Christy Wilson and the Chaos in Kabul

“When Satan fell to earth, he fell in Kabul”—Oft-quoted Afghan proverb

No matter what your politics may be, the images coming out of Afghanistan this week have been horrendous.  For the desperation demonstrated by the Afghans who flooded the airport runways in Kabul is all too palpable.  And now some are reporting that Christians in that nation are fearing for their very lives at the hands of Taliban extremists.

All of which has made me think of the godliest man I have ever known, Christy Wilson.  For born and raised in Tabriz, Iran, where his parents were American missionaries, from the age of five Christy’s calling from God was to take the gospel to a place where it had never gone before, the closed nation of Afghanistan, known to some as “the forbidden harvest.”  But as missionaries were not allowed to enter, he found a back door in, that of becoming a teacher in a country where 97 percent of the population at the time couldn’t read or write.  

Even with that enormous need, it still took four years from first applying to the Afghan Embassy in Washington before he finally received permission to go in 1951.  And when he arrived, he felt the power of evil everywhere all around him.  Nonetheless, Christy quickly made an impression on others—he would say God showed him favor—and soon he was the acting principal of a government high school, as well as teaching private English lessons to the Crown Prince, and conducting an English course for Afghan diplomats in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

Ordained during World War II to be a Presbyterian chaplain in the U.S. Navy, Christy and his wife Betty, who had started a school for the blind in Kabul, then started a small and secret house church in their home for other Christians who had come to teach or work with the U.N. agencies.  And then in 1959, he heard that President Dwight D. Eisenhower (named for the evangelist Dwight Moody by his mother) was coming to Afghanistan on his Asian tour.  And using a connection back in the States, Christy made a rather bold request: “Since a mosque has been built for the Muslim diplomats in Washington, on a reciprocal basis, we should have a church build here in Kabul for Christian diplomats.” And the President responded by presenting to the Afghan king that very request which was granted.

It took another ten years to raise the funds, provided by people from all over the world, and to construct the building but in 1970 the first and only evangelical Christian church on Afghan soil opened, with Christy Wilson as its pastor.  Three years later, however, after a relatively peaceful forty-year reign of King Zahir Shah, everything rapidly changed. Christy and Betty were given three days’ notice to get out of the country, carrying only one small bag apiece after living there for 22 years.  And then on July 14, 1973, soldiers, police, workmen and bulldozers showed up to destroy the church building itself, even digging down 12 feet belong the foundation looking for the “underground church” they had been told existed.  Instead of opposing them, however, the congregation offered them tea and cookies.  

Ironically, the mayor had been told that if the government touched that House of God that God would overthrow that government.  And three days later, that prophecy came true, when the king’s cousin declared the end of the 227-year monarchy in a stunning coup d’état.  Five years later, that government was toppled by a Communist coup, followed by the Russian invasion in 1979.  And in the eyes of some Afghans, who are quick to see omens in events, the connection was clear: “Ever since our government destroyed that Christian Church, God has been judging our country.”  

As for Christy and Betty, they ended up in Massachusetts at the same time that I did, in the fall of 1974, where–armed with a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Princeton, a doctoral degree from Edinburgh, and extra study at Columbia–he began teaching world evangelization at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  And there too, his quiet but fervent faith, as well as quick wit and sense of humor, made a difference.  He made it his practice, for instance, each week to pray through the “facebook” that had photos of all the students, interceding for each person individually.  (When students met him on campus for the first time, they would be surprised to hear a professor they had never met call them by name.)  Indeed, Christy would pray with you anytime and anyplace and you never got out of his office without praying at least three times. He also established a prayer room on the campus and every day at noon, he and a band of students would unite in prayer for the peoples and nations of the world.  

It became my privilege to be a part of those prayer sessions, as well as to be appointed a teaching fellow for Dr. Wilson, and the times we spent together are a treasured part of my memories.  After graduation, I invited him once to a church I was serving in East Texas and after worship and lunch, my elementary aged son asked him if he would like to go out and fly a kite.  I explained that Dr. Wilson was probably tired, and besides, it was January and not really the weather for that activity.  But Christy, still wearing his suit, quickly got up, took Andy by the hand, and said, “let’s try.”  And sure enough, the winds shifted, and that kite went as high as my son’s excitement and my admiration for the man with him.

Christy was invited to return to Kabul in 1991 for 23 days to work and pray with Christians there.  And eight years later, he entered God’s eternal Kingdom after 78 years of providing to others a remarkable picture of what it means to serve God with both joy and power.  If he were still on earth today, however, I am pretty clear what he would say about the current chaos in the country which he loved all of his life.  “Let’s pray about it right now and see what God will do.” 

As I watch those tragic images on television, thus, all I can do right now is pray as well, knowing that no one—not even the Taliban—is completely beyond God’s reach and power to change.  But I also cannot think of that forbidden harvest and Kabul without remembering Christy. 

