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Taliban take U.S. detainees as they flee Afghan capital

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (BP)–In learning that Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities have taken Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer with them in vacating the nation’s capital, Kabul, a minister from the aid workers’ Texas church said he continues to believe God has control of the situation.

Curry and Mercer were taken to another city after opposition forces took control of Kabul at dawn Nov. 13, according to reports carried by the Associated Press, Reuters News Service and The Washington Post.

“It’s an anxious time in one sense, but once you get past that first shock, there’s a peace that the Lord is still in control,” said Danny Mulkey, assistant pastor of Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas. “We’re sure hoping we get some kind of verification about where they are and that they’re okay.”

The two Baylor University graduates were among eight foreign workers with the German-based ministry Shelter Now who were arrested Aug. 3 for allegedly sharing their Christian faith with Afghans.

Their trial had moved slowly after the terrorist attacks on America Sept. 11 and the United States’ bombing campaign against Afghanistan that followed in early October.

The AP reported Nov. 12 that the trial had been postponed indefinitely because Taliban supreme court members reportedly feared their anger over continuing U.S. air strikes would prevent them from making a fair ruling.

However, with the Taliban rulers reportedly headed for the city of Kandahar, what will happen now is anyone’s guess, Mulkey said, reflecting, “You keep waiting and you keep praying, I guess.”

A guard at the detention center where the aid workers were being held told the AP that Taliban officials forced Curry, 30, and Mercer, 24, the four other women hostages and two men to accompany them as they fled Kabul the evening of Nov. 12.

“I saw them with my own eyes,” Ajmal Mir told a reporter. “They put them in the truck and then left at midnight. They said they are going to Kandahar.”

However, another guard later told AP the captors had hustled the eight workers into a pickup truck at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 12.

Reuters reported that Mercer’s father, John Mercer, confirmed that the eight had been taken to Kandahar, the Taliban’s southern stronghold, after a 20-minute meeting with Taliban diplomats in Islamabad.

Mercer, who has been seeking his daughter’s release for more than three months, told Reuters that the radical Muslim group refused to discuss freeing the humanitarian workers.

Describing him as visibly worried, Reuters noted that he told the Cable News Network the situation is very distressing.

“If I sit back and try to analyze it … it is quite possible that the Taliban consider that they still have an effective government and they can still have a trial in Kandahar,” Mercer told CNN.

“The other is that maybe they are going to be pawns for some leverage in political negotiations,” he added. “I still have hope that the Taliban have kept them safe for over 100 days and they will continue to do so.”

Although a western diplomat also has described the aid workers as “hostages,” according to Reuters, Mulkey said he has never considered them to be captives of an international conflict.

“In one way you could say it looks that way, but I don’t look at it that way,” the church staff member said. “I look at it as these are friends of mine who are in trouble and I’m asking the Lord to help them. It doesn’t change the way I’m praying for them.”

Mulkey said after hearing about the Taliban fleeing from Kabul, he called a reporter he knows in Pakistan and learned about the hostage transfer a few minutes before the news aired on television.

He said he came back to his room. When he prayed and read several Bible verses, Mulkey sensed God’s presence and assurance that the Lord has not lost control of the situation.

Although he didn’t have an opportunity to talk to John Mercer, Mulkey said he later saw Curry’s mother, Nancy Cassell, and that she also remains peaceful about the situation.

“It’s amazing the peace and a real wellspring of faith God has given us to trust him,” Mulkey said. “I know it’s that way for me, but I also have observed it in Nancy and heard it in some of the things she said.”

While Taliban authorities reportedly have treated the hostages well in custody, an AP report printed in the Nov. 13 issue of The New York Times describes conditions at the prison compound they left as “squalid.”

The story said the prison was dingy and dark with muddy gray walls; the bathroom was a hole in the ground, hidden by tattered pieces of burlap.

In the room where the six female detainees stayed, there were only four beds. The AP said the blankets were worn and tattered.

Despite the conditions, a reporter found a piece of paper with Heather Mercer’s name on it and an optimistic message.

“What a friend I’ve found,” it read. “We serve a God of miracles. I cry out. God is good all the time. My hope is in you Lord faithful one, so unchanging.”

While he also has faith in their ultimate release, Mulkey said he has no idea how the Muslim world’s upcoming, month-long observance of Ramadan will affect the aid workers’ situation.

Starting on Nov. 18, the religious observance includes a daylight fast, abstinence from sexual relations and smoking, and a breaking of the fast with evening prayer and a meal.

While it would be nice if their Taliban captors granted them amnesty in the spirit of this religious tradition, Mulkey said, God hasn’t revealed his timetable for the women’s release.

Mulkey asked that supporters of Curry and Mercer continue to pray for their safety, decent treatment and imminent release.

Mulkey also noted that encouragement and comfort can be found in the Scriptures. He said Psalm 50:14-15 and 23 have been especially meaningful to him since the latest development.

Those verses read: “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High; and call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me…. He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; and to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God” (NASB.)

“After reading that, I’ve been thinking, ‘Okay, Lord, I’m going to do a little more thanking,'” Mulkey said. “I’ve prayed everything that I can think of being grateful for. A thankful heart is full of faith and that prepares the way for salvation.”

    About the Author

  • Ken Walker