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Book Review: Kabul24 by Henry O. Arnold and Ben Pearson

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Authors Henry O. Arnold and Ben Pearson crawl behind the eyes and into the minds and hearts of the eight European, American, and Australian missionaries the Taliban held captive in Kabul for 105 days in 2001. The result is Kabul24, a story to which readers are willing hostages to the suspense-filled end.

The nightmare begins on August 3rd, the day Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer, two Kabul Shelter Now International workers, bring over the Jesus DVD for an Afghan family to watch. They do this after the family has expressed an interest in Christianity and asked to see the video.

That afternoon, not realizing they have been set up, both girls are ambushed by Taliban soldiers while in their taxis. The next day six more Kabul SNI workers (two men and six women total) are rounded up, along with sixteen Afghan Christians who also work for SNI. Others flee the country.

The imprisonment of the eight is described in chilling detail. We do get to know each of the players a little, but the story is told mainly through the eyes of Georg Taubmann, a German who takes responsibility for the others. (Though there are 24 hostages, the story is mainly about the eight foreign missionaries; the 16 Afghans are imprisoned separately.)

Arnold’s and Pearson’s storytelling is masterful. Though we know at the outset that the hostages will eventually be freed, we are kept on edge of our seats as the eight are shuffled from one prison to the next by captors who are jittery and unpredictable with Kalishnikovs always at the ready. Things go from bad to worse after the 9-11 attack when western bombing of Afghanistan begins. The events of the eventual liberation at the end of the story are the most nail-biting of all.

In addition to being a gripping read, the book is also inspirational. The characters of these men and women come to light as they deal with their captors and each other day in and day out, under conditions that range from extreme boredom to life-and-death danger. Both the men and the women (who are held in different parts of the prison though eventually allowed some interaction) set up routines which include Bible-reading, sharing their thoughts and feelings, worship, and prayer. This focus on the spiritual aspect of the situation changes the cast of even the most discouraging of developments. Witness, for example, the reaction of the eight after 9-11 when Afghanistan is under foreign attack and all other westerners have left the city:

“Could their situation be any worse? How would God help them now? Who was there to turn to now? They could look at the situation before them and believe what they felt … the knife stab of abandonment. On the other hand, they could choose to believe that they just might be in the center of God’s will. Perhaps there was a purpose in all of this. Perhaps this was not desertion. Perhaps God had designed this exact place and time for them, that no one else could see His mystifying purpose through to the end but these eight. Being unable to depart the city meant they would be in the center of the storm and could pray for a country they loved, pray for a people they loved, pray for a work they performed that had brought so much good to so many people. No one else was better qualified to utter such passionate prayers on behalf of a nation and her people. To be present in a ‘fiery furnace’ when there seemed to be little hope of survival might just be ground zero of God’s infinite purpose for these eight people.” p. 113

The book shows how God gives strength to get through the hardest situation, not ahead of time but just at the time it is needed. And sometimes, when there is no way out, miracles happen. It reminds us too that not all enemies are the same. Some Taliban members show sympathy and help the eight.

This riveting story will leave you hugging your flag and thanking God for the freedoms of a democratic country. But it will also show you that God can work in places that are anything but free. For all that and more, Kabul24 is a book not to miss!

Kabul24 is also a movie directed by Michael W. Smith. It is scheduled to release in November 2009.

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