''Prisoners of Hope: Captivity & Freedom in Afghanistan''
What is the best way to commemorate the tragic events of 9/11?
The TV Specials have already begun. Undoubtedly there will be news magazine cover
stories. Some churches and mosques have scheduled special services.
I have a radical alternative suggestion. Read the new book by Dayna Curry and Heather
Mercer, ''Prisoners of Hope: The Story of Our Captivity and Freedom in Afghanistan.''
''Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry decided to go help people who needed help,'' said
President Bush upon their release from prison. ''Their faith led them to Afghanistan. One woman
who knows them best put it this way: they had a calling to serve the poorest of the poor, and
Afghanistan is where that calling took them... I talked to them right after their release, their
freedom, and I sensed no bitterness in their voices, no fatigue, just joy. It was an uplifting
experience for me to talk to these courageous souls.''
Growing up, both girls saw their parents divorce and for a time, lived recklessly. Dayna
got pregnant on her 17th birthday and had an abortion. Both made a Christian conversion and
attended Baylor University, where they decided ''to go as Christian aid workers to a country
where a harsh unpredictable regime curtailed religious freedom,'' which sparked "serious alarm"
by their parents and friends, they concede.
''We were motivated to serve the poor by our love for Jesus...We wanted to go to
Afghanistan because we knew few others were willing to do so,'' they write.
They went with Shelter Now International (SNI) where they created a school for 70 street
children, giving them a hot meal and job training. They helped many widows, such as buying eggs
from Leena who sold 20-25 eggs a week for two pennies per egg profit. To increase her income
they bought her some chickens, so she could keep all of the profit. Such stories reveal the
remarkable selfless nature of their service.
Within four months of their arrival, however, they were arrested in August, 2001 and
taken before the Supreme Court of Afghanistan not even knowing the charges. Their crime, they
learned days later, was spreading the ''abolished Religion of Christianity.'' They were charged
with inviting an Afghan family to accept Christianity. The evidence against them was a CD of the
Jesus film which they had showed on a lap top computer to a family at its request.
Actually, they did not explicitly try to covert the family to Christianity. They had visited
the family before, and prayed for the healing of a large sore in a child's mouth, ''in the name of
Jesus.'' The family asked them back, saying the child was healed which prompted more questions
about Christianity, such as ''Do Christians fast?'' That moved Heather to offer to come back
and show them a film about the life of Jesus so they could better understand what motivated them.
However, it was clearly a set up. Strange men were present. They were arrested as they
left the home.
What were the Taliban really like? On one hand, the women saw the harshness of the
regime. Dayna was once whipped for walking through a bazaar. But they were never physically
abused in the three prisons they were shuffled to. A head jailer name Najib, ''behaved toward us
in a paternal way,'' with his personal cook preparing their food. Several translators took
considerable risk in allowing them to call their parents.
Heather and Dayna were told two planes had crashed into each other over New York,
killing 400 people. For that America would attack Afghanistan - which made no sense. All other
Americans were evacuated to Pakistan, including their parents who had just arrived.
The women were the only Americans in Kabul when American bombs began to fall.
Heather was so frightened she slept under her bed. Ultimately, their Taliban jailers fled the city
with them, exposing them to their greatest danger.
Heather and Dayna's faith sustained them throughout their ordeal. They worshiped every
morning and evening, and sang songs to keep their courage up. They even composed songs
combining the Psalms with their acute circumstances.
Their personal story, written with Stacy Mattingly, is fast-paced and uplifting in
unexpected ways. We see the purity of their Christian love for Afghan people, who are given a
human face - their stark need and diverse personalities - missing from news reports.
''It's a wonderful story about prayer, about a faith that can sustain people in good times
and in bad times,'' said President Bush in the Rose Garden last November.