The power to “keep hope alive”

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Video of the hostage rescue mission in Colombia is now circulating on television and the internet, and that story continues to be riveting to people around the world. It’s such a human drama.

In the latest news about Ingrid Betancourt undergoing medical tests, we learn how close she came to losing her life in the jungle.

Betancourt said in a radio interview earlier she had been chained up night and day for three years by her captors.

Asked whether she was tortured, she replied: “Yes, yes.” She said she saw her captors lapsing into “diabolical behaviour.”

“It was so monstrous that I think they themselves were disgusted,” she said.

She has also paid tribute to one of her fellow-captives, Colombian army corporal William Perez, saying he had saved her life thanks to some medical knowledge.

“When he saw I was no longer getting out of my hammock, and I refused even to take a bath because I had no strength, he came to see me, he did a diagnosis, and took it upon himself to restore me to life,” she said.

Perez, who was freed along with Betancourt, said she was very ill, and could no longer eat.

The New York Times piece from yesterday gives more of the horrific details.

…Ms. Betancourt said the jungle was “an absolutely hostile world.” She described “no sun, no sky, a green ceiling — it was too much, it was too much, a wall of trees, a lot of insects, each more dreadful than the next.”

She said she walked perhaps 200 miles a year. “I walked with a hat pulled down over my ears because all sorts of things fall on your head, ants that bite you, insects, lice, ticks, with gloves because everything in the jungle bites, each time you try to grab on to something so that you don’t fall, you’ve put your hand on a tarantula, you’ve put your hand on a thorn, a leaf that bites, it’s an absolutely hostile world, dangerous with dangerous animals,” she said. “But the most dangerous of all was man, those who were behind me with their big guns.”

It’s all stunning, but perhaps most of all, her composure and compassion, for those still captive in the jungle, and even the captors, who she sees as prisoners, themselves. Look at this transcript of Betancourt’s first remarks after being so suddenly freed from captivity. After thanking those who pulled off the perfect mission, her next thought of gratitude was for what kept her alive.

This morning when I woke up, I prayed at four in the morning and put myself in the hands of God.

In such relentlessly hellish conditions, that takes supernatural grace beyond what we think we can access, when we just think about it. How do you live through such brutality and emerge, suddenly, so…serene? And forgiving. Look at what she said of her chief captor, seized in the mission.

They closed the helicopter’s doors and I saw the commander who for four years had been in charge of us, who had been cruel, humiliating and despotic so many times. I saw him on the floor, naked, blindfolded. I don’t think I felt happiness, but rather pity, but I thanked God that I was with people who respect other people’s lives, even when they are enemies.

What humanism this expresses. How many people would, understandably, feel utter revulsion for this torturer, or want to strike back somehow for all the pain and humiliation he had caused for so long? This immediate sense of pity and respect for another human life is, as I’ve said below, from a transcendent power, the God to whom Ingrid Betancourt continually gives thanks. Informed by her Roman Catholic faith that strongly upholds the sanctity of every human life.

Thanks to all of you who accompanied me in your prayers, who thought of me and kept me in your hearts, who felt compassion for us hostages and had us live in your lives…

As I said below, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe prayed in the presidential palace on public radio weekly for her and the captives, and other pominent political figures joined him, along with countless populations of people across different continents. What we see now is the manifestation of its power, in the grace of the woman who ‘wore her chains with dignity’, as she said.

She doesn’t even look hassled. We’re all hassled. We have too much to do and too little time to do it. We’re stressed and worried and too many of us are angry about politics or the economy or something else. We complain a lot.

She prayed as if there were no tomorrow. Because she had no reason to believe she would live another day. She fashioned a rosary in a hostile jungle and prayed it every day. So many of us in comfortable lives say we pray but that God doesn’t hear us, because we don’t see results. Imagine living as a captive in a remote and deadly jungle environment….and always your situation grew worse. Or at best, remained dreadful. And you prayed anyway, without ceasing.

What gave her that impetus? Where did the hope come from, and how was it sustained? By invincible faith. What a lesson.

One thought on “The power to “keep hope alive”

  1. Praise God for this woman and this example! Unfortunately the truth is that we will all be experiencing extreme hardships in the days to come. Her rescue and witness is very timely indeed, a great message for all of us in the coming days, weeks, months and even years.

    The question we must all be searching our own hearts for is: is our faith strong enough to last six years under intolerable circumstances?

    The time to build on the rock is BEFORE the storm hits- nobody CAN build during the storm, during the tornado or hurricane or flood. Ingrid built her faith on the rock before the challenges even hit her and she STAYED there.

    Amazing and incredible story of faith- I am so very moved by it. Praise God!

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