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2 American women continue in legal limbo in Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (BP)–The Texas minister keeping watch on the Afghanistan trial of eight foreign relief workers, including two Americans, has learned their Pakistani attorney hopes a decision will be forthcoming soon.

Interviewed by cell phone from Islamabad, Pakistan, Danny Mulkey, assistant pastor of Antioch Community Church in Waco, said the proceedings under Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers are unlike anything in American courts.

Thus, a decision could be rendered by the Afghan supreme court when attorney Atif Ali Khan returns to the nation’s capital, Kabul, the weekend of Oct. 19, he said.

Mulkey met with Khan the evening of Oct. 17 to discuss the cases of Dayna Curry, 29, and Heather Mercer, 24, who were among the eight foreigners and 16 Afghan coworkers arrested Aug. 3 for allegedly sharing their faith with Afghan citizens.

The two Baylor University graduates were active in Antioch Community Church before going overseas to work with a German-based ministry, Shelter Now.

“It’s all paperwork,” Mulkey said of the confusing situation that required a written defense to be presented to the court.

“He’s going back this weekend and they may already have a verdict. Or, he may not have to go because they will already have reached a decision. Every time, he’s got to get a new visa to go back into the country.”

Before communications were cut off with the capital of Kabul about 10 days ago, Mulkey said they had been able to relay messages to Curry and Mercer via telephone and fax.

The Antioch staffer and the women’s parents are still able to get notes delivered through the attorney and shuttle supplies to them.

Recently, the women requested shoes, warmer clothes, coffee, toiletries and medicine, which were delivered the weekend of Oct. 12.

Despite the hazards, Mulkey said their spirits remain strong.

“With as many bombs as are falling, it’s a little scary but they’ve got their heads up and are praying,” he said. “They want us to do the same. They’re thanking the Lord for a stretching experience.”

While he hasn’t met with Mercer’s parents, Mulkey saw Curry’s mother, Nancy Cassell, on Oct. 17. He said she is weathering the tension well and trusting in the Lord for her daughter’s release.

“I’m doing okay, too,” Mulkey said. “I get to thinking sometimes that I’m very ready to go home, but how much more do Heather and Dayna think that? So I stop that kind of thinking real quick.

“Every day I thank the Lord for letting me be here. This is an honor, to represent so many people back home who are praying. I’m in touch with my family, at least by e-mail, and they’re doing okay, too. It makes it easier when they’re in agreement that I should be here.”

The picture of the American women’s resolve was verified recently by British journalist Yvonne Ridley. Arrested in late September for sneaking into the country without a passport, she spent 10 days in captivity before the Taliban released her.

Her diary of her experiences, written for the Sunday Express in London, was recently reprinted by Dawn, an English newspaper in Pakistan.

In the entries for Oct. 4-7, Ridley told of being taken to a jail in Kabul where the six female Shelter Now workers were being held.

After exchanging a funny greeting — “I thought you were being kept in a hotel with television, video and many comforts” — Ridley said the women offered her a bed in their tiny, cramped cell.

“I have not seen a woman for many days and they are all strong, intelligent and witty,” Ridley wrote of that first night. “I am humbled by their strength and inner peace.”

She described their prison life as “Spartan,” recounting, “The women supplement their prison diet by making a daily shopping list for fresh food and provisions. Their cooking smells delicious but I am still on a hunger strike.”

Ridley told of excitement among her cellmates the day a guard came with a satellite telephone and said they could call relatives.

Only the British reporter was excluded from the privilege because of her uncooperative attitude.

“Although I am not sad not to speak to my family, I am still very happy for the women,” Ridley wrote. “They deserve a break because they are such nice people.”

Back at their home church, a prayer vigil for Curry and Mercer continues but participation has decreased, associate pastor Kevin Johnson said.

“We had filled [the prayer room] 24 hours a day for up to eight or nine weeks after Aug. 3,” Johnson said. “The last two weeks we have found some of our folks are getting weary. The middle of the night and work hours are hard, so we have staff rotating during work hours.”

The staff also is tired of fielding a flood of media inquiries, with senior pastor Jimmy Seibert telling reporters recently he has been getting up to 40 calls a day.

Antioch scheduled two news conferences the week of Oct. 15 to provide updates and allow reporters to interview staff members and friends.

Johnson doesn’t know if the press briefings will continue, saying it depends on what happens and how much information is available.

Despite the demands on their time, the associate pastor said Curry and Mercer’s ordeal has had a positive impact on the 1,200-member congregation.

There has been a sense of unity and purpose among the people, who are realizing they need to take the message of Christ to the world, Johnson said.

“We see it as an affirmation of God’s call on our lives,” he said. “We preach a New Testament message, that God’s kingdom is advancing and God is calling us to the nations.

“People are saying, ‘This is what it’s all about. It’s a bit more costly than we realized, but it’s more rewarding than we realized.'”

In other news about the case, Antioch issued an update the evening of Oct. 17 that told of Cassell and Deborah Oddy, Mercer’s mother, meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Pakistan on Oct. 16.

Staff member Dawn Manoleas said the mothers were encouraged after the meeting.

“We have communicated with the attorney and he says that in his last visit with the detainees they are all doing well,” Manoleas wrote. “They are encouraged and their faith encourages him. Pray for this whole process to touch his heart and for him to know the reason for their strength and hope.”

In another prayer alert distributed Oct. 16, Manoleas said the church had learned the 16 Afghan workers with Shelter Now who were also arrested are still alive. While their conditions aren’t as good as the other detainees, their families are providing them with food and clothing, she said.

Manoleas asked that people pray for continued protection and grace for the Afghans “as we have no word on the next steps for them.”

    About the Author

  • Ken Walker