As he walked to work on March 7, 1984, Jeremy Levin became the first American kidnaped in Lebanon and held hostage by Muslim extremists. During his 11½-month captivity, the Beirut bureau chief for Cable News Network was chained and kept in solitary confinement. He suffered bouts of illness and lost 30 pounds.

Levin says the ordeal gave God a chance to break through his unbelief and bring him to personal faith in Christ. Nearly a year after he was kidnaped, Levin escaped from captivity in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, and Syrian soldiers escorted him to freedom. Several months later, his Shiite Muslim captors released Benjamin Weir, a Presbyterian missionary.

Today Levin and his wife, Sis, promote the cause of the four, and possibly five, American hostages still held by the Shiites. (Hostage Peter Kilburn was killed last month, and hostage William Buckley is feared dead.) CHRISTIANITY TODAY asked free-lance writer Pamela Pearson Wong to interview Levin at his home in Washington, D.C.

Before your captivity, you described yourself as an atheist. Why didn’t you believe in God?

I didn’t believe in faith. I believed whatever explorations a person made had to be concrete—something you could touch and feel. I also didn’t care for the historical acts of people who said they did believe. But I eventually realized that holding the truth responsible for how people act was really putting the cart before the horse.

What religious training did you receive as a child?

I didn’t have any. My father, a rabbi’s son, had rebelled against religion and the idea of God.

What led to your spiritual awakening while you were held hostage?

I was alone except for being escorted to the bathroom once a day. I felt that if I talked with myself, I would go crazy. But I needed to talk. At first, the idea of talking to God made me uncomfortable. But I realized people had been talking to him, praying to him, for thousands of years.

I began to realize that through prayer I could have a meaningful two-way conversation. I began to think about God and things like the Ten Commandments. I struggled to remember them. I began to think about Jesus—what he taught and said. It made sense. It seemed that if I could accept the existence of God, I could accept the divinity of Jesus. I felt Jesus was truly exceptional—unique—because of the effect he has had through the ages.

A Hostage’s Wife Helps Gain His Release

Lucille “Sis” Levin walked into Cable News Network’s Beirut bureau one March morning in 1984. She had come to ask her husband, Jeremy, if he would attend Ash Wednesday services with her that evening.

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But the bureau chief wasn’t in the office. “The staff used the word ‘kidnaped’ because Jerry hadn’t shown up,” Sis recalls. She responded calmly, retracing her husband’s steps, visiting hospitals, and finally meeting with a top aide to Nabih Berri, the man who governs West Beirut. “He made a point of saying Jerry had been a consummate journalist,” Sis says. “They considered him a friend and said they would help me.”

That first day set the pattern for Sis’s tireless work for her husband’s release. Throughout his 111/2-month captivity, she traveled from Beirut to Cyprus to the United States and back again to the Middle East.

After six months of following the U.S. State Department’s insistence on “quiet diplomacy,” Sis became the first member of a hostage family to speak out in the news media. It became clear her husband was being held in the Bekaa Valley, which is under Syrian control.

However, the State Department’s efforts were focused on Beirut. “It was going to take a different approach, which meant, in my opinion, speaking out and going to a different place,” Sis says. “Since no one else would do it, I had to.”

In November 1984, Sis made a crucial trip to Damascus, Syria. Her message of reconciliation was delivered to President Assad, and even reached her husband’s captors, who told him of her visit. Says the former hostage: “There’s no question in my mind that my quick return to freedom after reaching the Syrian army patrol was due to her consciousness-raising efforts at the highest levels in Damascus.”

How long did this process take?

A couple of weeks. For me, making this leap of faith was a matter of integrity. What disturbed me about people who labeled themselves Christians or God-fearing Jews, whatever, was there seemed to be a lack of integrity between them and God. You can’t play games by assuming the external trappings, while holding back from total acceptance. I decided it was necessary to accept it all. It had to be all or nothing.

Your wife, Sis, was a Christian long before this ordeal. What influence did she have on you before you were kidnaped?

Before my imprisonment, I could accept Sis having faith. I respected her faith because it had gotten her through tough times. But I had not made forgiveness part of my life, and that impeded cohesion in our family. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I was tied down. God may have been so disgusted with me that he hit me with a two-by-four.

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You eventually received a Bible from your captors. How did that come about?

On Christmas Eve (1984), they told me Sis had been seeking my release, and they wished me joyous Noel. I asked them for a Bible, and two days later they brought me a Gideon New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs. They also gave me a pen, and I began studying.

The first time, I read it straight through for the spiritual aspects. Then I approached it from a scholarly point of view—which Gospel came first, which Gospel named which disciples. I memorized the passage about prayer in Mark—“if you pray, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.”

Why do you now promote negotiation and reconciliation in dealing with terrorism?

Every time you negotiate, you save lives. The Israelis aren’t ashamed of exchanging 100 terrorists for three Israelis. They recognize if the broader issues of reconciliation are lacking, they can at least try to work out an immediate reconciliation that will save the lives of people in jeopardy.