And I have a feeling that God can’t either. 

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20 Responses to Christy Wilson and the Chaos in Kabul

  1. Becky monto says:

    Silent and heartbroken watching the news. May God help us all.

  2. Don Henderson says:

    A great testimony of A Christian Teacher that loved to work and share The Lord with people in a country of many challenges. Thanks for sharing DR. Wilson’s story. And it really emphasizes the power of God’s way of life regardless of the situation.

  3. Cheri Wilson says:

    Thank you for sharing your reminiscences of a true disciple following The Great Commission so boldly.
    May God protect all Christians in Afghanistan & protect all those living there.

  4. Carl Hamilton says:

    Thank you for this tribute to Christy Wilson. I never met him but have heard about him many times. I think the church would be a different place and make a greater difference in the world if we took prayer more seriously. We can pray for God’s people to become people of prayer. We are still in Tomball and trying to do our part in God’s Kingdom. Carl Hamilton

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  5. Gerald Vaughan says:

    Pastor, thank you for the great insight on spiritual leadership. However the stupidity of our current government leadership leave me cold – this exit is the biggest failure by a commander in chief and president in my lifetime. I will not support anyone volunteering to join our military with federal leadership like we have. Frankly, as an American, I am ashamed of our government leaders. When did any American Commander in Chief ever walk away from our soldiers? When has an American President ever disengaged so pitifully where he jeopardized all Western leaders and their commitments to other nations?

  6. Dorothy Pledger says:

    Chappell,
    You have such a gift. No one can touch my hardened heart and put things into perspective like you do!
    Thank you,
    Dorothy Pledger

  7. Paula Kopczynski, Bud Kopczynski says:

    Thank you for passing on such a powerful message and story! May God protect and bless the Afganistans and us!

  8. Marilynn Scanlin says:

    Dear Rev. Chap.
    Thank you for sharing the beautiful story of Christy Wilson. My prayers are with those people in Afghanistan. May God bless them and us too.

  9. Constance Ritter says:

    I absolutely loved reading this, thank you for sharing this story and your personal memories, I am keeping the country of Afghanistan in my prayers.

  10. Rachel Greene says:

    Bravery for and effectiveness at sowing Grace are in awfully short supply today. This is an inspiring life story, historical proof that one man’s efforts can blossom helps my perspective. How to honor it has me embarrassingly stumped. Political players, corporate shenanigans, social agency, whatever powers that be aren’t using their powers generously or even thoughtfully. How to show up and pay attention, how to shine a bright light in the right direction are my sometimes gifts, but the murky subject matter, geographical and social distances, and background noise of, well, sin has me muddled. Thank Goodness we know prayer can change any circumstance, and prayer is always a fine place to start. Here goes. . .

  11. Larry Harman says:

    Thank you, Chap, for sharing this timely witness of Christy with all of us….

  12. Diane Feimster Rhodes says:

    Thank you, Chap.

  13. Kathryn Behrend says:

    What a wonderful memory. Prayers for our military, and the people of Afghanistan. 🙏🏻

  14. B.Joe says:

    20 years without Taliban ruling the country has not been perfect for the country with the Afghan Government and their military still struggling to keep the Taliban in check.

    However, there has been a tremendous development in human rights, access to education and technology and improvement of lifestyle. When I was there in 2007, one of the things that was much appreciated was for women to get higher education and better jobs with many mainstream industries such as banks. Life was still hard but many Afghans were happy nonetheless to get on with life without the Taliban and their strict enforcement of false morality.

    Now the whole thing has all gone down the drain.

  15. Doreen says:

    Thank you Chap. You manage to find those who are the greatest, brave examples of God’s grace in the events of our overwhelmingly broken world- overcoming all the works of evil we see day after day. Thank you for giving us a light to see in this darkness. You have given us examples of what our prayers and actions should be. Do you mind if I copy this article to my facebook page?

  16. Jed Hester says:

    Beautiful! And I came across this through the United Methodist news service of all things. How refreshing to get some news like this through that source!

  17. I was a student at Gordon Conwell in the 80s, and Dr. Christy Wilson was the real deal! Academic, understated, and spiritual, a person God worked through in significant ways.

  18. Nancy Schulz says:

    Wow! Sounds like a great man! Thanks, Chap, and yes, Afghanistan surely needs all of our prayers!

  19. Patricia Strout says:

    Thank you so much, Chap, for lifting up the lamp and setting it upon the lamp stand before us. The glow of Christy’s life impacting Afghanistan chases some of the shadows off into the corners. It is easier to see now and my heart, though burdened for those in Afghanistan, is not crushed with hopelessness for them. Instead, there is a light shining now and hope stirring, and a tide rising across the earth. Your picture let the Son into the room. May His grace grow more and more apparent where the seed of the Gospel has been planted. There are rumors of more lamps than we imagine. So grateful that you shared.

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