The Gates of Hell

“I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) A century ago in a work called The Glory of the Impossible, Samuel Zwemer, the leading voice for missions to the unreached Islamic world, wrote of Afghanistan.

Listen to the story of the conversion and martyrdom of Abdul Karim, the Afghan convert: With a real devotion to Christ, he was taken with the intense desire, in the summer of 1907 to enter Afghanistan and preach the Gospel. Crossing the frontier at Chaman, he was seized by Afghan soldiers, brought before the Governor of Kandahar, offered rewards and honors if he would recant, and when he refused, was cast into prison, loaded with chains. He was examined by the Amir, but remained firm in his confession. Then he was marched off for Kabul in chains, with a bit and bridle in his mouth, while every Mohammedan who met him smote him on the cheeks and abused him. Finally, when he was set at liberty, he tried to find his way back to India, was seized by the people in a village, carried to their mosque, and ordered to repeat the Moslem creed. Abdul Karim refused. “A sword was then produced and his right arm cut off, and he was again order to repeat it, but again refused. The left arm was then severed in the same way, and on his refusing the third time, his throat was cut. There is no doubt that whatever the details of his martyrdom may be, Abdul Karim witnessed faithfully to the last for the Saviour Christ, and died because he would not deny Him. There are many secret disciples in Afghanistan who honor Christ as we do, and there is no doubt that at the present time a public acknowledgement of Christianity would mean a cruel death. At the same time, I believe that the Church in Afghanistan will not be established until their have been many such martyrs, who will seal their faith with their blood.”

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A century later Afghanistan remains one of the most intractable pieces of the 10/40 puzzle. The latest wave of evangelism has followed the US and NATO fight to free the country of the control of the Taliban and its Al-Qaeda clients, some of whom carried out the September 11th attacks on the US. NATO forces have encountered bitter winters, blistering summers, harsh terrain laced with a patchwork of tribes that are at once divided and united by ancient hatreds. Our troops fight a borderless war with an elusive enemy over a long campaign. Their courage and sacrifice are exemplary, and many have laid down their lives in the cause of freedom. All of this, too, can be said for the first-wave forces of Christians serving in Afghanistan. Their long campaign has also been marked by struggle, suffering, and untimely graves. Yet there have also been victories. Did He not promise this? For Christ said that not even the gates of hell—not even the gates of Islam—would be able to withstand the advance of His Kingdom! The Kingdom outposts are small and scattered and born into the fellowship of His sufferings. Like the six Afghan men I know who meet on a different day and at a different time each week to avoid detection. Or the woman who received a New Testament and after two years invited the missionary to her home and introduced the family members who had received Christ. Holding up the Book, she said, “This is the Truth we have been seeking for years.” There are yet others, even among the Taliban, who need to hear that Christ died for them. So the Kingdom campaign continues.

Any army that’s effective must adapt to the terrain, and so it is in missions. Outreach in a country like Afghanistan cannot be done with traditional missions strategies. Healthcare, literacy, and community development teams will spearhead the work to create opportunities for building relationships and sharing Christ. Will you pray for us and support us as we penetrate one of the last frontiers of the Gospel?