How has God changed your life since your release?

He changed my relationships with my wife’s family. We were absolutely disunited, and now we are united. Also, I’m not as concerned about material things. I’m involved in working for the cause of the remaining hostages. And I’m speaking out on general principles of achieving peace, which I hadn’t done before.

If it were possible, would you change anything that has occurred since March 7, 1984?

If I could have come to faith in any other way, then fine. But I couldn’t. In captivity, I experienced real deprivation. And yet that imprisonment is the one thing I absolutely don’t regret. Isn’t that ironic?



Urban Population Explosion

A population explosion has “completely outstripped” evangelism in the world’s urban areas, according to missions researcher David Barrett.

Seventeen of the world’s 25 largest cities will have predominantly non-Christian populations by the year 2000, says Barrett, editor of World Christian Encyclopedia (Oxford). Nearly all of those 17 cities are strongholds of Islam, Hinduism, or other non-Christian religions.

Barrett’s recent study of urban areas, titled World-Class Cities and World Evangelization, has been published by New Hope, a division of the Southern Baptist Woman’s Missionary Union. The study focuses on cities with more than 1 million people.

In 1950, Barrett says, only 7 of the world’s 25 largest cities were predominantly non-Christian. Today, however, the world’s urban areas are growing by more than 80,000 non-Christians per day, he says.

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“Cities are the great phenomenon of the Third World and the twentieth century,” he says. “The Third World is largely non-Christian. Therefore, its cities are going to be largely non-Christian.”

By the year 2000, three Islamic cities are expected to join the world’s top 25: Karachi, Pakistan; Baghdad, Iraq; and Dacca, Bangladesh. Four other Islamic cities already listed among the top 25 will continue to mushroom, and two Chinese and three Indian cities will remain on the list as well.

To reach the world’s urban areas, Barrett suggests “megaministries” geared to reach 100,000 to 1 million people per day. He recommends using radio, television, films, and Bible distribution. He says priority should be given to evangelistic efforts where there is no existing Christian witness.


Policy Against Missionaries

Catholic missionaries from Belgium and Canada have been ordered out of India, and a German priest has been denied re-entry into the country. The moves are viewed as the most recent developments in a government crackdown on Christian missionary efforts.

K. V. Thomas, a member of India’s parliament, said the Indian government has decided to eventually expel all foreign missionaries. He said he does not expect the government to make a distinction between missionaries who try to convert Hindus and those who restrict their activities to social work among the poor.

Thomas, a member of the ruling Congress party, is a Catholic. He discussed the government policy on missionaries after asking Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to extend the residence permits of a number of missionaries. His request was denied.

Earlier this year, hundreds of Indians heard evangelist Leighton Ford speak at a rally in Bangalore. “We had a lot of Hindus who came to our meetings,” Ford said. “There were a number of Hindus who came forward [to become Christians].…”

In a separate development, World Literature Crusade has launched a campaign to deliver Christian literature to every family in India. The organization plans to distribute evangelistic literature, Bibles, and Bible correspondence courses printed in 13 Indian languages throughout the country by 1994. Local churches and individual volunteers will deliver the materials.


Tutu Elected Archbishop

Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, an outspoken foe of South Africa’s policy of racial separation, has been elected the first black Anglican archbishop of Cape Town. In that post, he will serve as titular head of the Anglican Church in South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Lesotho, and Swaziland.

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“I myself am overwhelmed and deeply shattered by the responsibility that God, through his church, has placed on my shoulders,” Tutu said. “… I will continue to work for fundamental change in our country. We belong in one family, black and white.”

Tutu, currently serving as bishop of Johannesburg, will succeed retiring Archbishop Philip Russell on September 1. The Anglican Church is the fourth-largest denomination in South Africa, after the Methodist Church, the Dutch Reformed Church, and the Roman Catholic Church.

Before being elected archbishop, Tutu called on foreign countries and businesses to impose punitive sanctions on South Africa in an effort to force the country to eliminate apartheid.


An Islamic Nation?

Christians serving on a presidential advisory panel have called on the Nigerian government to withdraw from the Islamic Conference Organization (ICO).

The advisory panel was appointed to examine the implications of Nigeria’s membership in the ico. The 13 Christians serving on the panel said membership in the Islamic organization is unconstitutional and violates Nigeria’s secular character.

The country’s constitution stipulates that Nigeria is a multi-religious society, prohibiting the adoption of a state religion. Christians on the presidential advisory panel said membership in the ICO “clearly makes Nigeria an Islamic state.”

If membership in the ICO is continued, they said, taxpayers’ money would be spent “in promoting Islam in a country where the majority of the [taxpayers are non-Muslims.” They added that continued ICO membership would foment religious intolerance, segregation, strife, and discrimination, which could lead to civil and religious wars.

The Catholic Laity Council of Nigeria earlier issued a statement against ico membership. “We have Christians, traditional religionists, and Muslims in Nigeria.… Any attempt at declaring Nigeria a Muslim state is a way of causing religious trouble in the country.”

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