I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea… 2 Corinthians 11:23b-25
The Apostle Paul suffered severely in his ministry of sharing the gospel in the first century. But Paul was always quick to point out that what others thought so terrible—his imprisonment—God turned into good. Rather than hindering the spread of the gospel, it actually aided its advance (Philippians 1:12-14). Paul’s example was followed by many disciples down through the ages. You might be surprised to learn about one of these who lived in Afghanistan.
In Kabul, a brilliant young blind man who had memorized the whole Qur’an in Arabic listened to the gospel by radio and later publicly declared his faith in Jesus as his Lord. He became the first blind student to attend regular-sighted schools in Afghanistan. He graduated from University of Kabul with a law degree in order to defend Christians who might be persecuted for their faith. Some of his encouragement as a young believer came from a missionary from neighbouring Iran, Mehdi Dibaj.
Under the communist regime, Paul was arrested on false charges and put in a notorious prison where tens of thousands were executed. There was no heat in the jail during the cold winters. He had to sleep on the freezing mud floor with only his overcoat. A prisoner next to him was trembling with cold since he did not even have a jacket. Paul remembered John the Baptist had said, “The man who has two coats should share with him who has none.” (Luke 3:11) He took off his only coat and gave it to the neighbour. From then on, the Lord miraculously kept him warm every night.
In prison, the communists gave Paul shock treatments to try to brainwash him. The electric burns left scars on his head. But he did not give in. God’s grace was sufficient. After release from prison he kept mastering foreign languages and continued translating the Bible, writing and preaching…as well as discipling new believers. In 1988, Paul was kidnapped by a fanatical Muslim group and charged with apostasy because he became a Christian. He was beaten for hours with rods and ultimately martyred. But Paul’s testimony lives on today as a trophy of God’s grace. He is affectionately remembered as “Afghanistan’s Apostle Paul”.
You can read more about Paul in Dr. Christy Wilson’s excellent book, More To Be Desired Than Gold, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 1994.