Now, I know some listening to that are feeling, Well, then there’s no justice in that. It lets that person off the hook. What they did was terrible. Am I just letting them off the hook?

Kate: What we’re doing when we release people from that is we’re saying, “We are not the judges of that.” The fact is that we’re not. We can’t ever punish that person in a way that gives back to us what we’ve lost. But God can give back to us what we’ve lost. So when we’re releasing it, we’re emptying our hands of a weight that we’ve been carrying. And that allows God to fill our hands with something else—with His love, with His joy, with His peace.

I think something else to recognize is that sometimes when we try to forgive people who’ve hurt us, we try to forgive them for everything. And then we feel like, Well, I forgave that person because he always abused me. I don’t think that’s very effective. I think that we have to forgive for each thing that’s been done to us—for each event as we remember it. We take that particular rock that’s in our well and say, “This person did this at this time and it hurt me in this way. This is the thing that I’m forgiving this person for today." Tomorrow I may remember some other things that happened between me and that person. And I’m forgiving those things as well.

Because when we’ve been hurt in relationships—whether they’re marriages or friends or spouses or parents—those hurts have unfolded often over a period of years. To just say, “I forgive so and so because he wasn’t a very good man” and call it done, it really isn’t enough to heal our hearts—to make space for healing in our hearts.

Nancy: When you did that with your step-dad who had hurt your deeply, was the release immediate?

Kate: The release for that event was immediate, but then the next day I remembered other things. I went through a season in my life where I was doing a lot of forgiving. I was processing, remembering. I was allowing myself to look at, "Hey, those were bad. Those were hard things. Those hurt me." Over that season, the healing came. The real healing I would say came slowly, but it came very deeply. 

But I have to say, I'm getting a little older now. Those things that happened a long, long time ago. Every once in a while, something that I had forgotten . . . In fact, when I was in Afghanistan, a woman was telling me the story of her son who was beating her daughter-in-law, his wife, and his children. She took one of the boys, about a ten-year-old boy, and pulled his shirt up and showed me the marks of being whipped by the cable across his back. She told me, "My daughter-in-law's back looks likek this too.'

I was quite shaken from the experience. Then she said something. She said, "Whenever I hear my son's boots on the gravel outside our house, I become frightened." I immediately remembered the sound of my step-father's car tires, when he drove in from work, on the gravel. It brought back a flood of unpleasant memories. I had to go home that day and walk through those and practice forgiveness. I had to give them to God to be able to experience His peace.

Nancy: We’re way afield in a way from this discussion on Afghan women in your book In the Land of Blue Burquas. But I can’t help but believe that God took us this direction in this conversation for the sake of some woman who’s listening who just has got a lot of rocks in her well. They’re piled up, and there’s no free-flowing water.

She can’t get the water of God’s grace because she’s still holding onto the bitterness, the anger toward God, toward those people who have wronged her. I just don’t think there’s any chance that God had that woman or those women listening today to this conversation. What an opportunity today to start that process of letting it go—extending forgiveness—as God has forgiven us. Really receiving God’s forgiveness for our sins is an important part of that process, isn’t it?

Kate: Absolutely. Absolutely. As I talk to Afghans, they want God to forgive them. Most Afghan women don’t believe they’re going to be able to work hard enough to get to heaven. So they’re really hoping that God will be merciful toward them. So I would tell them the story of the servant who was forgiven a debt.

Nancy: Matthew chapter eighteen.

Kate: He then went and grabbed the man who owed him money and threw him in jail. They listen to that story and say, “Well, that is such a wicked man.”

And I say, “This is what we do when we choose not to forgive those who’ve sinned against us.”

And they know it’s hard. They know it’s very hard. We also talk about confession and forgiveness. It’s difficult for Afghans to grasp the idea that if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness. (see 1 John 1:9) The approach there is to hide the sin so nobody sees it. And we talk about that. I say, “You can’t hide your sin from God.”

And they say, “Yes, you’re right. We can’t hide our sin but we’re certainly not going to talk about it because we don’t want Him to look at it. We want Him to pretend it’s not there.”

I use Jesus analogies. I always use the cup because we’re always drinking tea. So I pick up the cup and I say, “Did you just clean the outside of this cup before you made tea for me?”

And they say, “No, of course not. We cleaned the inside of the cup. Who do you think we are?”

And I say, “When we pretend that we have no sin—that we haven’t done anything wrong, we wash the outside of the cup. But we can’t clean the inside of the cup. Only God can clean the inside of our hearts.”

I use that as an analogy to help the people in Afghanistan understand that in order to get our hearts clean, we have to come to God and confess our own sins. I’ve watched them do that as well. At first we talk about sin, and they say, “What? We’re women. We’re powerless. What sin have we had?”

And I say, “Well, hold on a second. We fight with one another. We bicker. We gossip. We provoke. We lie. We do all these things.”

“Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Oh, yes.”

And to be able to take those sins to God and experience real cleansing within our hearts is the gift of Christ Jesus into our lives that allows us to experience God’s love and God’s freedom.

Nancy: Wow. And in this whole conversation, Kate, you’re really getting just to the heart of the gospel—that there is no God like our God who pardons sins, because the price for that sin has been paid by His Son, Jesus Christ. Because of His willingness to take on Himself the wrath of God that we deserve for our sin, we can be forgiven. And because we can be forgiven, we can be channels of giving that grace and that forgiveness to others. 

I wonder if you’d just join me right now in praying for our listeners as many I think are grappling with some of these issues in their own hearts.

Lord, I thank You that You’ve brought Kate here to share out of her experience with ministering these truths to Afghan women. But they’re truths we need, too. We need to be forgiven. We need to confess our sins—to bring them into the light, not to cover them or hide them or to pretend like they don't exist, but to be honest about them. Thank You for Your promise that through Christ You have forgiven every trespass, every sin that we have ever committed or could commit. Thank You that You want to flow Your forgiveness through us—Your grace and mercy toward those who’ve sinned against us.

I pray that right now there’d be women who would just symbolically lift their hands heavenward as they release—as they choose to extend forgiveness toward those who’ve sinned against them. May the clear, sweet waters of Your mercy and Your grace flow in fresh life-giving ways in the lives of those who right now are removing those rocks out of the well so that Your grace can flow through them and to them to others.

Thank You, Lord. Thank You that You’re opening prison doors and You’re setting captives free even as we pray together and extend forgiveness. I pray in Jesus name, with great thanksgiving, amen.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been praying for anyone who needs to experience the freedom that comes from offering forgiveness. Maybe as you heard Nancy pray, your heart has been overwhelmed by your need to offer full forgiveness for those who have wronged you.

Nancy has written a very helpful book called, Choosing Forgiveness: Your Journey to Freedom. This practical book will walk you through a complete process of setting your captives free. You can be truly free. For all the details on getting the book Choosing Forgiveness visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

The topic of forgiveness came up today because of our conversation with Kate McCord. She’s seen the power of forgiveness while working with women in Afghanistan. She tells the story in her book, In the Land of Blue Burqas. We’d like to send you a copy. Here’s how it works. Revive Our Hearts can only stay on the air because of listeners like you who support the ministry with your prayer and financial gifts. So this week when you contribute any amount, we’ll say “thanks” by sending In the Land of the Blue Burqas. Ask for it when you call 1–800–569–5959. Or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Well, Kate McCord says that when she’s speaking to Afghan women and says the phrase, “God loves you,” it awakens a deep longing in their hearts. Find out why tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

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

 

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