By Carly Wasserlein
Editor’s note: Education Week coverage can be found in this section of the website.
As the world watches the rapidly-unfolding situation in Afghanistan, a BYU professor and veteran recounted experiences members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had in the war-torn country over the years.
Kenneth L. Alford served as a colonel until 2008 and now serves as a Church history and doctrine professor at BYU. Alford shared stories from BYU’s “Saints at War Project” records, as well as several unpublished accounts.
The Church’s history in Afghanistan is wrought with miracles, Alford shared, with one example being when a Church official achieved high level access to Afghanistan during the war.
General Authority Seventy William K. Jackson was a doctor for the State Department when he was assigned to go to Afghanistan and provide medical advice there. His new assignment gave him full rights to fly in and out of the country during the war.
“Isn’t it interesting how the Lord just puts people at just the right time to do the right thing?” Alford asked.
Alford also highlighted the story of the only Afghan member of the Church to have ever exercised the priesthood within Afghanistan’s borders. The man, known only as Brother Abraham to preserve his safety, first met missionaries when he moved to London after escaping Afghanistan. Brother Abraham told his wife about his experience with the missionaries, saying he believed they were telling the truth. His wife told her brothers, who promptly beat Brother Abraham.
“They almost sent me back to God that day,” Brother Abraham said.
He then felt prompted to return to Afghanistan, despite the extreme danger that being a converted Christian represented. In Afghanistan, he was quickly hired by the U.S. military as a translator. After walking through a refugee camp, he knew that God told him to return to Afghanistan to give supplies to the refugees there.
“None of the Americans could have done it,” Alford said. Brother Abraham was in a unique position to speak the local language as well as English and help the Church give blankets and school supplies to the camps, saving an estimated 500 to 1,000 lives.
The stories shared by Alford proved touching to those in attendance, with many attendees being related to veterans or serving in the armed forces themselves. “It was heart-wrenching and heartfelt,” Robin Davis said. Davis is the mother of a veteran and felt a personal connection to the presentation.