By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
LAKE FOREST, CA (ANS) -- â€œAdvent in Afghanistanâ€ may have been the largest public outreach by Christians to students in the history of Afghanistan. It began when Norm and Cher Nelson, from the radio ministry, Compassion Radio, accepted an invitation to take the experience of Christmas to 30,000 school children in 49 schools in an historic region of Afghanistan during late November and early December 2002. (Pictured: Students at a boys' school in Afghanistan).
A Press Release from Compassion Radio says that during the actual "Advent in Afghanistan" project, Norm and Cher and their team (which included a musician, a videographer, and a medical professional) visited four schools a day over a five-day period, in weather that included both blistering heat, and â€“15Â° with 2 feet of snow, all in the same week. At each school the reason for the celebration of Christmas in America was explained, songs and carols were joyously sung, and gifts and educational supplies were distributed to the enthusiastic students and school faculties."
In addition to these public events, Compassion Radio and a partnering Central Asian non-governmental organization, contributed funds and educational resources that will help facilitate the renovation of this cityâ€™s schools, all of which were looted, and most of which were severely damaged or destroyed during the Taliban regime. Many of the visited schools are existing only in tents donated by UNICEF.
According to Norm Nelson, President of Compassion Radio, â€œBy the time our commitment to this project is fulfilled, thousands of new school desks, textbooks and computers will be in use in these schools. Nothing is more important to the positive growth, development and change of Afghanistan and its people than the strengthening of its education system.â€
Compassion Radioâ€™s involvement in the renewal of Afghanistanâ€™s schools began when the Nelsonâ€™s taught English during the summer of 2002, at a major Afghan University.
Cher Nelson notes, â€œWe were thrilled to see how very bright, friendly, and unbelievably motivated the students were, and to see the young women back in school! But their classrooms were a disaster; they had no textbooks to read; and the most basic educational resources, such as blackboards and chalk, were missing. We were gripped by both the need and the opportunity."
The â€œAdvent in Afghanistanâ€ project was not the result of a Compassion Radio initiative. Rather, Norm Nelson points out, â€œWe responded to a request for help. Our partner organization in-country has earned the trust of the local â€˜warlordâ€™ and his people through years of effective service. When city leaders shared their desire for school renovation with the NGO, they, in turn, asked us to help. We couldnâ€™t be indifferent. Doing nothing was not an option.â€
Compassion Radio, which is a faith-based non-profit ministry that broadcasts daily across the United States, challenged its listeners to contribute funds and materials to support this humanitarian mission.
By mid-November, 13 tons of gifts and school supplies had been received at the ministryâ€™s headquarters in Lake Forest, CA. Beyond that, more than $500,000 worth of medical equipment and supplies were secured through its team-member, a Nurse-Anesthetist, and Professor of Nursing at the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing. This enabled Compassion Radio to provide medical training to personnel at the cityâ€™s struggling Hospital, as well as to upgrade facilities and procedures at the cityâ€™s only Medical Center.
â€œWe plan to sustain this relationship with the Hospital on a continuing basis,â€ says Cher Nelson.
â€œConditions at the hospital are primitive and need upgrading in every way. As long as we can successfully solicit resources to help, weâ€™ll give all the aid we can.â€
Ms Nelson says that Compassion Radioâ€™s resolve to assist medically was forcefully re-affirmed when, within hours of her arrival at the hospital, their medical team-member saved a motherâ€™s life following a difficult childbirth.
She says, â€œAs rewarding as it was to save the mother, the babyâ€™s life could also have been saved with even the most primitive respirator and incubator, which were not available. Itâ€™s hard to walk away after youâ€™ve seen how little it takes to make a huge difference in peopleâ€™s lives. All 5 of us left feeling, for varying reasons, that our job there was simply not done.â€
Perhaps their burden is greater because the team had just a small taste of what life is like there, as they lived without electricity, heat, and water for days after the snowstorm hit, which plunged the temperature into the minus degree range.
However, they are quick to point out that, although their vans would not start, the doors were frozen shut, and the tires were flat each morning because of the weather, they had no complaint as they saw many people walking in the snow in rubber sandals or barefoot, then trying to warm their feet over open fires.
Compassion Radioâ€™s outreach to difficult places like Afghanistan is not an unusual part of its work. The ministry specializes in humanitarian service to some of the worldâ€™s neediest people in the worldâ€™s toughest places.
As Norm Nelson puts it: â€œTalk can be cheap. For us, the words we employ in broadcasting mean nothing unless we translate them into action. As followers of Jesus Christ we are obliged to serve others as He did.â€
Last year, the Nelsonâ€™s personally went into action on behalf of the needy during trips to Iraq, Sudan, the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza, and made three trips to Afghanistan. They have ministered in North Korea, Kosovo, South Africa, Ethiopia, Egypt, Vietnam and China among many other trouble spots.
The Nelsonâ€™s know that God is sending them back to Afghanistan... and soon.
Cher notes, â€œItâ€™s imperative that we raise the funds needed for the thousands of school desks and hundreds of computers sitting in storage waiting to be shipped. Weâ€™ll be there to meet their arrival and document their distribution, which gives us another chance to build on relationships already begun, and to continue to be the hands and feet of Jesus.â€
Norm remembers that, in December, as they went from school to school, meeting thousands of singing, applauding, cheering, eager students at each one, they were accompanied by the powerful warlordâ€™s personal bodyguard. (Pictured: Norm and Cher Nelson lead singing).
â€œWe appreciated the generalâ€™s enthusiasm for our project, and his commitment to our security. And we watched his impressive bodyguard go from assigned protector to friend over the course of just a few days.â€ he said.
The team is eager to follow up on this as well as other new close relationships they were able to forge.
Do the Nelsons ever worry about being in dangerous places?
Norm Nelson said: â€œThe only truly dangerous place is the place of apathy and inaction. When God sends us, He guides our steps.â€
Cher added: â€œI would rather have my days end while Iâ€™m in the world reaching out with Godâ€™s love, than to have them end while sitting comfortably on the couch in our family room!â€
Wherever they go, the Nelsonâ€™s are not worried about their safety. They understand their mission, and they know that their security comes from a higher source.