An evening with Terry Waite

Today I met Terry Waite for the first time. According to Wikipedia:Terence Hardy “Terry” Waite, CBE (born 31 May 1939) is an English humanitarian and author. Waite was the Assistant for Anglican Communion Affairs for the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, in the 1980s. As an envoy for the Church of England, he travelled to Lebanon to try to secure the release of four hostages, including the journalist John McCarthy. He was himself kidnapped and held captive from 1987 to 1991…


I was aware of Terry Waite before he was taken hostage as being an effective hostage negotiator and definitely one of the good guys. While I have been less aware of his activities in recent years, it is evident that he has continued to be prolific in his humanitarian work. While I tend not to go out of my way to listen to big named speakers, even those who I admire, like Terry Waite, the prospect of listening to him at my local Anglican church, less than 10 minutes walk from my house, was something I didn’t wish to miss out on. Accordingly, I booked my ticket (online) and made that short journey, earlier this evening. I was pleasantly surprised to see the church was full and was able to bump into a number of old friends.

I wasn’t sure what to expect and was determined not to have my hopes raised too high, knowing it could turn out to be an anti-climax seeing one’s hero, and a living legend taboot, in the flesh. I need not have worried though because it was a fascinating meeting with the speaker on top form. While a lighter aspect was him talking a little about his newly published comic novel set in my own town, there was a seriousness behind it, given the sort of imaginations that were required was what helped him survive his years of solitary confinement, which he described in great detail and without any glamorizing. In fact, his down to earthiness and deep sense of the mystery of God, without going over the top, was compelling.

What was meant to be a two hour session, turned out to be near three, but given how quickly time went as a result of his riveting exposition, one might be excused for not realizing this. I was thoroughly absorbed by what Terry had to say and how he related this to the current situation, with all of the troubles taking place, particularly in the Middle East. His insights were profound such as concerning the quandary faced when getting rid of an evil regime and it allowing something even worse to take its place, and what could or should happen. I was drawn to Terry by his ability and resolve to bring together disparate parties, well aware of the challenges involved and consequences of failure. To an extent, I have modeled some of my own practice on his own, realizing the rewards can be great in terms of outcome. I loved his sense of perspective, such that it ought make me more grateful for what I have and more understanding regarding the pain people suffer and why people, even the bad guys, are the way they are.

A lot came out of what Terry had to say, both in his presentation and the Q&A session that followed, but such is the whirling going around my head, I wouldn’t do it justice if I tried to summarise what was said. What did impress me was Terry the man, and especially his own humility. While his exploits were significant and the way he coped with challenging situations illuminating, even more important was the way he went about it, with warmth and self-effacing humanity such that he could come to an accord with many who might be considered as his enemies. I liked his response to one question about what he learnt whilst in captivity. The answer was it helped enable him from going from sympathetic to empathetic. This empathy has subsequently enabled him to quite naturally get alongside and relate to those who suffer. One aspect is him relating to many of those traumatized by similar experiences.

For me, this was an out of ordinary event as far as events go but I am glad I was able to attend, not just to learn something new or meet some old friends or meet my hero even (all of which happened), but because I went away enlightened, encouraged and empowered, and I have no doubt that many who attended felt likewise, evidenced by the standing ovation at the end. All credit to Father James and St. Lukes Church for putting on this event. We are told to suffer with those who suffer and Jesus taught: “blessed are the peacemakers”. Terry Waite is certainly one who falls in those categories. I hope more such will arise, even from among those who attended today.


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