As the U.S. and other nations withdraw from Afghanistan, one American woman won’t be coming home.
Cydney Mizell, a California native, traveled to the Middle East nation in 2005 to teach English at Kandahar University. As part of her mission, which was sponsored by the nonprofit Asian Rural Life Development Foundation (ARLDF), she also instructed girls in embroidery.
Beyond the classroom, Mizell helped women launch income-generating projects for their families, and assisted in developing irrigation, health care and rehabilitation initiatives.
In the process, she honored the culture of those she served. A handful of online images show a smiling Mizell wearing Afghan dress while teaching; in public, she donned a burqa and relied upon a driver, since women did not traditionally take the wheel in the conservative Muslim nation at the time (and, given Afghanistan’s fall to Taliban rule, will not do so for the foreseeable future).
Mizell, who held an advanced degree in biblical languages, was fluent in Pashto, one of Afghanistan’s two official languages and a daunting tongue to master.
Despite such linguistic prowess, however, she spoke volumes — especially about her faith in Christ — without saying a word.
“Cyd was not loud and forceful, nor did she have a personality that sought to draw attention to herself or overwhelm others,” a friend recalled. “There was another kind of force about her. Her spirit of love, grace, kindness, and care drew people to her.”
Rather than pointing to her academic achievements, her long career with a global organization or her courageous missionary service in a nation hostile to Christians, Mizell remained humble, said her friend: “She had no need to boast about who she was, nor did she need to argue to prove her point. Her life boasted; her life made the point.”
That became crystal clear on Jan. 26, 2008, when a 50-year-old Mizell and her driver, Muhammad Hadi, were abducted en route to work in Kandahar. Shortly thereafter, “credible reports” emerged that the pair had been killed. The U.S. Department of State continues to offer a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the location and recovery of her body.
Following the disappearance, George Mizell said in a statement that his daughter “knew before she went to Afghanistan that it could be a dangerous place, but she went because she loved the Afghan people and dedicated her life to serving them.”
He struggled to “understand why someone would kill a gentle, caring person who came to their country to help the poor,” and noted that “many of the people of Kandahar came to love her” almost as much as her family and friends did. Indeed, more than 500 Afghan woman rallied in a rare demonstration as news of Mizell’s capture spread.
Reflecting on the extraordinary journey she undertook during her brief lifetime — from her northern California roots to her theological studies in Texas, and then halfway around the world to serve in a remote and rugged land — I wonder what Mizell’s final moments were like on that Kandahar street when she knew she would never set foot in a classroom again.
She was already well prepared for that final lesson, another friend said: “Cyd was Cyd because of years of surrender to Jesus Christ and the transformative work of the Holy Spirit in her life. One could see the power of the Spirit in her eyes, her smile, and feel the love of Christ in her touch and embrace. … (She exemplified) for me what it means to embody the presence of Christ.”
Cydney Mizell won’t be on any evacuation flights from Kabul — but because of her faith, she long ago secured passage to a greater freedom, and traced an itinerary I pray for the grace and courage to follow.
Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.
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