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BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: Inside Afghanistan, the Taliban is moving ahead with its trial of eight foreign aid workers, two of them Americans, who have been held since August on charges of promoting Christianity. On Friday, the father of one of the American women issued an urgent plea to Taliban officials on behalf of his daughter, who he says has become emotionally unwell during her imprisonment.
As concern for the aid workers mounts, emergency prayers are being offered across the U.S. Kim Lawton reports.
KIM LAWTON: At Antioch Community Church, in Waco, Texas, talk of U.S. military action against Afghanistan hits close to home. The two detained Americans, Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer, were both active members of this nondenominational evangelical church before they left for Afghanistan. Pastor Jimmy Seibert visited the two women there in June.
REV. JIMMY SEIBERT (Antioch Community Church): For both of them, when they landed in Afghanistan, they were living the dream of their lives: to be in a place where people were in tremendous need, and they could be practical help, and they were just being who they were.
LAWTON: The dream turned into a nightmare on August 3. 29-year-old Dayna Curry and 24-year-old Heather Mercer were arrested by security officials and accused of preaching Christianity, something strictly forbidden by the Taliban.
They were taken to this detention center, along with six other foreigners, colleagues at the German-based Christian relief group Shelter Now International. Sixteen Afghans also were arrested.
Shelter Now sponsored several relief projects to help Afghanistan’s poor, including food distribution and small business development. But the Taliban alleges the relief work was a cover for missionary activities. As evidence, they displayed confiscated Christian books, tapes, and CDs — many in English.
Shelter Now says evangelism is not part of its official mandate in Afghanistan. But a statement on the group’s Web site acknowledges Shelter Now does not control the leisure-time activities or personal belongings of its workers.
Friends say the two women are motivated by their strong personal faith to help people in need. Jeannie McGinnis is Heather Mercer’s former roommate.
MS. JEANNIE MCGINNIS (former roommate): She exudes what she believes. And she is not ashamed of what she believes, and so through relationships, I’m sure it came out of what she believes and what she does. Because that is why she went, because she loves God and she loves other people.
REV. SEIBERT: When they went to Afghanistan, they knew the dangers they were getting into. They had counted the costs. We’d had many discussions about it. And they said, “It’s worth it. If Jesus died for me, surely I can give a part of my life in a way that would honor him.”
LAWTON: The Taliban’s trial against the eight foreigners has been on again, off again since early September. Under Taliban law, the potential punishment ranges from expulsion to the death penalty. Parents of the two women had been allowed to see them briefly in Kabul, but they were evacuated to Pakistan after September 11.
MS. NANCY CASSELL (Dayna Curry’s mother): If you have a child and you have to leave them in a situation like this, you can imagine. I do not know how to describe it. It is just heartbreaking.
LAWTON: In Waco, the Antioch Community Church has set up a special room devoted to prayers for the women and the situation in Afghanistan. Congregation members have committed to round-the-clock prayer shifts.
REV. SEIBERT: We are saying, “God, make a way for them where there is no way.” It doesn’t look good for them in the natural, but God is into doing miracles.
LAWTON: The church has received faxes, e-mails, and letters from people around the world who are joining them in prayer.
I’m Kim Lawton reporting.