Thursday, August 29, 2013

Back to Work . . . with the Gifts for Gracias Project!!!!!

With the wedding, and then the kidnapping, I've been pushing things to the back burner so long that it's getting pretty crowded back there! Today I'm grabbing the "pot" that is in most need of urgent attention, and bringing it up front for your consideration.

It's time . . . well, a bit past time . . . to start requesting your help with the annual Gifts for Gracias Project! 

If you're unfamiliar with this project, it's simply an opportunity for our friends and supporters to donate gift items to help and encourage the pastors with whom we work, and their families. In the past, when we have had extra gifts, these have gone to orphans and children who attend our feeding centers and special needs programs. (In the last two years, donations have been way down, so we haven't had much in the way of extras.)

We currently work alongside of about a thousand pastors, with varying levels of involvement. Some pastors (about 100) run feeding centers, and we supply the food. Some pastors have received assistance with construction of a church or school building. Many have participated in our free pastor training school. About 150 (so far) have received motorcycles for use in their ministry work, through a joint effort with the Christian Motorcyclists Association. Another 50 or so, who either can't afford to run and maintain a motorcycle, or who live and work in areas with roads that even motorcycles can't traverse, have received funds to purchase horses and mules. Some just take advantage of the non-profit Bible and Christian book store which we run in the city of Gracias.

Many of the thousand pastors are located pretty far from us, and don't participate in this project because of distance. Other pastors, who work in more well-to-do areas with churches that can actually pay them a salary, choose not to receive a gift, so that the gifts can go to the needier pastors. Last year, we distributed about 300 gifts to pastors and their families - and most went to the pastors working in very poor rural areas, pastoring four or more churches (holding services in different villages on different nights of the week), and doing hard, physical agricultural work to support their families at a very minimal level.

We spend a lot of time, personalizing the gifts based on the ages and genders of the children in each family. Some of our donors prefer to put together a gift for a family, which we then match to an appropriate family (or add gifts for additional children, as necessary), some send shoebox-type gifts for children, which we then add to family items to make a complete family gift, and some people prefer to purchase one or a few items in bulk, which we then use as we put together the personalized gifts. We're happy - thrilled, really - to receive any of these types of donations! Additionally, many people send us used clothing and bedding, in good or new condition, to add to the gifts. Sweaters, jackets, and blankets are always high demand items!

I have prepared a page on our website, as a reference of information about this annual project. You can check the Gifts for Gracias page for mailing addresses, deadline dates, suggested items to add to gifts, and an overview of the project. If you have a question and can't find the answer there, please write to me, and I'll see that you get an answer! There is also a Gifts for Gracias Facebook page, which we will be using to post updates as this project gets rolling again this year!

Thanks so much for whatever part you can play in helping us show appreciation to these hardworking servants of the Gospel.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

An update on us - 2 weeks after the kidnapping

Two weeks ago today, Ben was returned to our family after his 30 hour ordeal of being kidnapped and held for ransom. With his return, our family entered a new season: healing. 

After all of the adrenaline and stress we had the rejoicing . . . and then what? 

I (Trish) crashed the hardest. In "therapy" terms, I hadn't had a chance to deal with the emotions of my own kidnapping experience, because I'd had to immediately press forward at that time, as Ben's life was in danger. The first week after Ben's return my sleep was disrupted and I didn't want to eat. When I was alert enough, I worked on writing up the story for the blog - I just felt that it was very important to get it all down before I forgot anything. Since finishing the story, I've been gradually improving in my eating and sleeping; last night, for instance, I slept 3.5 straight hours, which is a new post-kidnapping record for me (I slept more than that, in total, but the rest was interrupted with frequent awakenings). 

In the past few days, I've had several opportunities to drive to town, sometimes with some of the children and sometimes by myself. I have, in the past, found great joy in this drive - the mountains and the farming villages are so beautiful, and the people so friendly, waving and smiling greetings to me as I pass. I enjoy dodging small herds of cattle, ox carts, and the occasional pig. I was concerned that fears produced by my kidnapping experience might steal this joy from me, but I'm happy to report that it has not! I am a bit more alert for signs of trouble - which is probably a good thing - but the joy is still there!

I see small improvements in my ability to get up and get things done every day. I could use prayers, though, as I have a trip to MD scheduled in a few weeks, to attend my brother's wedding, and I have a lot to do before I go!

