Terry Waite

Freedom can have too great a cost – held hostage in Beirut

Other themes:

is violence ever right? Revenge, bullying, loneliness

The Problem

Listen to this. What would you do in this situation?

Three-thirty at last. Jamie unblocked his bike to cycle home. Glancing up he could see big Sam Baynes coming across the school playground – he looked in a foul mood, and Jamie could guess why: he’d seen Sam standing outside the Head’s office. Good, thought Jamie grinning, Sam’s a bully, deserved any punishment he got.

The next thing he knew was a fist slamming into his stomach. “That’ll wipe the smile off,” Sam called back as he strode off.

Walking his bike through the school gates, Jamie couldn’t stop the tears coming.

“What’s up, Jamie?” It was his older brother, Rob, cycling past from the high school up the road. Usually Rob ignored him, but he could see Jamie was in a state.

Jamie explained, pointing to Sam’s disappearing figure.

“Well,” said Rob. “Let’s get him now. Tell you what, I’ll hold him while you give him a punch like he gave you. Then I’ll smack him around a bit. He won’t give you any trouble after that.”

Jamie thought. He wasn’t sure it would work out like that – and wouldn’t it make him just as much of a bully as Sam?

Now think:

What should Jamie do? If he and his brother set on Sam, would that definitely solve the problem as Rob thinks it will, or could it make things worse? Think too if the use of fists is the best way, the right way, of dealing with the problem.

(You could discuss this or pass on to the main story.)

The Story

Keep that in mind as I tell you now a true story about someone who had the opportunity to use violence to solve his problem.

They said they would lead him to the place where the hostages were being held.

They said, “Come with us, come and meet the kidnappers, we will help you work out a deal.” It seemed like they could be trusted.

Terry didn’t realise he was walking into a trap.

Terry Waite had a special role in the Church of England as the envoy, or agent, of the Archbishop of Canterbury. When people abroad were in danger or difficulty, he could be sent out to help. Now he was in the war-torn Middle East, in Beirut, where one of the fighting groups had kidnapped several British people. Their idea was to bribe Britain into helping them against their enemies. Terry’s task was to make contact with the kidnappers and persuade them to release the hostages, then get them to safety.

Terry would have made quite an impression when he landed in Beirut in that January of 1987 – six foot sever, almost seventeen stone, wearing size fourteen shoes. But he knew he would have to tread very carefully not to put the hostages in even more danger.

So far, so good. He had talked with people who knew who the kidnappers were and where the hostages were being held. “Trust us, we’ll take you to them,” these people said. Now Terry was sitting, blindfolded, in the back seat of a car, being driven through the dark streets of Beirut.

Unaware that the trap was closing.

The car stopped in a small road full of potholes. He was led to an upstairs room and told to wait. “When will I see the hostages?” he asked. They just said, “Later.”

Still blindfolded, he waited, hoping against hope. Finally he slept.

“Stand up, Mr Waite.” It was the evening of the second day.

Terry felt himself being guided back down the stairs and into a van. “Are you taking me to the hostages?”

They answered, “Don’t speak.”

When the van stopped he was led into a garage. The blindfold was off now and he could see an open trapdoor in the floor. He was taken through it to a large underground room. In one wall was a heavy steel door with a barred window. The door swung open to reveal an empty cell. He was pushed in. He heard the key turned in the lock behind him. And knew that he had been betrayed. They were not going to take him to see the hostages, they were not going to help him work out a deal. No. Terry was now a hostage himself.

The days dragged by, the cell stiflingly hot, the air smelling of petrol and sweat. The kidnappers brought him food but didn’t answer his questions – why? How long? Terry spent much time in prayer, for his family, for the other hostages, and for himself: God, help me, please, help me.

Then one day he was blindfolded and let out. For a moment he thought excitedly, Am I to be set free? But no, he was simply taken to another cell where he was kept chained, released just once a day to be taken to the toilet. One time he was tortured, beaten across the soles of his feet till they burnt like fire. His captors seemed to think he had some vital information. But he didn’t.

The days passed. He went on praying. How long?…Why?…God, help me!

Then, one day, when he was taken to the bathroom, pushed in with the usual “Be quick!”, he saw, on top of the toilet cistern, a gun. An automatic pistol, complete with silencer. His mind was racing. Obviously one of the guards had just been to the toilet and left his gun behind. Perhaps tired or just careless. Whatever, Terry realised that there, within reach, was his way out. His guard was standing unsuspecting outside the door. Oh, perhaps there were one or two other guards around as well, but he had surprise on his side. He could do it. He could escape. It was his chance, his only chance.

But he knew, if he picked up the gun, he would have to be prepared to use it. He wouldn’t get away just waving it around. He would have to hurt someone, even kill them. And he knew he couldn’t do it. He had always believed that violence was wrong. It would be wrong now. Even though they had hurt him.

He called the guard in, pointed out the gun. The guard grabbed at it, took it out of Terry’s reach. Terry had given away his only chance of escape.

He was to stay in captivity for a long time after that, most of it chained up and alone. He suffered constant toothache, cockroaches biting his feet as he tried to sleep, and terrible loneliness. But he never regretted not using the gun.

He was released in November 1991 after 1,763 days in captivity.

That’s nearly five years.

But he never regretted not using the gun.

Time of Reflection

Think now: is it ever right to use violence? Don’t just think of the violence of fists and weapons but the violence of cruel words. Is it ever right to hurt? Does violence solve problems or can it just make things worse? What would you have done in Terry’s place? What could have been the result for him, for the other hostages?

Just a moment of silence while we think about these things.

Bible Bits

Listen to what the Bible says:

“If someone has done you wrong, do not repay him with a wrong.” (Romans 12:17)

Jesus said: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)


Father God, next time I have the opportunity to hurt someone, help me to think whether it’s the right thing to do, whatever they’ve done to me. Thank you for Jesus, who never hit back, who never said a cruel word, who even prayed for his executioners, “Father, forgive them.” Amen

Variations on a Theme

The story about Terry Waite could be mimed by a group of children as you read. You would need a minimum of three actors (Waite, contact, guard) plus a blindfold.

Quiz Questions

  1. Who was Terry Waite working for when he went to the Middle East?
  2. What had he been sent to do?
  3. What size shoes does he take?
  4. When did he know for sure that he had been led into a trap?
  5. What did Terry spend much time doing?
  6. Where did he see the gun?
  7. Why did he not use it to escape?
  8. What was the pain inside his head due to?
  9. What made it difficult to sleep?
  10. For how long was he held hostage?
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