By midday, March 17, 1992, I found myself in the sweltering tropical jungle of a remote southern Philippine island at the mercy of armed and dangerous Muslim rebels. I can still hear those angry words shouting at us, “Do you want to live in the jungle? Do you want to die?”
My friend Tracy and I had traveled south for “spring” break from teaching at Faith Academy, the largest global worker kids’ school in the world. After visiting with friends where I started my global worker career, we took a side trip to visit and encourage two young global worker families on a small thirty-mile island. After our night’s stay in one of their simple homes built on stilts over the ocean, Australians Steve and Lyn with their two daughters, Cheree, 5, and Elise, 3, took us on a brief tour of their village just prior to our intended flight back to our first destination.
As we approached a speed bump on the edge of the village, three armed men stopped the car. In a deluge of threats and commands, Steve was pulled out to the pavement. We all tried to get out, but they shoved us back into the car, jumped in with us, and sped away, leaving Steve behind. They angrily shouted at us in broken English and Tausug, the local dialect, as the car raced at breakneck speed toward the jungle. Little Elise cried; we all felt confused and frightened and wondered about their intentions. In the midst of the initial trauma, I found myself singing a gospel chorus and clinging to my God.
Not far into the jungle, one of the tires went flat, so the driver pulled over and the rebels attempted to hide the bright yellow car by covering it with gigantic palm leaves. We continued on foot. Gonzales showed himself early on as the leader; when we stopped to rest in the heat of the sun, he realized that we were not rich Americans, but global workers.
He wrote on a cigarette paper, “Worst luck!” It is commonly known that global workers never pay ransom demands.
As we sat waiting under palm trees for the next move, the men kept checking us out. I soon realized that my short-sleeved blouse and culottes, falling just above my knees, presented too much skin for Muslim men, but there was nothing I could do about it. Late that afternoon we moved to a simple shelter of nipa palms held up by four posts with no walls. More men arrived, and by evening there were about thirty rebels with M16 rifles surrounding us, guarding us. They talked among themselves, considering their options, intently looking us over with some inquisitive talking, touching us like a swarm of flies. We had no idea what would happen to us that night or in the days ahead. That first night I appealed to Gonzales to stop the men’s behavior, but he responded that he would not stop them unless he saw them stripping us.
Near sundown that first night, an older man appeared, knelt before us, and pulled out plastic plates and some food from his rice sack. He resembled my Uncle Dale in looks and kindly said, “I pray for your safe release.” He soon left, and we never saw him again. I wonder if God sent him as a comforting angel.
As I considered the idea of dying, I was able to pray, Yes, Lord, I know I am ready to meet you. Please let them see Jesus in our lives. The Lord brought peace to my heart as I recalled various Scriptures.
Elise, Lyn’s three-year-old daughter, cried most of that day and evening. My heart went out to Lyn when our captors decided Elise should be taken back to the village by one of the men. Lyn prayed that her precious daughter would simply fall asleep and wake up in her father’s arms. Confirmation of Elise’s safe arrival came later from a battery-powered radio carried by our captors.
We moved constantly to new locations either by crowding into a truck or on foot at night by the moon’s light. Sleep did not come easily for any of us any night. Each day we read from a Daily Bread devotional that had been taken from the car. This also helped us keep track of the number of days. One morning Gonzales listened to the reading, which happened to be on leadership. He responded, “That is good.”
Men daily came and went; there were usually an average of seventeen armed captors with us, yet Gonzales and the other two original kidnappers never left us. Early on I had to take out my contact lenses, which made seeing a bit difficult. One night as we traveled by foot over a rocky area, I was unnerved that I had to take the hand of one of these men in order not to fall.
We had many concerns about our health. The drinking water was filthy, we had little food, the intense heat and lack of sleep readily exhausted us, and jungle insects (including scorpions) lived there too. Lyn had nursing training and knew to check our skin for dehydration. I also feared migraine headaches would surely set in, as I had been experiencing them regularly, living in the Philippines.
Several days into our captivity, during one of the comings and goings of guards, one man brought us a package from our global worker friends. We could hardly contain our joy, as we knew we were being lifted up in many prayers. It contained a small water purifier, a change of jungle-captive-worthy clothes, and several copies of the Gospel of John in Tausug, their tribal language.
Going to a semi-secluded spot for personal matters proved awkward, since men guarded us and watched our every move. Several times I simply stepped away a short distance to be alone and cry out to the Lord for comfort. It seemed like we were in a dream. What was going to happen? One day tears flowed; the reality of it all seemed to come upon me to a new depth.
Just before sunset approached, on one of those days of relentlessly being stared at by men, I felt God nudging me to go forward and speak to the leader. I had witnessed some innuendos that gave me concern for how they may treat us. I went forward by the prompting of the Lord and sat in front of Gonzales with his men on either side of him; I simply opened my mouth to speak. I believe God filled it as I spoke slowly, along with hand motions.
