When the Taliban captured humanitarian relief workers Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer in August, religious and political leaders in the United States were aghast. The Taliban accused the aid workers of being on a secret campaign to convert Muslims. It seemed yet another sign of the Taliban's dishonesty, extremism and paranoia.

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But now that Curry and Mercer and the six other Shelter Now relief workers are safe, a different story can be told. The Taliban was partly right. Curry and Mercer did spend time in Afghanistan evangelizing--in violation of Afghani law. More significantly, they are part of a widespread and rapidly growing effort among American Christians to convert Muslims around the world.

They are warriors, in other words, in what can fairly be described as a Christian jihad against Islam.

Although the two women say that most of their time was spent providing practical humanitarian care, Curry has conceded that about 20% of the Taliban's charges against them were valid. She admits, for instance, that she gave a boy a book about Jesus, and that she and Mercer showed at least one Afghani family a movie known as "the Jesus" film. The Jesus film is a popular tool of missionaries seeking converts. Translated into 685 languages, the 1979 film was made for $2 million by Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright with the financial backing of conservative oilman Nelson "Bunker" Hunt.

It is not particularly surprising that Curry and Mercer did a bit of proselytizing while there. The church where they are members regularly sponsors misisonaries in foreign countries to "introduce people to God and see them 'discipled' as followers of Christ," says Jeff Abshire, pastor of Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas.

The group that sponsored the women, Shelter Now, is part of a larger network of evangelical Christians that has sprung up in the last decade to target Muslims for conversion to Christianity. Since 1990, the number of missionaries in Islamic countries has quadrupled. Mission experts estimate they have spoken to or given Christian material to about 334 million people in that time. Franklin Graham's assertion last week that Islam is "wicked, violent, and not of the same God" also flows from this movement.

Groups such as Youth With a Mission and the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board, sponsor two-week jaunts to places like Kyrgyzstan to convert Muslims to Christianity.

For Christians who can't travel, there are guides to help them pray specifically for converts in these areas.