Free at last
By Jason Bowen
hostages were freed, Nov. 12, 2001, after three months of imprisonment
by the Taliban for spreading Christianity in Afghanistan. They were
incarcerated weeks before September 11; as American forces invaded
Afghanistan in search of Osama Bin Laden, all they could do was
wait while the Taliban moved them from one cell to another.
The group consisted of two Americans, two Australians and four Germans.
The Australians were members of ORU Faculty Chaplain Dr. Frank Hultgren's
church in Perth, Australia.
According to Hultgren the group of eight was part of a larger group
of Christian Aid workers called Shelter Now whose primary goal in
Afghanistan is to build shelters and homes for refugees. Diana Thomas,
52, whom Dr. Hultgren has known for 28 years, gave free nursing
attention to Afghanistan refugees. Peter Bunch, 54, whom Hultgren
has known for 15 - 18 years, helped with the computer work needed
for the shelters.
Hultgren explained they were imprisoned because of a Taliban "set-up."
The two American girls, who had been in Afghanistan for only four
months, were doing door-to-door ministry, going into people's homes
and showing them the Jesus film. Under the Taliban rule, it was
illegal for the anyone to proselytize. The Taliban had set up a
home for them to enter, and when they showed the film, the Taliban
had enough evidence to place them under arrest.
"They came into the whole organization; they took the filing
cabinets, computers, desks, chairs. They stripped the place, and
then they went to the [apartments] and the houses of the missionaries
. . . the ones that stayed . . . lost everything," Hultgren
said. The eight were left with "the clothes they were in, and
they were also allowed to have another set of clothes to change
into. The leader of the whole mission, George, was with them also."
During their captivity the prisoners were not allowed to see each
other except when given permission. According to Hultgren, the time
in prison was "very difficult." The main concern with
the prisoners was not necessarily food, but water. "They couldn't
bathe, and some of them got dysentery," Hultgren said.
While this was occurring, the hostages relied on prayer and praise.
"Because the six ladies were imprisoned together, they decided
to have prayer meetings from 8 to 10 in the morning, and from 7
to 9 at night. They would have times of prayer and times of praise,
and it was better than church."
The guards did not like this, according to Hultgren, "particularly
[at] the mentioning of the name Jesus. When the guards would come
in to tell them to stop, they would sing louder, praise longer,
and the Lord would give them songs, prayers and prophesies, and
it wasn't long before the guards would begin to hum the same tune
the prisoners were singing."
Despite the harshness of the Taliban rule, the prisoners were remarkably
unharmed. The day they were put in prison they underwent a daylong
interrogation, but they were not harmed, and the hostages believed
this was the "mercy of God."
On the day they were imprisoned, not only did they escape injury,
but a member of the Taliban approached the hostages and said, "Don't
worry. You're going to be all right. I am going to protect you."
This Taliban remained true to his word the entire time they were
held in captivity. Hultgren relates that every time a prison transfer
took place, this officer assured them of their safety.
As the weeks passed, the American presence in Afghanistan grew.
The night of the hostages' rescue, the Christians found themselves
in an empty field scattered with craters and debris. They saw and
heard two Marine helicopters nearby. The now-free believers burned
some of their clothes to attract attention, but the aircrafts passed
overhead without stopping.
Finally, after waiting an hour-and-a-half, the hostages noticed
that soldiers had surrounded them. The Marines had not landed because
they feared the hostages could have been Taliban forces attempting
to destroy the helicopters. The former detainees were escorted to
the gun ships, and as they boarded the helicopter, Thomas said to
one of the Marines, "We have prayed and prayed so much for
this." The Marine turned to her and said, "You don't know
how much prayer we have put into this also."
Later, when Thomas was interviewed by a psychologist to assess her
mental condition, she was asked, "What made you cry the first
time?" Thomas looked at her and said, "Cry . . . who cried?
I didn't cry. I count it a privilege to be a hostage for Jesus.
My being in prison has caused the whole world to come to prayer;
what a privilege. This is the most exciting and greatest time of
Despite their sufferings and a three month imprisonment in Afghanistan,
they plan to return to the mission field. Currently, Thomas works
at the hospital as a nurse. She has future plans to go back to the
Arab-Muslim world, but not necessarily Afghanistan. Bunch plans
to return to Afghanistan to minister as soon as it is safe.