This month marks the second anniversary of the hijacking by Shiite terrorists of TWA Flight 847. The attack resulted in the death of an American serviceman and in 17 tense days for the hostages, including the plane’s pilot, John Testrake, one of three hostages who spent most of their time aboard the grounded plane on Beirut’s war-torn airstrip.

Christians took notice when, in a “press conference” from the airplane’s cockpit on June 19, 1985, Testrake—a terrorist’s gun waving in front of his face—said he wanted his family and friends to know “the Lord has taken very good care of us … He’s seen us through some very trying times, and he’ll see us through to the end.

Testrake is the author of Triumph Over Terror on Flight 847 (Revell, 1987). He discussed his 17-day ordeal with CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

What did you hope to accomplish in writing a book about your ordeal?

I wanted to tell the complete story of the hijack because it was of such interest to so many Americans. My story is also a testimony. I don’t make any secret of my trust in God. I give him the credit for bringing me through safely.

What were the immediate events that led to the hostage incident?

About two weeks prior to the hijack, Israeli forces withdrew from Lebanon. To guarantee a safe departure, they took over 750 Shiite Muslim hostages, who were supposed to be released when the withdrawal was complete. Instead, they were taken across the border into Galilee and placed in a prison camp. Our hijack was a direct response to that action. The Shiites reasoned that American pressure on Israel would cause the release of their hostages.

Since the crisis, you have spoken against U.S. policy in the Middle East. Some have theorized that hostages commonly develop sympathy for their captors. Did this happen with you?

You’re referring to the Stockholm syndrome, which I reject. The theory sounds trendy and sophisticated. It implies above-average intelligence in the person using it. But I’m just a plain old country boy from Missouri, and I deal more in common sense. What has actually happened is that, because of the situation I was in, I am now able to see both sides of the conflict.

What do you mean by “both sides of the conflict”?

U.S. Marines were welcomed to Lebanon as a stabilizing influence. However, our government became more and more sympathetic to the Christian forces of Amin Gemayel, forces supported by Israel. In one fierce battle, U.S. naval forces were ordered by Washington to come to the aid of Gemayel’s forces. The marine colonel in charge of the U.S. peace-keeping troops protested, claiming it would destroy the appearance of neutrality and put his troops in an indefensible position. His protest was overridden, and Muslim militia troops were shelled by U.S. Navy ships offshore.

It was less than a month later that the car bomb hit the U.S. barracks, killing 241 young marines. We Americans didn’t hear the background. All we heard about was the horrendous evil and brutality of the sneak attack that killed our brave young men. Ironically, that marine colonel was chastised for failing to protect his marines, and his career was ruined.

Describe your objections to U.S. policy in the Middle East.

The current administration doesn’t even make a pretense of having an even-handed policy in the Middle East. We seem to feel we can impose our will on the Arab people in the region with ever more force. It did not work in Vietnam and will not work in the Middle East. We need to treat all the people of the Middle East with equal respect and concern. The United States, after all, was founded as the champion of equal rights for all. Some aspects of our foreign policy fly in the face of our democratic ideals and traditions. And as a patriotic American, I resent it.

What can be done to solve the problem of terrorism?

There can be no justification for terrorism, but it’s not helpful or correct to portray the people committing these desperate acts as common street criminals. Military and law-enforcement solutions, such as punishment and retribution, won’t work. I believe these people are seeking fairness. If you hold people down, all you do is increase resentment, and the violence will go on forever.

Do you have nightmares from the hijack crisis?

I felt the strong hand of God upon my shoulder in the very early, frightening stages, so there was no trauma. There were no scars, and so there have been no nightmares.

Did you ever feel you would not survive the ordeal?

Surely. Early on things were so tense, I thought probably we would all be killed. But right behind that thought came the equally strong thought that this wouldn’t be so bad after all, because if it happened, I’d be looking at Jesus. You certainly can’t beat that.

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