Heather Mercer said no to Taliban, yes to abused Iraqi women
“[Heather] Mercer and seven other aid workers from Shelter Now, an international charity, had been taken captive by the Taliban in August 2001 and accused of trying to convert Afghans to Christianity. The aid workers… were jailed and threatened with a death sentence,” The Tennessean reports. Today, Mercer is the president of Global Hope, an organization assisting the needs of abused women in Iraq and Afghanistan.
By Bob Smietana
8/12/2011 Afghanistan (The Tennessean) – Not long after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Heather Mercer stood on the side of a mountain in Afghanistan, staring down a dozen Taliban soldiers.
Mercer and seven other aid workers from Shelter Now, an international charity, had been taken captive by the Taliban in August 2001 and accused of trying to convert Afghans to Christianity. The aid workers, including Mercer’s friend and Nashville native Dayna Curry, were jailed and threatened with a death sentence.
Weeks later, the Taliban soldiers were on the run, hiding their prisoners in the mountains outside of Kabul. The temperatures were below freezing. Armed with AK-47 rifles, they herded the captives into a metal shipping container for the night.
Mercer, then 24, said she wouldn’t go in. She feared her captors would lock the door and leave her to freeze to death.
“You can kill me,” she told them in Dari, an Afghan dialect. “But you will not lock me in there.”
Freed by post-9/11 U.S. military action, Mercer was determined to keep on helping people. Today, she is president of Global Hope, a Spring Hill, Tenn.-based charity that does relief and development work in northern Iraq and is raising money to complete a $2 million community center there.
The center will offer English classes and business training to Kurds living in northern Iraq and employ women who fled abusive relationships and need to support their families. The project — which has a website at www.freedomcenteriraq.org — still needs about a half-million dollars.
Mercer said her work is inspired in part by her captivity in Afghanistan. While in prison, she met women jailed after leaving abusive relationships and decided to focus her work on helping those like them.
“I never would have thought that I could have told the Taliban no,” she said during an interview Thursday in Spring Hill, where she lives with her husband, Mohand Al Khoury.
The work of Global Hope, founded in 2008, is funded by private donors and churches. Mercer and Curry also donated more than a million dollars in proceeds from Prisoners of Hope, their book about their captivity, and from speaking engagements.
Mercer hopes her nonprofit can be a bridge between Muslims and Christians, who she believes have a great deal in common, but she’s unapologetic about sharing the faith that inspires her charitable work.