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Faith in Captivity: The Prayer Life of Ingrid Betancourt

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By Whitney Jones
Religion News Service

(RNS) Ingrid Betancourt has written a book filled with stories of torture, treachery and hardship -- and it's not fiction.

Betancourt, 49, was born in Colombia and raised in France. She was captured by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, while campaigning for president in 2002 and was rescued in 2008.

In Even Silence Has an End she writes about her agonizing six-and-a-half year captivity, where she was chained by the neck, mocked and dragged through the Colombian jungle.

Betancourt, a devout Catholic, talked about how her captivity led to a spiritual awakening that continues to affect the world she sees outside the jungle. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Were you ever angry with God during your captivity?

A: I was angry with God when my father died exactly a month, to the hour, after my abduction. I adored my father, and it was very painful for me.

I had this very long fight with God and it lasted years until I just thought, "My God, I'm so glad my father died so soon." I was abducted for six and a half years, and I thought it would have been a torture for him to be waiting for me all the time, not knowing if I was alive.

Q: What was your prayer life like?

A: At the beginning it was very eclectic. I didn't really have a spiritual discipline, but once I accepted that this abduction was going to last for longer than I thought, after a year I began reading the Bible. For the first time in my life I read it from the first page to the last. It transformed my relationship with God.

My days would have two, three, sometimes more hours a day of just meditation. I was alone I could do a very thorough introspection. I discovered spirituality, something that meant something to me and was not the ritual of the religion. It changed my life.

Q: Was there ever a point where you felt like God didn't hear your prayers?

A: Probably during the first year, but it wasn't God not hearing my prayers, it was me not hearing him.

Q: What brought you comfort during your captivity?

A: My faith was my first source of comfort -- the understanding and trusting in God. The idea that even if I couldn't understand why I was there and that it seemed so unfair to be in that situation, there was this God who could see beyond my pain and that was taking care of me in
a way that made my ordeal part of his project.

Q: Did you talk about God with your captors?

A: Yes, I talked about God a lot. I'm not skilled to spread the word of God; I don't know how to do it. I was facing communist people, which would be very adamant about making clear that they didn't believe in God.

Many of the guerillas who were acting as my guards and officially were not supposed to believe in God would come to me with words that were very astonishing. They would whisper things like "I am praying for you. I cannot say 'I believe in God,' but I truly believe in God and
know that one day you will be free."

I think the best way to live my faith is by living it in a very honest way -- not by preaching the gospel, which I don't know how to do, but with my actions, my reactions and my thoughts.

Q: What challenges have you faced since being released?

A: I came to discover another kind of jungle -- not one with guerrillas and armed guys and anacondas and tigers, but it's a very tough jungle. I think it's a jungle where greed dominates many of the relationships between human beings.

One of my biggest conquests in the jungle and here, in freedom, is a new definition of happiness. It's the inner peace. I remember reading in the Bible that you go through this valley of tears, and you have to force yourself to be brave and continue to get to the oasis. The reward when you get there is not fame or money or success or power. The reward God offers you when you have gone through the valley of tears is to rest. I feel I have come to a moment in my life where I have been blessed with rest, and that's my biggest conquest.

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