This account comes from Timothy Tennent’s excellent course, Introduction to Islam, which is available for free on biblicaltraining.org. It’s been maybe ten years since I first heard this story, where Tennent recounts events from the ministry of Christy Wilson in Afghanistan. When I heard it, I was struck by the kindness and severity of God. Kindness in how the (modern) foundation of the Church in Afghanistan was built with a group of believers who were physically blind. How very much like our God to do this. Severity also, in how the government of Afghanistan was overthrown the day after they bulldozed the church building – and the country has been in turmoil ever since. What’s more, this overthrow was predicted by one of the local believers who warned the Crown Prince of the impending judgment if he proceeded, just like some kind of Old Testament prophet come to life. Also watch for the rich irony present connected to the term, underground church.
The following is a transcript of the end of the final lecture in the course:
“Christy Wilson, among many things, was really committed to working with Muslims. He was born in Iran and he grew up in Iran. As a young boy he heard about next-door Afghanistan. Of course, no missionaries are allowed in Afghanistan. When he was asked as a little boy what he wanted to do when he grew up, he said, “I want to be a missionary” just like his dad was. They said, “Where do you want to go?” He said, “Afghanistan.” They said, “You can’t go there, they don’t allow missionaries there.” He said, “That is why I want to go there.” Typical Christy Wilson reasoning. He did go there. He went there as a tentmaker and he has become of course and was, a great leader in the area of tent making and as an English teacher. He ended up teaching English to the Crown Prince of Afghanistan. He had a tremendous ministry there for over twenty years.
In May of 1970, which is now over 30 years ago, they officially opened up the first and only church in the whole country of Afghanistan. This was a huge accomplishment because it had never been done before and Christy Wilson by sheer persistence, which he had a lot of, and prayer – he was committed to prayer – he talked the government into allowing him to build a church for the international community there. They built an international church, in fact a couple. In fact, Dudley Woodberry who wrote this other book I mentioned, pastored that church whenever Christy was gone on sabbatical or whatever. But Christy Wilson was the main pastor of the church and they built this beautiful church. People from all over the world gave money for the building of this church, a beautiful structure. They had open Christian worship happening in Afghanistan. If you know the history of Afghanistan, this is unbelievable.
The reason it happened is because Dr. Wilson worked very, very hard to do things to show them that Christians would be good for the country. He and his wife Betty started the first blind work for the whole country. Betty Wilson learned Braille and when the Crown Prince saw this young boy come before the King and was given a copy of the Qur’an, interestingly, and he was called upon to read the Qur’an, a blind person reading the Qur’an in Braille. The man could not believe it. He kept trying to fool him by instructing him, “Read here, read there.” He thought the guy had memorized it. He would switch around, and he would read it. When he realized this was a blind person who could actually read, he made an announcement to the whole country, “If you are blind, go to Dr. Wilson, he will teach you how to read.” They had hundreds of these blind children show up at their doorstep. Betty Wilson, who of course was with us for our dedication of our Christy Wilson Center, took these blind children and she spent years teaching them how to read. To this day, the leaders of the church in Afghanistan are blind people from her work there. It is amazing. These were those children years ago.
In 1970, they opened this church because they had a relationship with the government. Because of pressures from the Muslim fundamentalists, etc., they finally were pressured to close this church down and destroy it. This was a real tragedy because this was a huge answer to prayer and they were very concerned about it. Christy Wilson was given forty-eight hours to leave the country. It was a horrible thing, which is why he came here, by the way from Afghanistan. He spent a year in Iran doing some study, but then he came here as a professor.
When they destroyed the church, the regime at that time was in its twenty-second year, a long regime in Afghanistan. Before they did the wrecking ball on the church, one of the people in the church said that he was convinced that if you destroy this church, there will be a judgment of God. He went to the Crown Prince and he said to him, “If this church is destroyed, God, the Christian God, will overthrow your government.” Just like that. I would be scared to say that. He had a word from God, he said this is true.
They went ahead with it, they destroyed the church, they completely leveled it. In fact, as Christy Wilson tells the story, they brought in backhoes to dig down beneath the foundation. They thought, “You have already destroyed it, why are you digging this big hole?” It was because they had heard there is an underground church. They were looking for the underground church. There was not only a demolished building, but there was also this gaping hole there. They did not find the underground church. Christy Wilson said, “They couldn’t dig that one out.” The real underground church, Hallelujah! The night they completed the destruction of that church, a coup overthrew the whole government, the government was out of power, as it is to this day.
I don’t know how you feel, but I am convinced that that government was indeed out of power because they destroyed that church building. That says to me something about the incredible commitment God has to seeing the Gospel planted among Muslims. Here is a king who says, “I’m going to destroy this church.” The Lord says, “No, you won’t. This day your soul is required of you.” Boom! He’s gone. Of course, the Muslims have invaded, the Taliban government has come to power, and all of these horrible things have happened. Afghanistan has never settled down since the day they destroyed that church. The government has never been stabilized. I think it says something about the priority of access to the Gospel. If you commit yourself in prayer and in many of your cases actually go and work among Muslims, God will bless you because I believe God is deeply committed. We know this through the Gospel, but also through history, he has commanded us to see people who have no access to the Gospel given access to the Gospel…”