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Church maintains prayer, hope for women on trial in Afghanistan

WACO, Texas (BP)–The pastor of two women on trial in Afghanistan said their home church is not fearful about their fate because they believe God will sustain and strengthen them.

In a press release issued Oct. 3, Jimmy Seibert said Antioch Community Church has been able to communicate consistently with Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer through their Pakistani attorney.

The senior pastor of the non-denominational church in Waco, Texas, said six pages of charges are being translated into English so the lawyer and defendants are able to prepare their case. The trial is to resume Sunday, Oct. 7, according to news reports.

Curry and Mercer were among eight foreign workers and 16 Afghan coworkers with Shelter Now International who were arrested in the Asian country Aug. 3. The eight westerners on trial were detained because of allegations they tried to convert people to Christianity.

However, Seibert said the two American women were fulltime aid workers helping street children as well as handling administrative tasks.

“In the course of their lives, they are open about their relationship with Jesus and their desire for others to know him,” he said. “We do not know the particular details of the evening they were arrested. We’ll let that surface through trial.”

Generally, the two women’s daily needs are being met, including food and shelter, Seibert said. However, the pastor added that they have had ups and downs emotionally and physically.

And, in a prayer alert issued the evening of Oct. 3, staff member Dawn Manoleas — who recently visited Pakistan — said Antioch had received word that the past few days have been more emotionally intense.

“There are many things that none of us can see in this situation,” she wrote. “Fear can grip and hinder people from hearing the truth of God … . Please pray for … the detainees to be free from this fear and for the peace and security of the Lord to fill their minds and hearts.”

In addition, an Oct. 1 prayer alert said all eight foreign defendants had been suffering from stomach problems. One of the detainees from Germany was unable to attend the trial Sept. 30 because of her sickness, Manoleas said.

Despite these problems, Seibert affirmed that the church still believes the women will be all right. Not even the sensitive situation with Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America dimmed their hope, the pastor said.

“We have great faith in Jesus and his desire for them,” Seibert said. “Dayna and Heather would gladly give their very lives that people would know how much Jesus loves them.”

One question that many have posed to the church regards their concern about the United States’ plans to fight the war on terrorism. Seibert replied that the congregation supports President George Bush and his administration. They pray for them daily and are thankful for them, he said.

Contradicting a rumor that has been reported by some news media, Seibert said that Mercer did not ask President Bush to delay any U.S. military action until the defendants were freed.

“We have verification from those in contact with Heather that she did not write a letter to President Bush,” Seibert said. “The work that the ladies were doing in Afghanistan was not political in nature; it was humanitarian aid.

“It’s all about people, and it’s about God’s love,” Seibert said. “We are trusting in God and relying on him to be their protector.”

Not everyone shares the Waco church’s optimism. In a story in the Sept. 30 Nashville Tennessean, Sara Chambers — a high school classmate of Curry’s — said she thought her friend would get a slap on the wrist and be sent home.

“But now that this has happened and they’ve been moved to another location, I’m really concerned that they’ll be used as pawns, as symbols, just because they’re Americans,” she told the newspaper.

In its editions of Oct. 1, The New York Times reported that the trial had resumed Sept. 30 in the capital of Kabul.

Based on reports from Afghan journalists working for international wire services, The Times reported that Chief Justice Noor Muhammad Saqib said the defendants would be treated fairly despite the possibility of American air strikes.

Referring to Osama bin Laden, alleged to have been the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., Saqib reportedly said, “The United States, without any proof or evidence, has been threatening Afghanistan and its guest. The present situation will have no impact on the court. This will be a fair trial.”

The Times said attorney Atif Ali Khan of Pakistan was given between three and 15 days to prepare his defense; the chief justice also promised the defendants they would be able to meet with him.

Khan later told reporters the process seemed fair. The attorney said the judge promised he would be provided with the charges and evidence against his clients.

The Times said the chief investigator in the case had read the charges against the accused in court and listed the evidence seized from Shelter Now’s offices. The items listed included Bibles translated into local languages, CDs, audiotapes about Christ and lesson plans for the teaching of Christianity.

Antioch Community Church, started in June 1999 by Highland Baptist Church in Waco, was helping financially support Curry and Mercer’s mission work in Afghanistan.

The church has other ties to the Asian nation. Kurt and Karen Mahler, who returned to Texas on Sept. 26 with their three children, also had been working with Shelter Now in Afghanistan, but a church staff member said they left the country before the Aug. 3 arrests. The Waco church held a welcome-home reception for the family Oct. 1.

As for those who want to pray for the detainees, Manoleas asked that Americans continue to pray that Curry and Mercer would rest in peace as fears arise.

Manoleas suggested praying for wisdom for their attorney, that truth would prevail and to continue lifting up the women’s parents, three of whom are keeping a vigil in Pakistan after leaving Afghanistan soon after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Manoleas said the Dayna and Heather had encouraged their church to remember two Scriptures:

— Galatians 6:9: “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (NKJV).

— 2 Corinthians 4:15-18, which begins: “For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart.”

“God is good,” Maneolas said. “As we look to the bigger, eternal picture and to heaven, we can’t help but see his goodness no matter what may come our way.”

The church has been holding a prayer vigil around the clock in small and large groups since the workers’ arrest Aug. 3.

    About the Author

  • Ken Walker