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In your book, you talk about how you struggled with prayer. You say you ended up praying for a hamburger because you just couldn't bring yourself to pray for release any more. And then you got the hamburger. How did that affect your spirituality?
That's when I finally realized that I didn't understand God. I was never going to understand. Why would he send me a hamburger and not release me? And I just realized you can't tell God what to do. God's not obligated to me.
I look back on some of my diary entries and—oh, my—railing on God. "I've been here eight and a half months. I've tried to be a good hostage. How could you be doing this still? You're pleased to keep me here." When the hamburgers came, I realized God can answer a prayer if he wants to, but he's under no obligation. Prayer isn't a magic wand that you wave and get what you want. God's got a plan, and he's going to carry it out. He sent a hamburger to show I'm still here and I'm with you and I'm for you.
I think that's probably when I started thinking that we maybe wouldn't get out. He answered this prayer so neatly and we were still there, and I started thinking "Well, we're just not going to get out of here, and that's God's plan."
But when you started to tell Martin good-bye, he said, "I'm not sure this is a healthy thing for us to be doing."
There was one instance that I officially just sat him down, made him look at me in the eyes, said good-bye to him. I needed to do that because I didn't want him to die and me be left [without saying] bye. And I didn't want me to die [without hearing] good-bye.
Martin had such a good sense of humor; he didn't make me feel stupid. He just let me know "this is a truly weird thing you're doing." But it helped me. After that we would say things—like in the middle of a gunfight. I'd say, "If I don't ever see you again, I just want you to know I love you."
You had kidnapping training with New Tribes Mission. How did it prepare you for your year as a hostage?
[Smiling] Martin said quite often, "If I had known this was going to happen, I would have paid attention in that seminar." Because we truly didn't.
The things I needed to know came back to me: "In those first few moments when people are trigger happy, do exactly what they say to you. Obey without question." That just came into my mind.
The [trainers] had told us, "Some people deal with being held hostage by sleeping all the time, so you don't have to think about it. And that's probably not healthy." And I remember not sleeping my life away. They would say, "Do something to exercise." And I would volunteer to go get firewood. They'd warned us to take care of our teeth. So we made dental floss. We unraveled rice sacks that are made of this plastic string, and we got little pieces of that and made dental floss.
Martin's brother Doug earlier told CT that a lot of people don't understand how important support missionaries are, and that your captivity brought attention to the importance of people like you in support positions.
Martin and I used to jokingly—not jokingly, really—say, "Those are the real missionaries," referring to the tribal missionaries who lived in the jungle, take their families in there, and live in a rough condition every day and work for years to learn a language before they ever can do what they went there to do. We were just there doing what we did best. Martin was an amazing pilot, and I like taking care of people. We were using our gifts to keep the "real missionaries" where they needed to be because it's a rough life.
But always in the back of our minds we were missionaries too, and we made sure that we were giving it our all and doing a good job, because there were people back here who were supporting us. We did everything we could to keep those tribal missionaries in there—even if it meant flying on a day when the weather wasn't the greatest, putting your life on the line, because somebody was sick. We did what we could, even if we had to push and push ourselves and stay up late.
One time we just sensed that a family needed encouragement in a tribe, and I stayed up late and made pizzas. We cut down boxes so they would kind of look like [they were from] Pizza Hut, and we decorated the boxes "Martino's Pizza." And our motto was "The Coke's not cold, but the pizza is."
As you know, one of the main things that was said in the press throughout your captivity was that there was a payoff between the Abu Sayyaf and the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] to let the Abu Sayyaf escape from the Lamitan Hospital. Do you know if there was?
I don't know for sure. We were at a disadvantage because we only spoke English and a tiny bit of [a local language], and there were four or five different languages going around there. When we heard that there were allegations of [a payoff], we asked the other hostages if that had happened. They said, "Oh, of course. Didn't you see that?" And, no, no, we didn't.
There are many places in your book where you talk about how the AFP was helping the Abu Sayyaf.
That didn't surprise us at all. That's a way of life in the Philippines. This was par for the course. We knew that. Filipinos know that. It may embarrass them that I put it in my book, or it may make them think. When I was writing this, part of my goal was to get them to think through their culture. In our Judeo-Christian culture, [we believe] certain things are wrong and certain things are right. You don't steal. You don't lie. In their culture, you can explain anything away and it's not wrong anymore. At Lamitan Hospital, when [hostages] started looting the patients' rooms, [A fellow hostage] handed me something, and I said, "I'm not going to take that. It's not mine."
I was appalled at what I was seeing because I thought we were the good guys and the Abu Sayyaf were the bad guys, and here we were looting someone's room, taking anything we thought we needed. What I would like them to see is that even when you're in a tough spot, [stealing is] not okay.
Before your captivity, you had to pay ransom for a stolen bicycle. Is there a cultural difference in how people there view kidnapping and ransoming?
