Death Penalty for Evangelism

The last two months have provided bloody reminders that following Christ can be deadly. In July, brothers Rashid and Sajid Emmanuel were murdered outside a courtroom in Faisalabad, Pakistan, where they had been charged with blasphemy. Rashid was a gospel preacher affiliated with an Acts 29 Network partner. Then last week, Taliban militants in neighboring Afghanistan killed 10 aid workers on a Christian medical mission. The Taliban claimed the victims had been evangelizing Muslims.

In response, International Assistance Mission, which sponsored the trip to provide eyecare in a remote area denied any evangelistic intent.

IAM is a Christian organization—we have never hidden this. Indeed, we are registered as such with the Afghan government. Our faith motivates and inspires us—but we do not proselytize. We abide by the laws of Afghanistan. We are signatures of the Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs Disaster Response Programmes, in other words, that, “aid will not be used to further a particular political or religious standpoint.” But more than that, our record speaks for itself. IAM would not be invited back to villages if we were using aid as a cover for preaching.

Even so, Western media have investigated whether IAM is really telling the whole truth. The Associated Press followed up with IAM director Dirk Frans, who said the Christians probably did not even carry Bibles in Afghan languages. Rather, they read translations in their native tongues of German and English. The AP also reached the Mennonite Central Committee, which lost a member in the attack. According to AP reporter Kathy Matheson, the Mennonites “joined a chorus of protests” against allegations of evangelism.

John Williamson, a representative with the Akron, Pa.-based aid group, dismissed those claims as “rubbish” after a morning news conference about the death of member Glen Lapp. Lapp, a 40-year-old nurse from Lancaster, had been in Afghanistan for nearly two years.

Lapp was a “very kind, loving, respectful person” who spoke Dari, a local language, and enjoyed sharing stories with the Afghan people, Williamson said.

Behind these protests, we find a disturbing implication. Ed Stetzer voiced it in a tweet on August 9: “Media keeps saying medical workers weren’t proselytizing. OK, but is [it] OK to murder if they were?” Indeed, would evangelism have disqualified these Christians from honorable treatment in death?

Maybe the caution against evangelism reflects a realistic assessment of the harsh conditions in Afghanistan, where resurgent Taliban fighters have escalated the conflict. Maybe Western media want to be sure IAM abides by national law and doesn’t run covert ops. Or maybe some Westerners see evangelists in Afghanistan as picking a fight and getting what they deserve.

Even non-Christians will grant that the men and women who lost their lives for treating eyes demonstrated their love for Afghans in their good works. But love turns to imperialism when eye camp gives way to Bible school. Evangelism is perceived as arrogant disregard, even hatred, for the Afghans or anyone else who does not yet believe in Jesus Christ for salvation.

Talking about these recent murders, author and friend Stan Guthrie reminded me that Jesus foresaw the hardship his followers would endure. Jesus told his disciples in John 15:18-20:

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.

The Christians serving with International Assistance Mission loved in a way much of the world still recognizes. Together we mourn the loss of selfless doctors and nurses. But the Taliban still hated them and killed them. This tragedy wasn’t merely a clash of values, a clash between tradition and freedom. Whether the aid workers preached or not, this was a clash over the gospel. The Taliban said as much simply by alleging proselytism, however cynically in their effort to explain a senseless robbery and murder.

While rejecting the Taliban’s tactics, Western unbelievers have no sympathy for the gospel, either. Both cringe over efforts to explicitly proclaim the good news that Jesus Christ died for sinners and raised from the dead. Yet Christians know no greater love than this, that Jesus Christ died so we might be his friends (John 15:13). And we worship a God who can turns hearts of stone, whether Afghan or Western, into hearts of flesh.

Those who trust in Christ don’t get what they deserve. No, believers get what we most certainly don’t deserve, eternal fellowship with the holy, just, righteous, triune God. We don’t expect that unbelievers will understand why we treasure this priceless inheritance even more than health and why we want others to share it. But Jesus’ example unto death on a cross and the work of the Holy Spirit empowers us to lay down even our lives so they just might come to know God, too.

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  • Martin

    I agree with your comments.The Guardian (UK) on Monday ran a sceptical article questioning whether there was real ‘evangelism’ behind the scenes. One of the robbery victims murdered was a UK doctor whose family were v quick to insist that she was a Humanist. Many aid workers, Christian or not are attacked regularly in Afghanistan, some by the Taliban, some by robbers. The Gospel is growing though.

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  • Thabiti


    Really enjoyed the post. Thanks for bringing this to a wider audience. I praise God for the rich reward that these saints have not received from the Savior.

    One question. I’m not sure I understood what you meant by this comment:

    “Even non-Christians will grant that the men and women who lost their lives for treating eyes demonstrated their love for Afghans in their good works. But love turns to imperialism when eye camp gives way to Bible school. Evangelism is perceived as arrogant disregard, even hatred, for the Afghans or anyone else who does not yet believe in Jesus Christ for salvation.”

    I don’t think you’re saying that the medical workers were imperialists? What did I miss? The sentence keeps hitting my eye in a weird way.


    • Collin Hansen

      Sorry, Thabiti, I should have been much clearer to attribute that paraphrase to perceptions of evangelism among non-Christians. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify.

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  • Rede Gospel

    Olá amigo, seja um redator do Rede Gospel, o maior agregador de conteudos gospel da web, faça seu cadastro gratuito e evie o conteudo do seu blog para o Rede Gospel, além de se comunicar com os milhares de usuarios que acessam o Rede Gospel você pode aumentar os acessos de seu site colocando um link no fim de cada postagem que você enviar.


    OBS: você pode escrever novos artigos ou copiar e colar os artigos já existentes em seu blog!

    Nunca foi tão fácil divulgar artigos evangélicos como agora é, aproveite envie a vontade!

    Paulo Freitas

  • Bennett Willis

    We have seen that some people believe what they want to believe about any event even though facts are provided. However, I would hope that this act would be used to condemn the Taliban organization all over that area–and around the world.

    They should be called to explain why they did this around every dinner table and in every discussion on that war. Any who claim that the deaths were justified should be called upon to rationally defend their claim.

  • James

    Fear not, When ten saints fall to the ground, hundreds more sprout up from these blessed seeds. And these martyrs are enjoying true life right now as it was meant to be, in fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ in heaven.

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  • Mike Bentley

    I would like to explore this: Why is it okay to have “Christian” missions that do not evangelize?

    The world seems to be just fine with Christians being salt (love, medicine, food, funds, books, etc.), but let there be light with it – let those who love give a reason for the hope they have within them – and somehow it’s the Christian’s ‘fault’ for breaking the laws of men. Are we in any different times than Peter and John? Are people in any less need of the full Gospel?

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  • James Jeffreys

    Islam is afraid of outside faiths. If it were a strong and dominant doctrine, it wouldn’t need to fear outside influences. Islam contradicts itself by claiming to be a religion of peace and mercy when it’s anything but. How can God permit the slaughter of innocents? He doesn’t. Islam is evil.