Still paying the price?

AFGHANISTAN: Since the king in '73 bowed to Islamic radicals, that country has never been the same

By Paul F. Scotchmer senior editor at the Sentinel Group


The late J. Christy Wilson, pioneer missionary, built a sizeable underground Christian church in Afghanistan. Each Sunday, behind drawn curtains in his home, Afghan converts together with American and other diplomats assembled for worship.

When he learned that Dwight Eisenhower planned a trip to Afghanistan in 1959, Mr. Wilson decided to ask the president a favor. The president had just attended the opening of a mosque for Muslim diplomats in Washington. Would the president ask Mohammed Zahir Shah, Afghanistan's king, for permission to build a church for Christian diplomats in Kabul?

The request made its way to Mr. Eisenhower through his pastor, Edward Elson. His answer came back: yes. Shortly after Mr. Eisenhower's visit, Afghanistan's government granted his request.

Plans were drawn and fundraising began. Blind Afghans, students from two schools started by Mr. Wilson's wife, collected coins for the project. The process was long and difficult, but by 1970 workers had finished building the church.

Three years later it was destroyed. Rapidly increasing numbers of Christian converts provoked opposition to Mr. Wilson's work. The government ordered the Wilsons out of the country in March 1973. It closed Betty Wilson's schools for the blind. Then it ordered the destruction of the church building.

Church leaders around the world, including Billy Graham, appealed to the king. German businessman Hans Mohr, who had purchased the lapis lazuli used in the church construction, told the mayor of Kabul: "If your government touches that house of God, God will overthrow your government."

On July 17, 1973, soldiers arrived with bulldozers. They ripped into the new building. They dug 12 feet under the foundation because secret police had informed them of an "underground church" there. While the demolition took place, Christians gathered nearby to pray and later served tea and cookies to the soldiers.

On the night government soldiers destroyed the church, coup leaders overthrew the Afghan monarchy. The king's cousin, Mohammed Daoud, took power.

Afghanistan has never been the same since.