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Rescued aid workers say they owe their lives to Jesus

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (BP)–Two days after their rescue from Afghanistan by American military helicopters, two Baylor University graduates celebrated their freedom at a news conference, thanked American troops for their “Hollywood rescue” and said they believed they owed their lives to Jesus Christ.

Dayna Curry, 30, and Heather Mercer, 24, both of Waco, Texas, met reporters after being sequestered for 24 hours at the American ambassador’s residence here.

After more than three months in a Taliban prison in Kabul on charges of preaching Christianity to Muslims in Afghanistan, they were picked up by American Special Forces helicopters on Wednesday outside Ghazni, a city about 75 miles south of the Afghan capital.

Danny Mulkey, associate pastor of Mercer and Curry’s church, Antioch Community Church, told Baptist Press in a Nov. 16 telephone interview from Pakistan that God is being glorified.

“I think this is a huge encouragement to the body of Christ,” Mulkey said, who has been in Pakistan for 11 weeks working for their release. “There were people from all kinds of places in the body of Christ who were praying like crazy for these girls. To see them literally delivered from the hands of the enemies has to be faith building. It was faith building for me.”

Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, expressed joy over the successful rescue.

“Thousands of Southern Baptists and other Christians have been faithful in praying for the safety and release of Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer and their fellow workers,” Chapman said. “We now share in the great joy and celebration with their families and friends and church communities.”

“Having made our request diligently to God, we now offer our most profound thanks to our faithful Lord who sovereignly protected and watched over our fellow Christians in their distress and who orchestrated their eventual freedom,” Chapman noted.

Rescued with them were four Germans and two Australians, who like the Americans were aid workers for Shelter Now International, a German-based Christian charity that was conducting relief operations in Afghanistan when the eight were arrested on Aug. 5. All eight had been held in prison, during the American bombing of Kabul, for the last five weeks on charges that carried the death penalty under Taliban law.

The American women said today that although “80 percent” of the charges against them were false, it was true that they had given a book of stories about Jesus Christ and a film on his life to an Afghan family. They also said that their Taliban captors in the Kabul prison had looked after them generously, giving them “abundant amounts of food” and allowing them to pray and sing hymns whenever they wanted. “From what they had, they looked after us very well,” Mercer said. Other prisoners, however, were treated harshly.

The two said that they had feared for their lives as the Taliban began fleeing Kabul ahead of the city’s capture by Northern Alliance troops on Monday night.

They said they had been loaded into a pick-up truck and driven three and a half hours southwest of the capital, where they were locked into a shipping container for the night before being taken on to another prison. There, they were freed on Wednesday morning when rebel groups opposed to the Taliban stormed the city, broke into the prison and shouted “You are free. You are free.”

Georg Taubmann, one of four Germans in the group, spoke at a news conference at their embassy on Nov. 15 and gave a glimpse of life inside a Taliban prison and new details of their sudden flight to freedom on Nov. 13.

After being freed and on the streets of Ghazni, the Germans said, they saw that their Taliban captors had been routed after a fierce firefight.

Then the townspeople, who did not know that the Taliban had brought the eight foreigners to Ghazni the night before, saw them. “The people came out of the houses and they hugged us,” Taubmann said. “They were all clapping.”

Another German detainee, Margrit Stebner, said their walk through the streets was “like a triumph.”

“It was really exciting,” she said. “Everybody was happy. There was a lot of chaos. But everybody that morning was very happy.”

Surrounded by about 50 Taliban soldiers with Kalashnikov rifles, they were seized by the Taliban’s religious police, the Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, and accused of giving away a book about Jesus and showing a CD- ROM about his life.

“Afghanistan is a very, very religious society,” Taubmann said. “Everywhere I go, even if I don’t want to talk about religion, you are always questioned.”

“We were always challenged,” he said. “Even the Taliban, while I was in prison, we had so many discussions with them about faith. They explained their faith and they asked us what we believe. `Are you also praying? Do you believe in God? You Christians, do you have some holy books?’ ”

In Kabul, he said, they were moved from one place of confinement to another. The German women said they had not been mistreated, though conditions were harsh. At one point, they and the three American and Australian women were held with about 50 Afghan women, with only one toilet.

Then on Monday, the routine of confinement gave way to the uncertainty of a major shift in military and political power: Kabul fell to the American-backed Northern Alliance.

The Germans said the Taliban soldiers took them to Ghazni, where, on Nov. 13, they put them in a steel shipping container, without any blankets, and locked it. A battle began almost immediately. The captives had no idea who had won until a Northern Alliance soldier broke down the door and despite his surprise at seeing the foreigners inside uttered one word: “Freedom.”

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, a commander in Ghazni then informed the Red Cross of the workers’ presence. The Red Cross contacted embassy officials here, said Bernard Barrett, a spokesman for the Red Cross in Islamabad. “It was getting close to nightfall and it was decided that it was safest to stay where they were,” Barrett said.

On the following night, three United States special forces helicopters came to retrieve them. “We were quite happy,” Stebner, 43, said, recalling the moment they saw the Americans. “They asked us if we were the detainees. So they counted us and then they took us with them.”

In Waco, Emily Wamsley, 24, who does public relations for the church, was present at a phone call from the women Nov. 16.

“They said these local troops let them go and contacted the Red Cross to come and get them, but it took a long time for the helicopters to get there,” Wamsley said. “At one point it was getting dark, and Heather had the idea to set her head and face covers on fire to attract the helicopters. So they all piled up clothing into a big fire.”

“Apparently, it worked,” she told The New York Times.

Taubmann, who suffered a cut on his right hand after running in the darkness and stumbling several times, said the rescue had been one of the most frightening moments of the last three months.

“I’m a Christian,” he said. “The Bible tells me to forgive. And I have forgiven what they have done to us.”

They said they drew strength from their faith in Jesus. “We believed in him,” Taubmann said. “We have experienced his strength. And when we were reading the Bible, reading through the Psalms, it was so encouraging, just to know that God is in control of our lives.”

Chapman urged believers to remember other Christians who remain captive.

“This is an especially opportune time for us to remember the many thousands of our fellow believers around the world who are still in bonds and otherwise persecuted for their faith,” Chapman said. “As we have prayed persistently for Dayna and Heather and their fellows, we now lift up our voices and cry out to God for the protection and deliverance of our fellow believers who are still in bonds.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: PRAISING GOD, PREACHER AND HIS SON and JOYOUS PRAISES.

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