Before most Americans had even heard of the Taliban, American John Weaver entered Afghanistan to help those living in the destruction of years of war and the restrictive Muslim government.

In September 2000, the Northern Virginia native began work in the country as a relief worker with Shelter For Life International. There he saw how the lives of families had been destroyed by a ravaged land and cruel leadership. After the events of September 11, Weaver stayed in the country to help those families. He tells his story in Inside Afghanistan (W Publishing Group).

In these excerpts from the book, Weaver writes about the terror that raged before September 11 and his prayers for change.

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Before the Taliban or Al Qaeda exported their malicious hatred and evil acts of terrorism to the rest of the world, they practiced them for years in Afghanistan. In fact, during the last several years, humanitarian aid workers have frequently evacuated northern Afghanistan because of the Taliban's savage treatment of anyone they perceived as an enemy.

For example, the first week of September 2000, the Taliban bombarded Taloqan, the capital of the Takhar province. Explosions and fires razed parks, orchards, and neighborhoods. Ten thousand families fled for their lives, but hundreds of civilians died, and the survivors experienced intense suffering. There, as in so many and towns of Afghanistan, destroyed homes collapsed on the innocent families within. Simple grave markers usually appeared in front of the rubble indicating to passersby that what remained of the house had become a tomb. No one in the family was left to dig out the bodies and give them a proper burial.

The Taliban's next target was Khvajeh Ghar, which they attacked around the middle of September, destroying 80 percent of the area. They massacred innocent civilians, planted hundreds of mines, and booby-trapped empty houses. The village was instantly transformed into a ghost town. At least 5,000 families barely escaped with only the clothes they were wearing and what they and their donkeys could carry.

Their appetite for mayhem unsatiated, the Taliban applied their own version of scorched-earth policy to the towns they overran, tossing incendiary devices on the roofs of homes and businesses. Plumes of smoke from smoldering villages blackened the air for days, like ominous low-hanging thunderclouds. Those who lived to tell of the atrocities knew they had no homes to which they could return.

Mud houses don't burn, but Afghan builders use wood timbers, woven mats, and straw-laced mud layers to roof their homes. Unfortunately, those materials blaze like tinder; fires catch quickly and consume the thatch, in turn igniting the heavier wood frames. The roof eventually collapses onto the rooms and families below. After the leaping flames die down, the glowing coals continue to burn until everything in the house is destroyed. After the embers cool, an eerie sight remains. Doors gone and windows empty, the skeleton houses resemble hollow-eyed Halloween masks, staring morosely into deserted streets.

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Never looking back, the Taliban then set their sights on Dasht-e Qaleh. I had just moved into town. This area was strategic in the war effort, because it includes an important Tajik/Afghan border crossing on the Amu Darya River. The first bombs screamed into my neighborhood around September 20, 2000. We quickly stopped our work on the girls' school project, because our workers presented tempting targets to Taliban fighter pilots. Moreover, if the Northern Alliance lost this area, the school might be destroyed or used to house soldiers. In either case, it could not serve its intended purpose.

The fighting intensified as planes, tanks, and missiles daily shelled the town and villages of Dasht-a Qaleh. Those bombardments severely damaged several buildings along the main street. Within days we closed our office in Dasht-e Qaleh and moved everything up the mountain to Rostaq. Meanwhile, the courageous Northern Alliance forces dug in and refused to budge in the face of the Taliban attacks.

All the other U.N. agencies and nongovernment organizations retreated from the front to their offices in Feyzabad. I spent nights in our Rostaq office, but drove back down the mountain every day to the Dasht-e Qaleh area. People still in the danger zone desperately needed our assistance.

My days blurred into each other in a flurry of activity as I assigned workers to assist with the distributions, contacted other agencies for supplies, and planned for long-term needs such as provisions and preparations for the approaching winter months.

Turning Point

September 2001 arrived. I had been inside the country almost a year. With God's help, much good had been done. But the war sounds in the background constantly reminded me of how little had really changed. There seemed no end to the suffering. All around me in the darkness of the village were people whose lives had been ripped apart by the fighting. Their homes were gone. Family members were missing or dead. The explosions in the distance seemed to mock my helplessness and insignificance.

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Standing again on our flat roof in [the village of] Nowabad, I felt a rising tide of frustration inside. I found myself once more weeping for the people I was trying to help. Overwhelmed with the circumstances around me, I cried out to God, instinctively raising my hands and my eyes upward. As my head tilted back, it was as if my tears acted like added lenses for my eyes, and I saw the night sky in a new way. The diamond stars seemed magnified and brilliant. I was drawn into the awesome wonder of God's universe. I felt wrapped in the power of the one who, with just an almighty word, made all that I could see and so much more. I was overwhelmed with God's greatness.

Under that amazing display of stars, I thought of another many centuries ago, looking up at the same sky, not so far where I was standing. Abram was his name. He's now known billions as Prophet Abraham, the father of Judaism, Christianity, Islam. God promised him that his offspring would number as as the stars in the heavens. He also told Abraham that all the families of the earth would be blessed through him. And I thought, What and how will this come to Afghanistan? Then I wondered if my being here had even a tiny part in God's divine plan of great blessing.

I cried out in prayer again to God, "Please have mercy, for if someone doesn't bring an end to this war, this country is in deep trouble."