'In the Land of Blue Burqas'

This American author uses the pen name Kate McCord to protect her Afghan friends from persecution. Her book, “In the Land of Blue Burqas,” tells her story of living and working in Afghanistan.

McCord, who is single, became a believer at age 25 by reading Scripture. She left corporate work to serve with a humanitarian organization in Afghanistan for five years until Taliban threats forced her withdrawal, breaking her heart.

Afghans have suffered unimaginable horrors from decades of war and terrorism. McCord knew one woman who lost 53 relatives in one day of fighting in Kabul.

McCord learned to share God’s love through her service with Afghans and through praying for them in a culturally acceptable way. Most Afghan prayers are by rote in Arabic—unintelligible to them.

She prayed for their personal needs in their heart language with eyes open and hands lifted up and then ended by passing her hands over her face, saying, “In the name of the Honorable Jesus Messiah, my Savior.” Muslims normally respect Jesus as a prophet, but deny His incarnation as the Son of God.

McCord shares many adventures and cultural observations. Challenges included uncomfortable clothing, language barriers, not being allowed to drive, harassment while shopping, few food choices, no home thermostats or showers and cultural resistance against better ideas and practices.

Parents arrange and force marriages for almost all young women (ages 11-19) to unfamiliar men in unknown family situations, often dominated by senior wives who force them to work hard around the house.

Men often say their happiest day was getting their first wives, but for wives, their weddings were often their saddest day, soaked with tears from grief, fear and future concerns. Husbands often beat their wives. The wives’ greatest tragedy is not their painful marriages, but that they believe what they constantly hear: Their hard fate is the will of Allah.

Educating girls is dangerous. McCord writes of a father who was severely beaten to warn against schooling his daughters; disobedience would cost him his life. Another family was taken into a field and their girls were raped for attending school; then their own father and brothers were forced to kill the victims for the family shame of being raped.

Breaking social and religious rules such as men skipping Friday mosque prayers or women not hiding their faces in public could be punished with public shaming, beating, rape or stoning.

Leaving Islam meant betraying the family, community, tribe and whole society.

Sometimes men threatened to murder McCord if she did not convert. A neighbor man confided to her that some outside imams visited their local mosque to convince neighborhood men to surrender McCord or fire rockets at her home. Arguing ensued for hours.

While they remained hospitable, appreciative of her humanitarian aid, and did not give her up, she had to be extremely careful. Her organization was under great scrutiny and wide-ranging investigation.

She and her national and foreign staff nearly got mosque trials in absentia with no opportunity to defend themselves. They’d be condemned if seen as a source of temptation or a threat to Islam.

In car trips she encountered many roadblocks and wondered were the armed men police, legal militias or criminals? Any could rob, kidnap or murder her.

McCord asked a young Afghan lady in college, whom she thought might be somewhat open to new ideas, “Should Afghans fight jihad when their culture is influenced by a foreign culture?”

She replied, “Yes, of course. Any invasion by an infidel culture must be fought against. Any non-Islamic influence is an invasion.”

Such “evil” influences included McCord, the Internet, international trade, broadcasting, publications and medical care. In one instance, Jihadis murdered a foreign medical team helping remote rural Afghans.

Despite every obstacle, eventually heaven will be populated with an uncountable multitude “from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).

Richard Penn is a member of Southeast Christian Church.