| · Focus: Balkh and Mazari Sharif cities
Balkh province in northern Afghanistan lies on the borders of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tadjikistan. The 1.6 million population of the province are dominated by Uzbeks and Tadjiks although there are significant Hazara and Pashtun minorities. Mazari, which means “noble shrine,” is the provincial capital with some 240,000 inhabitants.
In the centre of the city one can visit the famous Blue Mosque (Rawze-e-Sharif). It was built in the 14th century based on a dream that Ali bin Talib, the son-in-law and cousin of the Prophet Mohammed, is actually buried here. However, the vast majority of Muslims believe that he is buried in Najaf in Iraq. The city has become an important pilgrimage site for the Shiite Afghans but also for many Sunni pilgrims, especially during Nauroz (a 40 day New Year celebration which starts according the Persian calendar on the 21 March).
Between May and July 1997 the Taliban unsuccessfully attempted to take Mazari, leading to approximately 2,500 Taliban soldiers being massacred. In retaliation to this incident, in August 1998, the Taliban returned prompting a six-day killing frenzy of Hazaras and other local people. Soon after, the city was occupied by the Taliban. Even now eye-witnesses are moved with emotion telling how the dead and dying lay for weeks in the streets and the stench of the death hung over the city. Today Mazari Sharif, as the forth-largest city in Afghanistan, is seeing the arrival of new streets, supermarkets and internet cafes. However there are only small numbers of Christians.
Balkh or Bactria Town
Only 20 minutes away by car to the west of Mazari, lies the famous town of Balkh previously known as Bactria. This city was part of the Persian empire and was conquered by Alexander the Great. Later the city became a centre for Buddhism and finally, when the Arabs took control in the 8th century, it acquired the title, “Mother of Cities” because of its wealth and fame as a centre of learning. In 1221 it was destroyed by Genghis Khan and lay in ruins until the beginning of the 16th century when it was rebuilt. From its former glory Balkh retains only its citadel and a few other ruins. The new city, called Wazirabad, has a population of 70,000 people consisting mostly of ethnic Uzbeks. In Balkh today there is no known Christian witness.
* Pray that the pilgrims to the Blue Mosque who are seeking for freedom, healing and wisdom would meet Jesus personally.
* Pray for the people of Mazari Sharif, especially the Hazara, who continue to live with the consequences of trauma of the late 1990′s. May they can find life in Christ who alone can bring inner peace and the ability to forgive.
* Pray for the few believers in the area to build healthy and life giving relationships to open doors for influence and witness. Pray especially that the city of Balkh (today Wazirabad) could have a Christian witness.