Doing good in the world requires depth of faith

In the weeks since terrorists attacked the United States, I have read much about "holy wars" and the fanatical faith that drives Islamic extremists to follow Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden and others have said they are willing to die to prove their faith. Certainly, the 19 terrorists who flew jetliners into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania were prepared to sacrifice themselves for their beliefs.

But we've also been told "Islam is peace." So there is fanatical faith, and then there is true faith.

It's the second --the faith that gives people strength to overcome great obstacles in order to do good in the world -- I was thinking of the other day when I read about two women who have it.

They are Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry, the American aid workers who had been held prisoner in Afghanistan since August.

Think about that for a moment. As we were all sleeping snug and safe in our beds prior to Sept. 11, without a care in the world, these two women already were prisoners of the Taliban.

Curry, 30, from Nashville, and Mercer, 24, of Vienna, Va., had gone to one of the nastiest places on earth because they wanted to go.

Both are graduates of Baylor University and belong to Antioch Community church in Waco, Texas.

Like many church groups, they send members overseas to do Christian work. Not many church groups send women to Afghanistan, though. Not many women would be willing to go.

Curry and Mercer had joined up with a Germany-based organization called Shelter Now. In Afghanistan, they were arrested for preaching Christianity. Specificially, they were said to have been trying to teach Christianity to children -- a crime punishable by death.

In the United States, where we take religious freedom for granted, it's inconceivable we could be thrown in jail and executed, for God's sake. Curry and Mercer knew this, however, and deny they were preaching.

But they do admit to having given a boy a book about Jesus and showing a family a film on Jesus' life. It's part of their faith.

On Sept. 11, when the rest of us were shocked out of our revery, Curry and Mercer already were in danger. They knew all about the Taliban. Imagine their horror at realizing they had suddenly become not just prisoners of religious extremism, but prisoners of war.

The women have said they were treated well by their captors. They like the Afghan people, and the Afghan people they met apparently liked them.

A church spokesman was asked if the women feared for their life.

"I think there was always an awareness of the situation, but because of their deep faith in Jesus, they don't fear death. They have continually stood in the grace of God."

The next question was whether the church would re-evaluate its program of sending people to hostile countries.

"Very simply, Jesus tells us to 'go,' He cares for the poor, the widows, the orphans of the world -- feeding them, clothing them, etc. We will continue to support people who want to do that," the church spokesman said.

That's real faith -- not an angry, vengeful, myopic faith. It's a gentle, loving, persuasive faith.

Once they had been rescued by U.S. helicopters, both women said they bear no ill will against the Taliban. In fact, they want to go back to Afghanistan.

"Our hearts are in Afghanistan," said Mercer. "We want to continue to love and serve the Afghan people."


Before I finish, I want to talk about one more kind of faith -- not a religious conviction, but a deeply held belief key to the freedoms we cherish in the United States.

On Monday, four journalists were murdered in Afghanistan. They were Harry Burton and Azizulla Haidari, both of whom worked for Reuters, Italian newspaper reporter Maria Grazia Cutuli and Spanish newspaper reporter Julio Fuentes.

These people were in Afghanistan because it was their job. But it takes something more than the typical journalist to wade into war.

Some go for adventure; some go for the high profile their reports will get in the newspaper. But all go because they feel a responsibility to serve as the eyes and ears of the people who can't go there. They have a faith they can discover some bits of truth, and that truth will shed light into the dark corners of the world.

For example, this group found what they believed were capsules of nerve gas in an abandoned al-Qaida camp. It was the same nerve gas used by terrorists in a Tokyo subway in 1995.

I know I don't have the depth of religious faith to take me to Afghanistan to help feed and clothe people. I know I'm not a journalist who would volunteer to cover a war (maybe when I was 22, but not anymore).

But I can be inspired, and my own faith renewed, by people who are willing to risk their lives -- not for terror, but to make the world a little better.

--Barry Smith is managing editor of the Nevada Appeal.


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