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As war rages over Afghanistan, churches, family, and friends of two American Christian women held in Kabul are mounting an intensive prayer campaign for their safety and release.

Heather Mercer, 24, and Dayna Curry, 29, were arrested August 3 for allegedly trying to convert a Muslim family to Christianity. If convicted, they could face the death penalty. The women were working for Shelter Now, a German Christian relief agency. Twenty-two other Shelter workers, including 16 Afghans, also were arrested (ct, Oct. 1, p. 26). In his September 20 address to the nation before a joint session of Congress, President Bush demanded that the "unjustly imprisoned" foreign nationals be released.

While studying at Baylor University, Curry and Mercer were part of a college ministry at Highland Baptist Church in Waco, Texas. When Highland launched Antioch Community Church in Waco as a church plant in 1999, the women became members. Before joining Shelter Now, Curry was a social worker with the Waco Independent School District. Mercer was a leader in the church's college ministry. Mercer has been in Afghanistan since March. Curry had served in the country from August 1999 until last January. In mid-March she began another one- or two-year term.

Mercer's mother, Deborah Oddy, has told reporters that she urged her daughter not to go to Afghanistan.

Mercer's younger sister, Hannah, died after two painful back operations. "The loss was traumatic for our entire family," Oddy told ct. "I don't think Heather received the counseling she needed prior to her departure for Kabul, nor do I think she had enough time to process her terrible loss. This left her entering. … a very harsh country in an already weakened emotional state.

"She has begun to show physical ...

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November 12, 2001

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