Ben, on the other hand, is doing amazingly well. He hasn't experienced any trouble with sleeping or eating - you might even say that his activities have increased in both of those areas since the kidnapping! There haven't been nightmares or other moments of flashback fears. He's gradually increasing in his ability to get back into the groove of his normal schoolwork and chore schedule. A significant decrease in his ability to concentrate and stay on task have been the only real signs that he was disturbed by any of this - until yesterday, out of the blue, he told me that when he'd awakened that morning, he'd felt normal for the first time since the kidnapping. I asked him how he'd felt prior to that, and he replied, "Cold, dark, and scared inside." In true manly fashion, he hadn't mentioned that to anyone until he felt he had it under control!

 Allen and Russell started back into construction work almost as soon as the kidnapping was behind us. Hard physical work seems to be their therapy. The rest of the family members are finding their footing again, gradually. We talk about the kidnapping frequently and freely, and we have dozens of new "family jokes" revolving around these incidents. It's dark humor, but it seems to be helpful that we feel free to address all of this openly, with emotions or with humor - however it wants to come out!

We are so grateful to God, not only to have Ben physically back with us, but to have the same goofy, loving, forgetful, mischievous, happy child that he was before! And, I've said it before but you might as well get used to me saying it again and again - we are so thankful for the prayers that surrounded us during our dark hours, and which continue to lift us up through this entire experience.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Rachel and Brandy's wedding!

With the timing of the kidnapping, the days when we would likely have wanted to sit back and just enjoy reliving the moments of beauty and happiness from Rachel and Brandy's wedding sort of passed in other ways. Today, I want to officially welcome Brandy to the family, and tell him how pleased we are that Rachel has found such a kind and Godly man with whom to walk through life!

We don't have the photos from the photographer yet, so these are just some glimpses of the day, from my sister Pam's camera:

Rachel and friends, putting together the flowers for on the tables.

Russell and friends, stringing the lights.

Rachel and sister Kirstin, making the bridal bouquet, while Brandy "supervises." LOL

Keeping the cake cool until the reception, with no AC.

Setting up for the ceremony.
The venue: Fort of San Cristobal, Gracias Lempira

Setting up for the reception

View from the fort . . . see the overcast skies, which cooled us and did NOT ruin the outdoor reception!

Another view from the fort.

Some of the family - international visitors and local family members
The lovely cake - created by my sister, Pam Llewellyn
Brandy surprised us by showing up in uniform - it was a VERY WELL RECEIVED surprise!!!

Our lovely and very poised flower girl

Pam videotaped the actual ceremony, so the only still shot of the ceremony I have right now is this one.

Rachel and Brandy, greeting everyone after the ceremony . . . but they actually only have eyes for each other!

All set to start the reception
The morning of the wedding, Rachel realized she hadn't thought to get a knife and cake server. I knew where my box of wedding memorabilia was, and so we grabbed the set from Allen's and my wedding, pulled off the yellowed ribbons and put on fresh ones - good to go!

Serving up the food. We had the meal catered by a local hotel.

The now-famous photo of Ben, seen all over the WORLD with the prayer request during the kidnapping.

The wedding party - between shots by the photographer
Brandy, with his mother and his groomsmen (my son Christopher, and a military friend, Obando)

The photographer, guests watching the formal photos being taken

My husband Allen, son Christopher, and daughter Kirstin

Me, with guests

My newly extended family!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Okay, I'm ready for questions now - if you have any!

I wanted to give those who read Ben's story a chance to ask me questions that might have come up in their minds, that I didn't answer in the posts. Keep in mind that there are details I will not share at this time, for a variety of reasons. I moderate all comments before they post, so if your question is one I can't or won't answer online, then your comment just won't show up at all. Sorry about that, but it's the best way I can figure out how to do this.

Have at it! LOL

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ben's Kidnapping - Part 7

Make sure you've read the earlier parts of the story, before you read this part:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

Late Monday afternoon, Ben was awakened from his nap under the rock by the sound of a loud SNAP in the forest nearby. The kidnapper was instantly alert, grabbed his gun, and warned Ben to remain silent. A few minutes passed and nothing more was heard, so the kidnapper gradually relaxed somewhat. He nervously unloaded and reloaded his rifle, and then they settled back down under the rock, just sitting quietly, as the sky grew dark. 

Once the kidnapper deemed it dark enough, he and Ben emerged from their shelter and started off through the underbrush. They were not following a path, and the kidnapper untied Ben's hands so that he could keep his balance better and catch himself when he would start to slip and fall on the muddy, uneven ground. After a good bit of walking - Ben couldn't tell me many details about this walk in the dark, except that it "went on forever" - the kidnapper stopped in a quiet spot where the forest met a cow pasture. He tied Ben's hands, blindfolded him, and then placed a phone call. 

Ben could hear that the other caller was a woman. The kidnapper said, "We're here, at number two," and the woman answered, "I'm coming, I'm coming." As they awaited the arrival of the woman, the kidnapper moved Ben a short distance, and they sat down on some large rocks, because the ground was still very wet from the earlier rain. 

