September 11, 2001. That was twenty years ago. I used to read international news in the Stockholm City library’s newspaper room. There were among other things articles about some Christian missionaries in Afghanistan who had been arrested by the Talibans on suspicion of violating Sharia laws on proselytism. This was in August 2001.
And I was distracted by the terrorist attack on September 11, when I tried to follow up on that matter ! It almost fell into oblivion.
Now, however, I found those old articles. They were published by the New York Times, among others (at the time, the newspaper was called the “International Herald Tribune”).
There were at least two missionary organizations whose staff had been arrested. One of them was the Germany-based “Shelter Now“, and as some of its captured employees feared during the interrogations, their words spread around the world, as they carefully sought to avoid identifying some of the Afghans who had been the subject of their outreach activities. On August 26, 2001, the New York Times published their “Confession”: “We gave two copies of a book about Jesus to a family. We have not given anything else, no other books or any material to anyone else. We sang alone one song about God, not about Jesus. They did not sing with us. We drank green tea ”.
The paper continued: “This may not exactly sound like the centerpiece of some grand collusion, but today a Taliban spokesman, Abdul Hal Mutmain, said that the first phase of the investigation was complete, and that the tentacles of a far-reaching Christian plot had been found to clutch not just Kabul, the capital, but other cities as well. The inquiry will now extend elsewhere“. So it had stirred up international attention, especially from the United States, Germany and Australia, that had individual citizens in Afghanistan who were involved in “Shelter Now”.
George Taubman, Margrit Stebnar, Kati Jelinek and Silke Duerrkopf from Germany, Diana Thomas and Peter Bunch from Australia and Dyane Curry and Heather Mercer from the United States spent nearly four months in detention in Afghanistan before being rescued. The Guardian wrote about the matter on November 16 of the same year, recalliing the evacuees’ words: “They also told of their dramatic night rescue, when women in the group set fire to their body-masking burqas so American Special Forces pilots could find them. .. they were airlifted to safety by the US helicopters … ”
And I also found that in 2002, a book was published in which this story is developed, a book written by the two American women in the group.
So I got it, and read it. “Prisoners of Hope” thus tells about difficult questions that need to be answered before going to a country like Afghanistan to spread the message of Jesus Christ, and about even more difficult questions asked by the Taliban interrogators.
The stay in three different prisons is described in realistic detail, and individual Afghan life stories are highlighted with great empathy. Sparse contacts with relatives meant that information about events in the outside world, even about the terrorist attack on 11/9, comes only in small portions. And the appalling realization that the great United States has gone to war against the Taliban in Afghanistan comes in a very awkward position for these captured Christian missionaries from the West.
And the message about “praying for Afghanistan” feels more urgent than ever.
The Hill about the situation today