Afghan aid workers were 'unwavering,' Mercer says

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Heather Mercer, who along with Dayna Curry was held captive by the Taliban for 105 days nine years ago, said the aid workers who were killed recently in Afghanistan were an example of what it means to love a forgotten people.

Mercer told Baptist Press she learned that 10 aid workers had been murdered in the mountains of Afghanistan, possibly by the Taliban, when she saw news of the tragedy scrolling across the bottom of the screen as she watched Fox News. Immediately she thought they could have been some of her friends from her time there, and she was shocked and grieved.

Indeed, Mercer did know Tom Little and Dan Terry, two of the men who were killed when a group of gunmen surrounded the team after they had trekked days in the mountains to provide medical care to Afghans living in a remote region.

"They were unwavering. They were not afraid to give their lives," Mercer said of Little and Terry. "Their hope was in Jesus. Their hope was in the promise of heaven. They could do what they did because their hope was in Jesus. I hope when my life is through that I can have lived the same way, wholeheartedly and fearlessly for the Gospel."

Though she didn't know him as well as others did, Mercer said Little was the first person she ever met who worked in Afghanistan. She was a 20-year-old sophomore at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, when she was inspired by his message.

"Hearing his stories of Afghanistan riveted me and all the more made me want to go and live among them," she said.

Mercer and Curry had been working with the interdenominational Shelter Now ministry in Afghanistan in 2001 when they were among eight westerners arrested by the Taliban and held in prison. They were rescued by U.S. Special Forces.

"There are so, so few in the world that would do what they did, so few that would literally give their entire lives to serve in a place like Afghanistan," Mercer said of the aid workers. "They are heroes of the faith.

"Whether they were ever sharing the Gospel directly or if they were sharing indirectly, they were displaying who Christ is in a place that is desperately in need of the tangible witness of Christ," she said.

Mercer said she was moved by the news that five of the eight foreign aid workers in the group will be buried in Afghanistan.

"I think that's such a testimony of where their hearts were. These people weren't just foreigners serving in a foreign land. They were Afghans," she said. "These were foreigners who so loved the Afghan people that they became Afghan themselves. And even in their deaths, they will stay there. It's a picture of how much they have given their lives for these people."

The aid workers are a testimony for the Christian world of what it looks like to follow Christ to the world's hardest places, Mercer said, and she urged believers to pray for their families.

"They will be very missed, but we know that what they've done for the land of Afghanistan will not go unremembered," she said. "There will be an inheritance in that country because of what they've given their lives for."

After they were rescued from prison, Mercer and Curry spent the next two years traveling in the United States to talk about God's love for the Afghan people. When the war on terror expanded to Iraq, Mercer moved back overseas to work with the Kurds of northern Iraq.

"It's more commonly known today than it was 10 years ago, but the Kurdish people in many ways are similar to the Afghans," Mercer said. "For many years under Saddam's regime they were oppressed. They were fleeing for the mountains because of chemical warfare and the destruction of their towns and villages, and they were really a forgotten people, a lot like the Afghans have been.

"They even have kind of a proverb in their culture that says, 'We're the orphans of the universe and those who have no friends but the mountains.' In many ways there is a connection between the Kurds of Iraq and the Afghans."

Opportunities for service abound as the Kurds slowly embrace democracy and establish their society, Mercer said. In 2006, she helped start the Freedom Center, which addresses physical needs in a community of about 100,000 people.

In 2008, she began Global Hope, an organization with a goal of mobilizing the church to invest in and engage the Islamic world so that Muslims on the front lines will have a chance to hear the Gospel.

Not a day goes by, Mercer said, that her experience as a Taliban captive doesn't cross her mind as inspiration to continue the work in the Middle East.

"I've often thought Afghanistan is the place that Jesus would live. If He were walking the earth today, I think Afghanistan would be the place that He would live," she told BP.

"I've been to about 50 countries, many of them in the Muslim world, and Afghanistan by far is the darkest place I have ever been. Those are the places that Jesus loves to move."

God is at work in significant ways in the Muslim world amid the spiritual darkness, she said.

"There are amazing testimonies of people's lives being transformed by the person of Jesus and the power of God. A lot of people are experiencing dreams and visions of Jesus and He's appearing to them and people are following Him. So it's a very exciting yet a very dangerous and sobering time to be working in that part of the world," Mercer said.

She referred to Matthew 24:14, which says, "And this Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."

"These are the parts of the world that have really yet to hear an authentic Gospel message. The world is shifting, and the church needs to be very bold but very wise as they serve among Muslims," Mercer said. "If the church doesn't go, who will? If the people of God don't respond to love and serve the Islamic world, who will go?

"That, I believe, is really a mandate on the church -- and I'm not just speaking of the western church but I'm speaking of the worldwide church -- at this time in history. The Islamic issue is one of the biggest issues facing our times, and the people of God are the ones who have the answer."

Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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