I think so. I'm not saying that paying a ransom is wrong, because I've changed a whole lot. I probably would have said paying a ransom is wrong when I was taken hostage. I don't know for sure. I knew that New Tribes [Mission] wouldn't pay a ransom. I knew there would be no ransom paid for us that way, because our culture says it's wrong to pay a ransom. Well, in their culture, they grow up paying bribes and ransom and paying off someone so that they don't tell that you did this or that. It's much more accepted there.
So were some of the other hostages prepared to pay ransoms?
Yes. Oh, yes. Immediately. When the boat slowed enough to give us a break from the bumping, that was the first conversation. "Who can I call and they'll start getting the money together?" Everybody knew how to play the game but us. We were clueless. And probably we should have started playing the game. To be quite honest, we should have said, "Okay, we'll call so and so," even if we just made up somebody's name. [We should have said,] "We'll call them. We'll get them starting to get a ransom together." But we sat back because we don't know how to do that. We don't deal that way, and we knew our mission couldn't help us.
But it's not like we couldn't have called one of our friends and said, "Can you guys start raising a ransom?" And you know what? They would have done it, and we might have gotten out of there. Because of our Western mindset, we didn't do what everybody else did and we missed an opportunity.
Attitudes toward ransom seem to have changed over your year in captivity. For example, the U.S. government changed its policies on kidnapping, saying they would examine each case individually and that they would not automatically cut off cooperation with family members and companies who decide to pay ransom.
As soon as they did that, my family got a ransom together.
So there does seem to be at least a societal shift. Some are saying that the approach of never, never, never paying ransoms may be detrimental.
There are people in [Sudan who are Christians and] are taken into slavery. And you can buy them back. You know what? I can't wait to do that. I want to buy some people back. [Some organizations] pay a ransom. They give this person back and they send them home to their families. Is that a cool thing to do with your money? I'm all for it.
Someone told us after we were released that they had heard someone say, "Well, we could never pay a ransom for Martin and Gracia. That would be immoral to do that." And that hit me like a ton of bricks. What does that mean, that would be immoral? Martin and I were praying for something "immoral" to happen then, because every day we asked God to prepare someone's heart so they would pay a ransom for us.
I have people who don't know my mind now come up and say, "Well, of course we couldn't pay a ransom because that would put every missionary in danger all over the world." And I [sometimes think], Well, you go stand in that corner over there and you don't leave that corner until someone pays a ransom for you, and you see how long that ransom policy holds up in your mind.
I think that's one of the ways I've changed. I was such a black and white person. This is right; this is wrong. We'll never do this, no matter what. I'm not a black and white person anymore. And this may sound bad, but I see myself as very gray and willing to grace other people with their opinions and not be so staunch in how I see things, because I may truly see things wrong.
Ransoms, that's what Jesus did, right? Jesus paid a ransom for us. And one day when we were just so discouraged, I was sitting down with the [other female hostages] and I said, "You know what? I'm so glad that when Jesus paid a ransom for us we didn't have to wait for it to arrive and we didn't have to wait for him to decide if he was going to do it or not. Before the foundation of the world he knew he was going to have to ransom us. And he did it, and it cost him everything."
Maybe our thinking about ransom is wrong. Go ahead and pay the ransom and get your loved one back, even if it takes everything you've got.
Do you think that mission agencies should still maintain a no-ransom policy?
Yes. I would never advocate that a mission organization have a ransom pot that's there for when they need it. And I think I would have been disappointed if New Tribes had paid a ransom for us because, yes, that would have probably put missionaries in danger.
But neither am I for blocking a ransom. I think some of that happened. People were so adamant that there would be no ransom paid that they blocked people's efforts to pay a ransom. Of course a mission board is going to do all they can to get their people out. On the other hand, they don't know everything, and there comes a time when they've got to let the State Department do what they want to do, and let a family do what they want to do.
Were funds ready and available for the second part of the ransom after someone made an initial payment of $330,000?
I don't think so. The Abu Sayyaf were told that there was more money if that wasn't enough, which was one stupid thing to tell them. I don't know who told them that. But they were told that, and they asked for more. When I got out and was being debriefed, I asked someone at the embassy "Where was the rest of the money?" They told me there never was any more. So I think what happened was our ransom wasn't enough. It wasn't enough.
Was that mainly because [Abu Sayyaf leader] Abu Sabaya had already set the ransom at $1 million?
Sabaya [one of the captors] set the $1 million, but we heard him say over and over on the sat-phone, "Take anything. We're ready for this to be over with." And I think the FBI negotiators took him at his word and came up with a bargain, and it just wasn't enough.
Was it the government's money?
No. It was private money or civilian money.
How would you advise other hostages and potential hostages about ransom issues?
I'd say, Be very clear in whatever message you can send out what exactly it is you want done. We would send word of mouth messages out and they would never get sent to our family because it didn't agree with the policy of whomever it had to go through.
So I would say: Be very clear with what you want done. And if you don't want a ransom paid, just do what we did—don't be clear. And nobody's going to pay it.
A family doesn't know what to do. Discuss it. We knew our mission's policy, but we never talked about that with our family.
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