Published on: 4/6/19, 12:48 pm
There aren’t many better ways to spend an evening than to be with Terry Waite.
I was lucky enough to be among guests recently at the Lebanese Embassy when Terry was being presented with an award for his immense contribution to humanitarian work throughout his life. And richly deserved.
That we were in the Lebanese Embassy should strike a chord with readers who remember Terry’s captivity, and you would appreciate the significance of the location. Terry spent five years in solitary confinement as a hostage in Beirut in the middle of the worst of the civil war there. He had gone to seek the release of hostages on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and found himself kidnapped. He suffered appallingly before his release, and could have been forgiven for a lifetime as far as possible away from his pain, but since then he has been a remarkable symbol of reconciliation and Christian forgiveness.
So much so that here he was in the Embassy of the land which had been his prison, quietly recounting enough of his anguish to make his warmth towards Lebanon and its people even more remarkable.
It’s an extraordinary human example of how experience can provide a background which allows subsequent activity and words to have an unchallenged impact. When he speaks of forgiveness and reconciliation, or says as he did the other night “suffering need not destroy”, no one can respond that “it’s easy for you to say that”. When he talks of his work with the marginalised in society, that when he meets the homeless he understands what it is like to sleep seemingly endlessly on a floor, he makes us all think differently.
We know Terry best around here for his work with Emmaus, the homeless charity that provides a stable home and meaningful work in over thirty places in the U.K., including Carlton. But he is engaged in much else, from supporting those families undergoing the trauma of their loved ones being held captive, to caring for those women and children so often left behind after war, or bringing the divided together such as those in Israel and Palestine.
He both encourages us to measure our lives in ways we may not have thought of, but inspires us to find that bit more in the tank to offer, in humbler ways, to our own community.
A national treasure - Terry Waite.