When Sister Deirdre “Dede” Byrne picked up the phone in December 2021, a young man on the other end of the line told her something disturbing — and difficult to believe.
My mother is a doctor, he told the sister. You worked with her more than a decade ago in Afghanistan, at a U.S. camp near Pakistan. And now her life is in grave danger.
Some people might have dismissed the call as an elaborate hoax, but the details caught Sister Byrne’s attention. A military veteran, Sister Byrne had indeed been stationed at Camp Salerno, about six miles from the Pakistani border, around 2008. It was there that she crossed paths with Dr. M. (We are withholding her full name for her safety.)
The young man on the phone promised that his mother would send Sister Byrne an email, offering verifications of her identity. And in early January 2022, an email, typed in broken English, arrived in Sister Byrne’s inbox from the Afghan doctor herself, providing more details, and begging for help.
“I am lefted behind and facing deadly situation,” Dr. M wrote, explaining that on Oct. 4, the Taliban had arrested her at her home and jailed her for three days before letting her go. She had been in hiding since her release, she said.
The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan after the Aug. 31, 2021 pullout by the United States military, and have ruled with oppression ever since. Afghanistan’s small community of Christians, many of whom risked death by converting from Islam, has been particularly at risk.
The New York Times recently reported that as many as 60,000 Afghans who have worked with American forces and applied for visas remain in Afghanistan. Dr. M and her whole family are Muslim, but became targets of the Taliban after the 2021 takeover because of their ties to the United States.
In her email, the doctor included screenshots of identifying documents such as her passport, and also a scan of a Certificate of Appreciation from the U.S. Army, signed by Sister Byrne.
“Please do some thing for me and My family and get us out from Afghanistan. I need urgent evacuation,” the doctor wrote.
In early February, Dr. M and her entire family got exactly that, thanks to a nonprofit called the Vulnerable People Project. After a tense escape, they are now at a safehouse in an undisclosed country.
“It’s a miraculous story, quite honestly,” Sister Byrne told Catholic News Agency and was quick to credit the Holy Spirit for using her, in a small way, to get the rescue going.
“I was like the center who hiked the ball, and I just passed it to the quarterback, and then let them run with the ball,” she said.
She previously served as an Army doctor for nearly 30 years, rising to the rank of colonel before her retirement. As a missionary surgeon, she has made numerous trips to help the sick in Kenya, Haiti, Sudan, and Iraq. In 2020, she was a featured speaker at the Republican National Convention.
Byrne said she remembers having a great relationship with the Afghan doctors she worked with during her service in Afghanistan, many of whom spoke English well.
But when Dr. M’s plea reached Byrne’s inbox, at first her heart sank: she knew absolutely nothing about how to facilitate an evacuation.
“I’m nobody, really. I didn’t know how in the world we could help,” Byrne said.
So, she asked around. Soon after, a senior assistant to U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) put her in touch with Jason Jones, director of the Vulnerable People Project. Since the U.S. pullout, the group has been campaigning for donations to send coal to Afghans, amid fears that hundreds of thousands of children are at risk of dying in a cold, collapsed Afghanistan….
The above comes from a Feb. 17 story on the site of the Catholic News Agency.