- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2001

Heather Mercer is caught in the clutches of a nightmare, uncertain of her fate as the U.S.-led military strikes come tumbling down in Kabul, Afghanistan.
She is one of the innocents in all the craziness, one of the foreign aid workers who is being held in a detention center in Kabul. There are eight of them: four Germans, two Australians and two Americans. The charge against the eight: spreading Christianity in this basket case of religious intolerance.
The leaders of the Taliban work in contemptible ways, as the rest of the world has come to discover. You try to give their people a hand. They show you the back of their hand. Or worse.
Miss Mercer and her colleagues have been prisoners of the Taliban regime since Aug. 5, consigned to a life-or-death ordeal, awaiting the resumption of a trial that has been delayed because of the U.S.-led efforts to extract all the evil there in the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11.
It was a month ago today that America was jolted out of its old way of life and became familiar with the depraved rantings of Osama bin Laden. It was a month ago today that an already-bad situation became worse for Miss Mercer and the other foreign aid workers.
Miss Mercer is a 24-year-old woman who grew up in Vienna, Va., in the Washington suburbs, who set out to do good in a faraway land and wound up becoming a footnote to the events around her.
Her mother, Deborah Oddy, says her daughter is "terrified." Her father, John Mercer, offered himself up to the Taliban in exchange for his daughter's release. They, too, are prisoners in a way, vowing not to leave that part of the world until their daughter is at their side, safe.
For now, the parents are maintaining a lonely vigil in Islamabad, Pakistan, appearing here and there on television, clinging to every snippet of news that details the welfare of their daughter. She is said to be safe but scared, the word yesterday from the group's lawyer following his return to the capital city.
Miss Mercer is one of us, one of the masses, one of two Americans the Taliban tried to employ as bargaining chips before the bombing campaign was initiated Sunday.
She is a 1995 graduate of James Madison High School, a popular and active figure while she was there, her presence well-documented in the yearbooks. She was the captain of the cross-country and track-and-field teams in her senior year. She was an officer in the student government, a member of the Hawk Talk newspaper staff and involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
From Madison, Miss Mercer went to Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where she earned a degree in German in 1999 and immersed herself in the Christian community, notably with Shelter Now International, a German-based organization that helps the oppressed across the globe.
It was through Shelter Now that Miss Mercer joined up with an old friend from Baylor, 29-year-old Dayna Curry, of Thompsons Station, Tenn., who is also being held by the Taliban.
The eight prisoners understood the dangers in Afghanistan and the Taliban's virtual contempt for women. Miss Mercer went ahead anyway last spring, drawn by the sad women and children of this war-torn place. The eight deny the charges against them, whatever that is worth in a country that beats and executes its women on whim. Their mission was to provide food, health care and education to the people of Afghanistan.
Instead, Miss Mercer has become a mug shot in the newspaper and on television, another face amid all the faces that have tugged at a nation's heart since Sept. 11 and stirred its passion and stoked its will.
She is a long way from her home in Vienna, a long way from the rest of her life, a long way from what she was hoping to do.
Miss Mercer undoubtedly has imagined every possible scenario, the worst as well as the best, from her unnerving place in this new war. She has her faith, a community's prayers and a nation's resolve on her side.

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