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Despite opposition, Afghan Christians worship in secret

Christians meet underground in a country where official churches do not exist.

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More recently, in October, Gayle Williams, a young woman working for Serve Afghanistan, a Britain-based Christian charity, was killed as she walked to work through a busy intersection in Kabul. The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying she was killed because she was proselytizing – a claim Serve Afghanistan has refuted, insisting the aid worker was running a project for disabled children.

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Fear of being accused of proselytizing worries Capt. Scott Jensen, who leads the KAIA services, but he refuses to close the doors of his little wooden church to anyone.

"There are people turning to me saying the Islamic faith is not filling the hole within them. They want to explore Christianity," he says. "We don't do missionizing work, but we are defined by our love and we reach out in love."

Ahmed, who works on the base as a day laborer, was first introduced to Christianity a year ago, when a teacher at his English school in Kabul gave him an English-Dari Bible, he says.

He would stay up at night reading, and hide the book under his mattress when he went out. It was there that his mother found it, informing his father – who beat him before throwing him into the street.

Captain Jensen, an ordained Lutheran pastor from San Antonio who has logged 23 years in the military, is not in Afghanistan as an official chaplain, but rather as a communications director, in charge of keeping the KAIA network working, and training Afghan counterparts. He was to conduct his last service Thursday.

But, with no one else to hold regular non-Catholic services for the 2,200 troops on base, he volunteered to help. Jensen spends some 15 hours a week, he says, preparing services, writing a bulletin, and counseling those in need.

One day, he recounts, he got a phone call from someone who said he had some questions. "A man called and told me he had been reading the Bible in secret. He said, 'I want to talk to you about it.' "

That man was Ahmed, and it was the beginning of the journey that brought him here.

In time, a handful of other Afghans began contact with Jensen as well, all reaching out to him through trusted personal connections. All are welcome at services and care is taken to secretly ease their way onto the base, protect their identities, and make them feel at home.

"I don't get into the politics of it," says Sr. Master Sgt. Cedric Pinnock, an aircraft mechanic and regular at services. "I'm just glad we could provide them with community."

Back at the prayer circle, the hymn has ended and Jensen starts his benediction.

"Let us pray for those killed in the bombing today and give their families strength," he says, in reference to a suicide attack that left six dead downtown earlier that afternoon. "And let's pray for those who perpetuated this crime."

"Let us pray for the Christians in the underground church and for a day to come in which there is freedom of religion in Afghanistan – and each and every person can practice what they believe," he ends.

Bowed heads are lifted, and the congregants shake one anothers' hands. "May peace be with you," they say. "May peace be with you," Ahmed responds.