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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, October 19, 2002

When does zeal turn to zealotry?

By Ken Garfield

No one should doubt the courage of Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer.

But after hearing the two Christian aid workers tell the story of their imprisonment in Afghanistan to 20,000 women in Charlotte, N.C., I respectfully question some of their other qualities.

And my first question is this: When does a missionary's zeal turn him or her into a zealot?

It was hard not to be stirred by the ovation that erupted when Curry and Mercer took the stage at this month's Women of Faith's "Sensational Life" conference.

These weren't just two dedicated Christians sharing their faith — they were two patriots whose names and harrowing story struck an American nerve after Sept. 11.

Curry and Mercer held the audience spellbound as they relived their 105 days in Taliban custody — recalling the threats and bombs, and recounting the moments when their faith survived even when they thought they might not.

That evening, we felt privileged to be in the presence of two women willing to die for their cause. But listening to them share their testimony, and talking to them privately moments before they took the spotlight, I was left unsettled.

They are determined to return to Afghanistan and continue trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.

"They don't know that Jesus died on the cross for them," said Curry, who turned 30 in the Taliban prison. "Who's going to tell them?"

Such determination struck me as brave and passionate, yet foolhardy and overbearing. Sharing their faith, what missionaries do after they hand out blankets and food, is noble. I'm just not so sure about the nobility (or safety) of aggressively preaching that Jesus is the only way to poverty-stricken Muslims in a nation torn by war and besieged by terrorists.

Mercer, 25, admitted her mother doesn't want her to return to Afghanistan. What mother would? And yet the daughter knows whom she answers to first.

"It comes down to the fact that I have to obey God," Mercer said. "I know that God said, 'This is the place for me.' "

In theory, I'd be proud if my son (only four years younger than Mercer) spoke of a willingness to die for a cause. But in real life, would I want him to disobey me and die for a cause that is both dangerous and controversial? Would anyone?

Curry and Mercer have made more than 200 public appearances since they were freed last November by anti-Taliban forces. Their ministry has expanded to include a book and CD with the hymns and praise songs that gave them strength in the Taliban prison. I'm glad they've become celebrities. They've earned the right to profess the belief expressed so eloquently by Curry:

"God can use anybody."

In this case, God is using them to make the rest of us think harder about what it means to be a missionary.

Ken Garfield is the religion editor at The Charlotte Observer. Expressions of Faith is a column written individually by pastors, lay workers and other leaders of faith. If you want to contribute, e-mail faith@honoluluadvertiser.com or call 525-8036.