Churches pray for missionary's safe return

Monday, September 8th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Churches in Oklahoma and Texas are hoping for the safe return of a missionary working in Mexico and jailed for possession of drugs commonly sold over-the-counter in the United States.

Police stopped Steve Frey Aug. 20 in Reynosa, Mexico, and checked medications in Frey's van.

Frey was charged with transporting a prohibited controlled substance and avoiding a federal checkpoint, according to a Mexican indictment. He was sent to a federal penitentiary in Reynosa, located south of McAllen, Texas, near the Mexico border, on Aug. 23.

Marty Dyer, mission director for Newsong Church in Grove, said he frequently traveled with Frey to the Valles area, the home of about 100,000 impoverished Huasteca Indians.

``Steve would have a medical team comprised of doctors, dentists, nurses and other helpers who for 12 hours would see most people of a village,'' Dyer said.

``He has single-handedly raised a medical team in Valles that goes to over 200 villages each year, seeing people who would have never had medical treatment if it hadn't been for the medical team.''

Churches in Oklahoma and Texas are trying to raise money for Frey's legal defense. So far more then $16,000 has been raised.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, who is involved with missionary efforts, also is looking into the matter, said Danny Finnerty, Inhofe's communications director.

Frey was traveling to a medical clinic in Valles run by medical missionaries, said Mark Russell, the director of Benito Juarez Orphanage in Reynosa, in a telephone interview.

The prohibited drugs that Frey had are sold over-the-counter in the United States, according to the six-page indictment.

The indictment also said Frey was charged with taking items into Mexico without paying taxes, said Gary Malone, an interpreter and Grove-based missionary.

``I am here under drug-trafficking charges alongside those who were caught trafficking hard-core street drugs,'' Frey said, according to one of his friend's e-mails that transcribed Frey's letter from prison. ``Mexico is very, very severe with drug traffickers, and I face the possibility of being incarcerated for many years in the Federal Penitentiary in Reynosa, Mexico.''

In his letter, Frey said Mexican authorities seemed to most concerned about the medicines that contained the drug pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in allergy medications.

Mexican officials are also concerned that Frey took backroads to avoid federal checkpoints, something he has done for the last five years, Russell said.

It's common for missionaries to avoid federal checkpoints because they may have to pay a high tax or supplies could be confiscated and destroyed, Russell said.

Arrests are a common hazard of medical missionary work, said Dr. Carl Heinlein. Heinlein has been a medical missionary since 1976 and worked with Frey for eight years.

Heinlein once was arrested for delivering expired medicine to Mexican clinics.

``When you do this type of work, you do it knowing it could land you in jail,'' Heinlein said. ``I spent my time in jail.''