On 9/11, American missionary Heather Mercer was 6,700 miles away from New York City, behind bars in a Kabul, Afghanistan, prison awaiting trial. Weeks earlier in August 2001, the Taliban arrested Mercer and her close friend, Dayna Curry.
The two young women were ministering in Kabul through Shelter Now, a housing outreach organization. In one of the most dramatic stories of the 9/11 era, the Taliban put them and other Western missions staff on trial for spreading Christianity in the Muslim-majority nation.
Weeks later as the Taliban regime was under attack, anti-Taliban fighters freed all of them. Mercer and Curry returned to the U.S. and the Bush White House hosted a celebration of their freedom. In 2003, Mercer decided to relocate to Kurdistan, the autonomous area of northern Iraq. In 2008, she founded Global Hope, a U.S.-based ministry to northern Iraqis. Now married to an Iraqi Christian, she and her husband divide their time between a home in Texas and Kurdistan. Timothy C. Morgan, CT deputy managing editor, interviewed Mercer recently about the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and her goals for Global Hope.
The tenth anniversary of 9/11 is coming up. Your mind must go back to that period frequently. Was it worth your effort going to Afghanistan and being jailed?
There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about it. God sent me to prison to set me free. I don't think I realized how much fear I actually had in my life until I had to confront some of my deepest, darkest fears. When I first set out to go to Afghanistan, I knew it might cost me my life to reach Muslims with the love of Jesus. Then I had this opportunity to face that fear of, "What would I do if someone tried to kill me for sharing the gospel?" God made himself known in such a profound way that now, what do I have to fear?
There must have been some very hard times for you after 9/11.
When we came out of that experience, there was this grace cloud that followed us everywhere. Antioch Community Church in Waco [Texas] cared for us, pastored us through. Healing came in telling in the story over and over. Through the telling, I was able to see the good that came out of the bad. Eventually, the good overshadowed the bad. Today, I can look back and feel like I've learned a million times more than anything I ever lost.
Back in 2001, there were Christian nay-sayers out there who said, "You were naïve, and you probably did break the law." Would you do things differently if you were going into Afghanistan today?
In terms of our purpose for being there and sharing the gospel, no, I wouldn't do anything differently. There's no other reason to be in a place like Afghanistan if you can't offer the only source of hope to people who have no hope.
Are you any wiser today than you were 10 years ago?
Maybe wiser in understanding an Islamic worldview, how to approach someone with that worldview with the message of Jesus. We were very aware of the risks, dangers, and challenges. The only way to really understand an Islamic worldview is to live in it. As an American, I took things at face value. Now, 10 years later, having worked in the Islamic world all this time, I understand more when I'm speaking to a Muslim what's really going on.
Do you stay in contact with Dayna Curry and others from Shelter Now?
Dayna and I remain very close. Everyone that was involved in that experience continues to serve Jesus among Muslims, which is just a fabulous testimony.