Serving Christ in Afghanistan

The Standard September 2, 2021

Born to missionary parents in Tabriz, Iran, J. Christy Wilson often heard his mother and father praying for a place called Afghanistan. As a young child, Wilson was asked by their Iranian pastor what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said he wanted to be a missionary in Afghanistan. The pastor told Wilson that missionaries were not allowed in that country. The boy replied, “That’s why I want to be a missionary there.”

Wilson never doubted this calling from God. After earning degrees from Princeton University, Princeton Theological Seminary and a PhD in Islamic Studies from Edinburgh, Scotland, Wilson and his wife Betty left for Afghanistan in 1951. He was invited by the Afghan minister of education to teach English in Kabul. Since missionaries were strictly forbidden, Wilson became what is called a “tentmaker.” This is a Christian who earns no money or very little from a mission agency or a church, but works in a secular job with the goal of modeling Jesus and building up the church.

The Apostle Paul wrote that Christian workers were right in expecting pay for ministry, but he himself hardly ever accepted money from the church. He made tents for a living while preaching and writing about the gospel.

“After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 18:1-4)

“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are my witness, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.” (1 Thessalonians 2: 8-10)

As a “tentmaker” like Paul, Christy Wilson taught English for 22 years in public schools in Afghanistan and even tutored the Crown Prince. He served as the chaplain for fellow expatriates who gathered for worship. After 18 years the government allowed them to build the Community Christian Church of Kabul on neutral soil, but no Afghans were allowed to attend. Ken Wilson, author of Where No One Has Heard, a biography of J. Christy Wilson Jr., wrote that three years after the sanctuary was dedicated, soldiers came and started to tear down part of the church’s wall. A member of the congregation approached the mayor of Kabul, warning that God would overthrow their government if they touched the house of God. “Before long, Christy Wilson was declared a persona non grata by the Afghan government. Students were becoming followers of Christ, and certain Afghan officials were determined to rid themselves of the corrupting influence who was behind all of this.” Betty and Christy Wilson had to leave Afghanistan in 1973. Ken Wilson continued, “Just four months later, on Tuesday, July 17, 1973, the Afghan soldiers completed their destruction of the church building. That very night, King Mohammed Zahir Shah, who had ruled for forty years, was overthrown in a coup, and the 227-year-old monarchy in Afghanistan came to an end forever. When Christy heard the news, he fell to the floor and wept.”

Wilson went on to serve for 17 years as professor of world evangelization and mentor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, where he inspired countless students to serve in the Middle East and other parts of the world. Before social media, we GCTS students had a “Facebook” each year, which had our individual photos and a little personal information. Doctor Wilson knew each of our names before we ever met him, because he had been praying for us regularly with the help of the student directory. The striking kindness, self-sacrifice and God-focus of Christy Wilson will have eternal consequences in the Middle East and beyond. Let us pray regularly for our sisters and brothers in Christ in Afghanistan who are facing persecution and the possibility of death today.

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