Heather Bellamy spoke with Terry Waite about his years in captivity, how he survived, his understanding of suffering and the creative redemption and forgiveness that has come out of what he experienced in Beruit.

Terry Waite (Photographer Gemma Levine)
Terry Waite (Photographer Gemma Levine)

Terry Waite has had a varied career and is best known as a hostage negotiator. He himself was taken hostage in Beirut, where he was kept in solitary confinement for almost five years. Terry is also a prolific author. His new book, 'Out of the Silence' is a book of memories, poems and reflections and Heather Bellamy spent time with him, hearing his story, as well as some of his poems.

Heather: Why did you choose the title 'Out of the Silence' for your new book?

Terry: I chose it because during the years of my captivity, I was kept in solitary confinement for almost five years. During that time I learnt how to get into silence; how to enjoy silence and how to make it creative.

Previously, when I was younger, I was often told that I ought to go away and spend a few days quiet, just to get myself together. When I did that, I really didn't relax. My mind was full of all the activities with which I was engaged.

I realised that if you are going to get into silence, you really have to be able to almost learn how to do that. And I had to learn the hard way. I learnt the hard way by having to endure those years of captivity and being separated from the world entirely.

During that time I wrote in my head. I wrote my first book which is called 'Taken on trust'. I wrote that it in my head because I had no pencil and paper. I used to compose, as best I could, poetry and the book.

'Out of the silence' is a collection of poetry. Now that poetry wasn't necessarily all written during the time of my captivity, but it had its genesis there; the ideas were formed there. Then across the years I wrote them and put them together. I wasn't going to publish them, but a friend read them and said, "I think you ought to publish, because they may well be of inspirational help to others." And so I did.

Heather: How did it affect you, looking back on your life for this book? Was it difficult or therapeutic?

Terry: The whole experience of captivity and many other experiences in life have been difficult. We live in a world where there is great suffering and some appalling suffering around the world and suffering is no respecter of persons. It lands on people regardless of whether they have lived a good life you might say, or whether they haven't. Everybody suffers to a greater or lesser degree.

My view is this, that in the majority of cases, suffering needn't destroy. It can be creative; something creative can emerge from it.

If you look back across some of the great creative works of art, or lives, that have taken place in our history, you see that many of these things have emerged from situations of great suffering. And of course at the heart of the Christian faith stands a symbol of suffering, the cross. It is our belief that the cross is not the ultimate end, because beyond the cross lies resurrection, which gives you hope and says that suffering can be transformed and made creative.

When I look back on my days of incarceration, I say yes, they were years of suffering, but I'm not going to allow them to destroy me. Out of that, I will take something creative and make something creative of it.

Heather: That's remarkable. I'd like to look back at your life now. You were the Archbishop of Canterbury's Special Envoy in the 80's. How did you get into the type of job that meant you were negotiating the release of hostages?

Terry: I was employed by him because of my knowledge of international affairs. I'd worked in almost all major countries of the world and lived in a number of them. He wanted somebody on his staff who could advise him on the situation in different countries, on ecclesiastical and political matters. So my job was to travel with him and to go on all his journeys.