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Sir Terry Waite: Lessons Learned From Captivity

"Spending time in isolation, chained to the wall, sleeping on the floor, no companionship, never speaking to anyone, blindfolded when anyone came into the room ... it was tough, but within every situation of deprivation and difficulty there are the seeds of a new opportunity."

To an entire generation, not just in the UK but globally, simply mentioning the name Sir Terry Waite brings back very powerful emotions and memories. Working as a special envoy for the then Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie in the 1980s, Waite's diplomatic mediation skills were utilised effectively on numerous occasions to secure the release of hostages - that is, until Waite himself was kidnapped and held captive in Lebanon from 1987 to 1991.

Sir Terry Waite, President of homelessness charity Emmaus UK

Kept largely in solitude for an astonishing total of 1,763 days, Waite's name became synonymous with global news headlines, as nations hoped and prayed for his safe release.

In the wake of that famous day in November 1991, he would share his story in the Internationally-bestselling memoir Taken On Trust. The experience would, over the course of the subsequent three decades, go on to shape and define the second chapter of his life as a humanitarian, author and public speaker, and as the co-founder of Hostage International and long-standing president and public ambassador for homelessness charity Emmaus UK.

Named in King Charles VI's 2023 Birthday Honours list, Sir Terry Waite is now, deservedly, the recipient of the KCMG honour in recognition of service in a foreign country or in relation to foreign and Commonwealth affairs.

Terry Waite

On episode 23 of the Good Journeys with Second Mountain, the podcast series from Second Mountain Comms in partnership with Resilient Leaders Elements, Sir Terry joins Ben Veal to recall his experiences in captivity and explore how his time held hostage informed his life and worldview.

In this moving and inspiring episode, Sir Terry shares his personal learnings from years of solitude, his personal journey of faith, reconciliation and forgiveness, why the need to support the world's homeless is now more pressing than ever before, and his commitment to humanitarian work.

Episode 23 of the #GoodJourneysPod is out now. Listen, watch and share:


"Captivity changed sympathy into empathy"

Published three decades ago in 1993, Terry Waite's Taken On Trust vividly transported readers into a world of captivity, with the author masterfully alternating between recollections of his life as a free man and the years held hostage: "the structure really indicates the way of thinking in captivity," Waite tells host Ben Veal on the show. "Your mind goes back to previous events; you think of childhood, you think of different experiences in your own life and you live them in your imagination - but then suddenly you're bought out with a jolt because you're back in that environment. The structure of that book is as important to my mind as the content of it."

Sir Terry's accounts of his time in captivity are deeply moving and provided a window into the harrowing experience but, as Waite shares on the #GoodJourneysPod, there were some unexpected takeaways from the years spent imprisoned:

"It may sound crazy [but] in my case, I really value that experience in many ways. I wouldn't wish to go through it again - of course I wouldn't - but I gained a lot from it.

Before I was in captivity, I always had sympathy for those who are on the margins of life: the prisoner, the homeless, those who found themselves desolate. I always had sympathy, but captivity changed that into empathy."

"When I came out of captivity I wasn't supposed to bring anything with me, but I managed to smuggle out my blindfold which I had worn for so many years and a little magnifying glass which eventually they [Waite's guards] had given me towards the end of captivity so that I could read.

"It was a chipped piece of glass, and I brought it out with me. When I got to Trinity Hall [in Cambridge], I put these items into an envelope on the desk [while writing Taken On Trust]. When the manuscript was finished, I took them out and gave them to the College, where they put them amongst their treasures. When the late Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh came to the Hall, they saw these items and I explained to them their significance."

Episode 23 of the Good Journeys with Second Mountain podcast is out now.

Listen | Watch | Subscribe | Join the Conversation.

This very special episode is dedicated to the memory of Andrew George Veal.

Good Journeys with Second Mountain

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