Dayna Curry & Heather Mercer's freedom celebrated by president, intercessors

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (BP)--"Today we've got incredibly good news," President George W. Bush said in an impromptu news conference Nov. 15, interrupting a dinner with Russian President Vladimir Putin at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas.

"Our United States military rescued eight humanitarian workers who have been in prison in Afghanistan."

The same evening, the father of Dayna Curry, Tilden Curry in Nashville, Tenn., received a telephone call that began with her words, "Dad, I'm free."

Curry and Heather Mercer and six other western aid workers were in Islamabad, Pakistan, after being rescued Nov. 15 in pre-dawn Afghanistan, having been freed amid an anti-Taliban uprising in the city of Ghazni.

The workers had been taken to the city, about 50 miles south of Kabul, by Taliban forces retreating from the nation's capital as U.S.-backed Northern Alliance forces were advancing.

Sixteen Afghan aid workers who also had been held by Taliban authorities also were freed when Northern Alliance forces entered Kabul, according to news reports.

The aid workers, affiliated with the German-based Shelter Now International ministry, were arrested Aug. 3 on Taliban charges of spreading their Christian faith in the Muslim nation.

"Even the timing of it is not surprising," Danny Mulkey, assistant pastor of Curry and Mercer's home church, told Baptist Press the morning of Nov. 15, referencing intercessors' prayers that the workers would be released by Thanksgiving. Members of Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, had been praying around the clock, individually and in groups, for the aid workers since being stunned by their arrest.

Jimmy Seibert, Antioch's senior pastor, said in a news conference in the sanctuary preceding a Nov. 15 worship service to celebrate Curry and Mercer's release: "First of all, let me say on behalf of the ladies, on behalf of us as a congregation, we want to thank the Lord Jesus Christ for making a way where there is no way." Both Curry and Mercer are graduates of Baylor University in Waco and are members of the church launched in 1999 by Waco's Highland Baptist Church.

President Bush, who had rejected attempts by the Taliban to use the aid workers as bargaining chips in the U.S.-led military campaign against the Afghan rulers and Osama bin Laden's Afghan-based terror network, said in his comments to the media, "There have been a lot of people praying for the eight -- eight innocent folks. ... [A lot] of the Waco citizens have been in deep prayer that they be rescued, and their prayers were answered."

Curry's stepfather, Jim Cassell in Franklin, Tenn., attributed the aid workers' release squarely to prayer, in comments to the local ABC affiliate in Nashville.

Whenever people asked him what they could do to help his stepdaughter and the others, Cassell said he regularly told them that prayer was the best thing and the only thing they could do.

Curry and Mercer were resting at the home of the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlin, who said the two women were having "a totally joyous day," The Washington Post reported.

"They have been hugging their parents, they have been taking a hot bath, they have been eating their favorite meal, they have been to the beauty parlor and had their hair done," Chamberlin was quoted as saying.

Curry and Mercer were seen briefly on an ABC News report the morning of Nov. 15 with joyous smiles and voicing quick words of excitement over their freedom as they were entering a van in Islamabad. The Associated Press earlier had reported that the eight workers "appeared to be in good health" after their three-month captivity.

The nighttime rescue of the aid workers was accomplished by U.S. troops aboard three Special Forces helicopters who flew across 100 miles of hostile territory to make the pickup, ABC News reported. Curry and Mercer were reunited later in the day with various family members who had been holding vigil in Islamabad since the workers' arrest.

One of the freed western aid workers, Georg Taubmann of Germany, told reporters the six women and two men spent a cold night Tuesday, Nov. 13, locked in a steel container then were transferred to a jail in Ghazni, from which they were freed in an local uprising against the Taliban.

Taubmann, in recounting their ordeal to reporters, said the steel container where they spent the night was "terribly cold. ... We had no blankets. We were freezing the whole night through."

The next morning they were taken to a jail -- the fifth jail where they had been held since Aug. 3, Taubmann told reporters at the German embassy in Islamabad. Before long, bombing by American forces began, followed in about an hour by a local uprising against the Taliban. Northern Alliance troops broke into the prison, Taubmann continued, and "we actually were afraid the Taliban were coming and taking us to Kandahar. We were really scared." But Taubmann and three fellow German aid workers, Curry and Mercer and two Australians received a hero's welcome in Ghazni. "We walked into the city and the people came out of the houses and they hugged us and they greeted," Taubmann said. "They were all clapping. They didn't know there were foreigners in the prison. It was like a big celebration for all those people."

Northern Alliance forces guarded the eight aid workers until they were picked up that night in an open field.

President Bush, in his comments to the media, acknowledged, "I had spent a lot of time worrying about all eight [aid workers], particularly the two young ladies [Curry and Mercer]. I was worried ... about the reports that perhaps the enemy would put them in a house and then, for whatever reason, would encourage that house to get bombed. I was worried for their safety. We had thought of different ways in which we could extricate them from the prison they were in. And there were some people on the ground that helped, including the International Red Cross, and our military responded. And it's great --"

The Taliban supreme court trial of the eight aid workers over the witnessing charges had begun Sept. 8 with an initial hearing, but was postponed indefinitely by the Taliban after U.S. military strikes against the regime were launched.

Bush said if Curry and Mercer "are in a position where I can call, I'd love to call them, and most of all, tell their parents that I can imagine how they feel, how thrilled they are that their daughters are safe."

No timetable has been announced for Curry and Mercer's return to the United States.


Todd Starnes contributed to this article.

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