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Mother of detained U.S. worker cites faith amid U.S.-Afghan clash

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (BP)–Despite increasing world tensions threatening Afghanistan, the mother of an American woman on trial there for alleged proselytizing said the ordeal has strengthened her faith in God.

“It hasn’t weakened it,” said Nancy Cassell, whose daughter, Dayna Curry, was arrested Aug. 3. “I’ve got to have faith more than I’ve ever had, and I’ve got to believe they’re going to be okay. God’s the one who’s got to get them out now.”

Curry, 29, and Heather Mercer, 24, both graduates of Baylor University, are among eight foreign workers with Shelter Now charged by Taliban authorities in Afghanistan with trying to convert people to Christianity. Sixteen Afghan citizens affiliated with the German-based Christian aid organization also were arrested Aug. 3.

At their first court hearing Sept. 8, the defendants were granted the right to an attorney, but he is having trouble getting into the country, Cassell said told Baptist Press in an interview from Islamabad, Pakistan.

The Washington Post reported Sept. 18 the proceedings had been delayed because the attorney had been unable to obtain a visa. It was subsequently granted, but the air space over Afghanistan has been closed, further delaying his entry, Cassell said.

Afghanistan remains in turmoil over a potential showdown with the United States over harboring alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. Reuters News Service reported Sept. 20 that a million Afghans face starvation if the United Nations’ World Food Program cannot resume normal operations there.

Cassell and the parents of Heather Mercer were among those who evacuated Sept. 12, the day after terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

Because no outsiders are left in Afghanistan, Cassell said their only knowledge of conditions there is what they see in news media reports. They also have had no contact with the two women.

The American parents flew to Pakistan Aug. 20, where they spent a week before obtaining visas to Afghanistan. Cassell said they had visited their daughters on five occasions prior to leaving.

“When I saw [Dayna], she was doing quite well,” said Cassell, interviewed by cell phone on Sept. 20. “I can only trust that she’s been maintaining the same kind of spirit. She’s very strong in her faith, so I believe she’s doing all right.”

Contrary to earlier reports, the eight are not being held at a jail. While they are being detained, Cassell described the detention center as similar to a school building.

All are in the same room and have received good treatment from their captors, she said.

“The ministry of foreign affairs and the ones we’ve been dealing with have been really quite nice and helpful,” Cassell said. “They assured us that our daughters are well taken care of; hospitality is one of the big features of Afghan culture.”

Still, those guarding the Shelter Now workers aren’t in the upper echelons of the Taliban hierarchy. She said any requests they made during their visits had to be referred to a higher authority.

Despite previous threats of severe punishment, a newly released dictate refers to a penalty of three to 10 days in jail and expulsion from the country. But Cassell said that pronouncement offers little relief, since her daughter has already been confined for seven weeks.

“Evidently they’re not going to follow that or they would have been expelled by now,” Cassell said. “[The Taliban] is saying that [order] doesn’t apply. They haven’t stuck to it, so it doesn’t matter.”

Cassell, whose husband is overseeing the rental property she manages in a suburb of Nashville, Tenn., said she is prepared to wait as long as it takes for her daughter’s release.

In addition to Cassell, Mercer’s father, John Mercer; mother, Deborah Oddy; and Oddy’s husband, Del, are in Pakistan.

Danny Mulkey of Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, flew to Pakistan Sept. 5 to offer aid and comfort and to be present when the two women are freed. Curry and Mercer were active at Antioch before going to Afghanistan.

“If it were my kids in prison, I would definitely want people there supporting them, even if it was 300 miles away,” said Mulkey, who has two children attending Baylor. “I would want someone from church leadership to be as close as possible.

“I don’t know if [Dayna and Heather] know I’m here or not, but when and if they find out I’m here, I think it will encourage them. I represent a host of people back home who love them like crazy and are praying for them.”

Like Cassell, Mulkey said he is prepared to wait as long as necessary for the women’s release, although he originally intended to stay for 10 days.

Though it is hard to be separated from his family, Mulkey said after the Sept. 11 attacks on America he called home to Waco. After prayer, his wife, Kathy, and their children, Ethan, 21, and Elizabeth, 19, all agreed he should stay.

“The church felt we needed somebody here to be with the parents,” Mulkey said, also via cell phone. “It’s a team thing. I’m here representing my family and the rest of our church.”

Despite the interruption of his daily routine, Mulkey can access e-mail from an Internet cafe near the guesthouse where he stays. He is also maintaining daily Bible reading and prayer.

His requests to God includes a plea that today will be the day that Curry and Mercer are released. He said it helps to know the same request is voiced at Antioch’s 24-hour-a-day prayer vigil.

“It teaches you perseverance, but it hasn’t diminished my faith,” Mulkey said of the ongoing delay in resolving the women’s case. “If anything, it’s built faith because the presence of the Lord has been so strong.

“I’ve experienced a lot of grace to keep praying,” he added. “I feel like the Lord has been giving all of us strength to keep at it, to keep praying, trusting and looking at him. He’s the only one who can get them out.”

Scriptures that have been particularly meaningful to Mulkey during recent days:

— Psalm 40:1-3: “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth; praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord” (New King James).

— Psalm 138:7-8: “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch out Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me. The Lord will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever; do not forsake the works of Your hands.”

Mulkey said he isn’t hunting for promises of deliverance, but reads the Bible frequently because he loves God’s Word. While meditating on it, the Lord leads him to pray certain passages out loud.

Although he has visited Pakistan in the past, this is his longest stay. It has shown him there is little predictability to daily life.

“Just the minute you have everything figured out, something new pops up on the horizon,” Mulkey said. “That’s not particular to Pakistan at all, though, that’s just about life.”

Both Cassell and Mulkey asked Christians in the United States to pray for the women and their detained co-workers.

Cassell asked that people pray for safety, health and protection, and that the prisoners will remain strong. She also requested that people pray for a speedy resolution to the case.

Mulkey said the parents also need prayers for grace and peace and that the confidence of the Lord would be in their hearts.

“I daily try to put myself in their shoes,” Mulkey said. “I say, ‘Lord, if it were Ethan and Elizabeth, how would I be feeling?’ Then, when I get to feeling sorry for myself, having to wait, I think, ‘What if I were one of the girls?'”

    About the Author

  • Ken Walker