Terry Waite, the special envoy of the then Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt.Rev. Robert Runcie was captured by the Hezbollah in Beirut, Lebanon as he attempted to negotiate the release of a group of western hostages. He remained in captivity for 1,763 days, much of it in solitary confinement. For the first year he was kept in a windowless, underground room and deprived of all but the most basic of human contact. Permitted, at most, one hour of exercise per day he spent the rest of his time chained to the wall.
In his mind, he reviewed the books he had read; travelled down the roads he had once travelled and viewed the sights he had seen on those travels. Deprived of pen and paper he composed his autobiography in his head. He remembered books he had read long before and he recited portions of the various prayer book services and biblical passages that had become a part of his soul, if he could only remember parts of them, he recited those parts.
Then, after he had pleaded for some time, he was brought a series of books. Along with the very Church of England Prayer Book he had carried as a gift to some earlier prisoners, by then somewhat mutilated and a Bible, he enjoyed classics, and crime fiction novels of varying
quality. As his captors could not read much English, and had to be careful when they went out to buy English books, he sometimes received some very odd choices: Dr Spock, manuals on breast feeding and even a story of an ingenious escape from a prison camp in World War II!
During his years of solitary confinement, he received only one letter, a postcard from a woman he did not even know, who told him that he was in her prayers. This lone card gave him immense strength.
As his captivity was nearing an end he was allowed a radio and heard numerous references to the hostage situation in general and to himself in particular. One such broadcast was obviously designed in the hope that he had a radio and could indeed hear it and it gave him much sought information on his mother and his wife and children. He also listened to several church services where his name was lifted up in prayer or mentioned in the sermon.
Upon his release he wrote and published the autobiography he had penned in his head during those long days of captivity. He also actively sought out copies of those books which had sustained him in during those long five years and later published a book which contains excerpts from those books and his commentary on what they had meant to him. His books are honest accounts of his thoughts and feelings, his ups and downs during his captivity and his strong faith in the presence and power of God.
After his release, he was invited to give many speeches on his experience in captivity. After one such speech, a questioner pointed out to him that he had been fortunate, that he had been given a kind of gift; the gift of being able to reflect on his life and his faith and to decide what was most important to him.
He said that Waite had been given the opportunity to do it in ways that people who have the responsibility of the regular round of work and family duties rarely can. Waite agreed with him.
Terry Waite had – still has – a faith which sustains, as contrasted to a faith or a lifestyle which looks good on the surface, and may seem more pleasant, but which has no real substance or rooted-ness.
Jesus was in no doubt which way in the end brought true happiness. It is his teaching that the joy of heaven will amply compensate for any trouble on earth.
As St Paul said, ‘Our light affliction is but for a moment and works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory’ (2 Corinthians 4:7)
The challenge of Jesus every day – is ‘Will you be happy in the world’s way, or in mine?’