Pubdate: Mon, 08 Sep 2003
Source: Oklahoman, The (OK)
Copyright: 2003 The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
Author: Sheila K. Stogsdill


An American missionary is in a Mexican prison after what was supposed
to be a routine border crossing to deliver medicine to the poor. Steve
Frey has made the slow, harrowing trek from El Paso, Texas, through
mountains into central Mexico for the past five years. He typically
drives a van loaded with medicine, bandages and other medical supplies
for clinics in Valles, Mexico.

But Frey's medical mission abruptly ended Aug. 20 when police stopped
his van in Reynosa, Mexico, and checked the medications. He was headed
for the medical clinic in Valles run by medical missionaries, said
Mark Russell, the director of Benito Juarez Orphanage in Reynosa, in a
telephone interview.

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 on Aug. 23.

The prohibited drugs are items sold over-the-counter in the United
States, according to the six-page indictment. The indictment also
indicates 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."

Frey said in the message that medicines containing the drug
pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in allergy medication, seemed to
be the chief problem to Mexican authorities.

To further complicate Frey's plight, he took backroads to miss federal
checkpoints just as he had done for the past five years, Russell said.

Missionaries often avoid federal checkpoints for fear they might have
to pay a high tax or that supplies may be confiscated and destroyed,
Russell said. The desire to get supplies to the needy sometimes
overrides good judgment, Russell said.

Since Frey's arrest, thousands of people from Mexico to Oklahoma to
Canada, have been praying for him and collecting money to help with
his legal defense.

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

"When our mission teams would travel to Mexico, 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.

Some assistants distributed vitamins and showed people how to brush
their teeth. Doctors and nurses examined babies, whose tiny bodies
were wracked by rickets or childhood diseases, while Frey, a
registered nurse, assisted the doctors.

"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," Dyer said.

Newsong Church members raised more than $1,100 for him. Along with
about 40 Texas churches donating to Frey's work, Oklahoma is
contributing through the church in Grove, according to CornerStone
International, a 31-year-old nondenominational, Kentucky-based
missionary organization sponsoring Frey. A missionary based in Grove,
Alvin Lee, also has been helping with Frey's support. And Sugar Land
Vineyard church near Houston has raised $15,000 to help with legal
expenses, Russell said.

Frey's parents, who are retired missionaries, borrowed $12,000 to pay
for an attorney for their son, Russell said.

Arrest is a common hazard of medical missionary work, said Dr. Carl
Heinlein, a Houston doctor. He has worked as a medical missionary
since 1976, and Frey was his nurse for eight years during that time.

"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."

Heinlein once was arrested for delivering expired medicine to Mexican
clinics. He said he talks to people at the border who keep him
apprised of Frey's situation.

Russell said the judge considering Frey's case has been

In Mexico, a prisoner's family must pay for a cell and necessities,
Russell said.

The penitentiary pastor put Frey in a cell he shares with 11 other
men. He also assured Russell that Frey would be taken care of and fed.

During Russell's recent visit to the prison, Frey said he was blessed
to be around men looking out for him during the long days he spends in
his cell.

Some of Frey's close friends and his daughter, Laura Frey, visited him
Aug. 24. His parents, Alvin and Lydian Frey, and his brother, Paul,
also have been able to visit him, Russell said.

Meanwhile, the prayer circle continues, and Frey's ministerial agency

"Steve Frey has been taking medicine to the children and poor who have
no way of helping themselves for years," said E. Duane Jones,
CornerStone executive director. "As his mission's agency, CornerStone
is 100 percent confident in Steve Frey's character and his love for
the people of Mexico."

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, who is involved with missionary efforts
when Congress is not in session, is among those concerned about Frey.
Danny Finnerty, Inhofe's communication director, said the senator is
looking into the matter and his office will be in contact with
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