“Gonzalez, you and all your men are very strong and it takes a strong man to resist lust. We are counting on you to be strong and treat us right.”
Gonzalez replied, “I know what you mean.” He turned and spoke to his men in Tausug. We then moved to a new location, and he actually told the men to sleep about a yard away from us. Our rest that night came more easily.
One night the men had a guitar and asked us to sing a love song. Since the dearest love songs I know refer to God’s love, I sang a children’s song about being in love with Jesus and how Jesus shed His blood on Calvary for sinners just like me.
Sometimes local people appeared and simply stared at us; perhaps we were the first white people they had seen. One day a child arrived and played with Cheree; she cried when her “playmate” left. Another visitor asked if he could take a copy of the Tausug Gospel of John. We gladly agreed, and he tucked it into his shirt next to his heart. What a unique way to get God’s Word to one of the remotest parts of the world!
The day came when Lyn overheard the men talking specifically about me. She cautioned me about how to react if something were to happen. I had concern for us all and knew that these armed men could readily react fatally. That night a man came to sleep beside me; earlier, he had gotten angry and thrown one of the Tausug books of John into the bushes. Because he wanted room on the ladies’ grass mat, he displayed anger at Tracy, which alerted me to be very careful. He began touching me, and I started to fear what he would do next. Suddenly all the men jumped up, grabbed their M16 rifles, and went out into the surrounding area. When they returned, they explained that ghosts had been seen. We believe God’s angels surrounded us and became visible to our captors that night. Another man came to lie beside me; I sat up quickly, and the first man returned. I could not bear more advances. Nothing further happened that night, but at the same time I thought to myself, If there is another night, it may not go as well.
The next day we moved to another new location and found ourselves in a one-room nipa hut. As sundown came we heard them wildly shooting their guns, which once again alerted us to the obvious dangers and how we must be unassuming and careful. When night came there was a man sleeping beside each of us ladies. I earnestly prayed for Tracy and Lyn’s safety and wondered what might happen to all of us. The fire soon died out; all was quiet. The angry man who had slept beside me the night before raped me that night. God’s presence enveloped me; His loving voice clearly and tenderly spoke to me, Forgive them, for they know not what they do. My life verse came alive: I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death” (Philippians 3:10).
The next morning I initially felt numb and covered my entire face with a cloth. Once I gained composure and sat up, Lyn came to my side. We walked out of the hut together as she comforted me and let me know God had answered my prayers for Tracy and her. That night we moved to another hut on stilts on the edge of the ocean. Would the abuse now continue, would we live, or were we going to die?
As the sun set that day, new men arrived. Discussions began between these men and our captors. The night wore on and we tried to stay awake, engaging in conversation with each other and the leader. At about 3:00 AM they said, “The boat is here, give us your bags.” They whisked us away onto the boat with at least four men who had just arrived that night, as well as a rooster.
I hesitated in getting my hopes up; perhaps this was just a transfer to another island and group of captors. Once in the deep waters we floated for several hours. Finally a light shone towards us, and the men returned a signal with their flashlight. Soon a large vessel came alongside our outrigger; the uniformed men kindly lifted us one by one onto the Philippine Navy boat! After ten days in the jungle, we were finally safely away from our captors. Once we reached the other side of the island, they transferred us to another Navy boat where Lyn’s husband and daughter, as well as the Australian and U.S. Embassy personnel, met us.
God’s presence sustained us throughout the captivity. He provided for our needs each day and kept us healthy. He comforted each of us and enabled us to forgive our captors. During the night of my hardest trial, I came to know Jesus more intimately. As one global worker later explained to me, “When Jesus went to the cross He took upon Himself the sins of the whole world. When one of His children is sinned against, He is there taking the sin upon Himself.” Jesus continually shows me His faithfulness day by day. Over the years I have been blessed with caring family and friends who lovingly listen as I work through the reality of being held captive. I never had a bad dream about the ordeal; in fact, the only dream I’ve ever had about the kidnapping proved positive with my Faith Academy friends walking me out of the jungle joyfully.
One year after our capture on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, I not only remembered what happened to us, but also recalled the story of St. Patrick. He too experienced captivity and eventually escaped from Ireland back to his English homeland. The Lord called him to return to Ireland where many needed to hear the Good News. On that day of remembrance, the Lord clearly spoke to me, “Carol, I want you to be like St. Patrick and go back to the land where you were kidnapped. I’m not finished with you there yet.” The peace of God swept over me. I returned to the Philippines and served another eight years.
Although it has taken years to process the actual trauma, I know God dearly loves me. He keeps my well-being in mind. He clothes me in His righteousness, provides an oasis in the presence of my enemies, heals my hurts, and guides me safely in every step and season of life.