Dayna Curry's stateside family helped mobilize worldwide prayer

MT. JULIET, Tenn. (BP)--For family members of released Afghanistan hostage Dayna Curry, Thanksgiving came a week early on Nov. 15.

That was the day Curry, who was reared in Brentwood, Tenn., made telephone contact for the first time with family members in her home state.

Thus began the final leg of a roller-coaster journey that began Aug. 3 when Barbara and Harold Cassell received news that their niece had been arrested in Afghanistan, along with her American co-worker, Heather Mercer, and six others, and charged with preaching Christianity in the Muslim nation.

Initially the family was upset, said Leanne Malone, the Cassells' daughter and Curry's cousin. But after some research they discovered the traditional punishment for her charges would be expulsion from the country in three to 10 days, Malone recounted.

Later, however, the family began to hear their loved one could be facing imprisonment ranging from five years to life, to even death, said Malone, a member of First Baptist Church, Smyrna. Her parents are members of Two Rivers Baptist Church, Nashville.

The tragic events of Sept. 11 added to the family's concern, Malone said, noting that between Sept. 13-17 they lost contact with Curry's mother, Nancy Cassell, who was in Pakistan seeking her daughter's release. Nancy Cassell, in turn, had lost contact with her daughter. Up to that point they had visited five times, Malone said, adding that after Sept. 11 her aunt did not see Curry again until her release on Nov. 14.

In between Sept. 11 and Nov. 14 were frequent postponements in Curry's trial.

Immediately after Curry's imprisonment, the Cassell family began getting the word out on prayer chains at Two Rivers and First Baptist, Smyrna. Those messages soon spread to churches and people all over the United States and even the world, the family reported.

The Cassells and Malone developed a "Remember Dayna Curry" button that was distributed to approximately 1,500 people.

The family also talked with Congressman Bob Clement who encouraged them to get the word out about Curry and Mercer's plight. Clement, in turn talked with President George W. Bush, Cassell said. "The administration never forgot Heather and Dayna," he said.

Malone, who worked with Antioch Community Church, Curry and Mercer's home church in Waco, Texas, soon became the media contact for Curry's relatives in the United States, particularly Curry's stepfather, Jim Cassell of Nashville.

During the past three months, Curry's family members have appeared on national television shows such as "Hannity and Colmes" on the FOX Network, "The View" with Barbara Walters on ABC and the "Today" show with Katie Couric on NBC, not counting all the local coverage on Tennessee stations, Malone said.

One of the hardest times for the family happened when the United States began bombing Afghanistan.

Malone noted she had been at the church when she received news of the bombing. She went back inside and saw Amy Hood, wife of senior pastor Pat Hood, who prayed with her. "It was scary," Malone recalled. "Ultimately, we asked for everyone to pray that God's will would be done."

Harold Cassell admitted that at that point "it was questionable if we would ever see Dayna again."

The family's comfort came from the fact they knew Curry was a Christian.

"We knew that if she did not make it, she would be with the Lord," Barbara Cassell said.

"We knew God was in control and would take care of it," Malone agreed. "We all had a peace about it."

The family is convinced prayer is the reason Curry and the others finally were released on Nov. 14.

Malone sent out daily e-mails updating people on the situation. That, along with news coverage, generated countless messages from people who said they were praying for Curry and the others.

One couple from Nova Scotia, Canada, was visiting Two Rivers and attended the Cassells' Sunday school class, he noted. When the couple found out the Cassells were related to Curry, they told them they were on the prayer chain at their church in Nova Scotia, Cassell said.

"Probably millions of people prayed for Dayna," her uncle estimated.

And the prayers paid off when Curry, Mercer and the other hostages were freed unharmed.

"This was a modern-day miracle, and it came at a time when the world needed one so desperately, because the world is still hurting from Sept. 11," Malone observed.

After talking with Curry, the family noted she is still humble and does not view herself as a "hero" because of her Christianity. Yet, the family knows Curry has become an inspiration to others for what she endured.

Her aunt was especially proud of her niece's response when questioned by the media upon her return to the United States.

"She told them the first thing we want to do is to thank the Lord who is responsible for delivering us," Barbara Cassell said.

Curry also expressed that she was not concerned about her safety. Instead her fears were for the Afghanistan people she had worked with prior to her arrest, Cassell noted.

Curry arrived in Tennessee the Friday after Thanksgiving for a time with family and friends before returning later to Waco, Texas.

Malone and the Cassells ask for continued prayer in the lives of Curry and the others in the days ahead.

"Dayna has a lot of tough decisions to make," Malone observed.


(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: STATESIDE IN PRAYER.

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