After about fifteen minutes the woman came and brought them some beans and tortillas in a small pot, two plates, two small bags of chips and two cans of peach juice. While the woman was with them Ben remained blindfolded, but after she left the kidnapper took off the blindfold and untied his hands so that he could eat. Ben was disappointed to find that the cans of juice were frozen almost solid, and they had to let them thaw some before they could drink. They quickly ate everything except the bags of chips - the kidnapper put those into his woven bag, stating that they would save them to eat the next day. Ben related that while the kidnapper had seemed nervous all day, the woman seemed much more nervous, and she was clearly angry about something.

After the meal, Ben and the kidnapper sat for a few moments, and the kidnapper grew chatty, talking about how he was scared that we might have contacted the police, who then would be looking for him. Soon they got up, and carrying the dishes from their meal with them (in a larger bag the woman had brought them in), they started off walking. In about 5 minutes they came to a place where Ben could see a streetlight in the distance. They stopped while the kidnapper blindfolded him, then continued walking, for about 5 more minutes. 

During this bit of blindfolded walking, Ben encountered a local plant which causes immediate stinging and itchiness when it touches the skin - he couldn't see to avoid it, of course - and from then until sometime in the middle of the night he dealt with inflamed skin, from the tops of his shoes to about five inches up his legs. Fortunately they were close to the end of their walking for that day. They arrived at a house.

They entered the house, and the kidnapper did not turn on any lights. He had Ben sit on the edge of a bed, and he took off Ben's shoes and blindfold, and then tied both his hands and his feet. The bed had a full size mattress, with rough sheets and one pillow. There was also a twin size bed in the room, and the woman who had brought them their meal was in that bed - Ben knew that because her phone rang and he heard her speak, and he could see a bit from the light of her cellphone. The kidnapper let Ben use the pillow on the larger bed, and Ben, exhausted from the day he'd had, was soon asleep with his kidnapper lying beside him. The itching and stinging of his legs kept him from sleeping very soundly, though, and he was grateful for the nap he'd had under the rock earlier.

On Tuesday morning they awoke at dawn. The kidnapper blindfolded Ben, picked him up, and spun him around a few times to disorient him, so that Ben wouldn't be able to tell the direction back to the house. He carried Ben for about 15 minutes. Ben is always slow to awaken in the mornings, and that seems likely to be the reason he was carried at this point. 

Ben was then placed on the ground and his blindfold was removed. They walked across fields, often having to pass over or under barbed wire fences. After a few of these fences, the kidnapper untied Ben's hands, to make it easier for him to scramble between the wires. They walked along in this way for a couple of hours. Once, they came to a spot where there were three houses, and the kidnapper stopped and backtracked to avoid these.

Eventually they arrived at a shady place in the woods where the kidnapper stopped, and they sat down and rested. Ben could occasionally hear the sound of motorcycles and other vehicles going past on a road that was very close by, apparently just on the other side of a small hill. The kidnapper tied his hands again.

From this location, numerous phone calls were placed. During his conversations with Russell, the kidnapper frequently mentioned his "boss." The police didn't really believe there was a boss, but Ben thinks there was, as the kidnapper was calling someone else and talking to them, between some of his calls to Russell. Ben was able to overhear and understand much of the content of the conversations he heard, as the negotiations progressed. Many times Ben listened as the kidnapper threatened to kill or harm him. 

At one point Ben became seriously afraid, after an especially awful threat was made. He started crying and shaking with fear. When the kidnapper got off the phone, he gently told Ben not to worry, that he wasn't really going to hurt him, and he patted him on the head. 

Ben tells a story about his fear during this part of the kidnapping. A squirrel appeared in a nearby tree, and watching the squirrel helped him to be brave. Squirrels aren't common in our area, so it was a distraction for Ben to watch the antics of this cute and unusual (to him) animal. Gradually he began to feel quite calm. This seems to be such a small and unimportant detail, but apparently it impacted Ben deeply - he believes that God sent the squirrel to him, to help him keep up his courage.

The kidnapper had eaten his small bag of chips much earlier in the day, and Ben had gnawed on an ear of corn from a field at that same time. In the early afternoon the kidnapper's empty stomach began to growl, and Ben offered the kidnapper his bag of chips to eat. When asked why he didn't want his chips, Ben told the kidnapper that he would rather wait to get something to eat at home. The kidnapper accepted Ben's chips.

The plan was now to release Ben in exchange for a ransom of 300,000 Lempiras ($15,000). The kidnapper untied Ben's hands, telling him that he should be free to go soon, because that was a very small amount of money. To amuse himself while waiting, Ben picked up some small sticks and pieces of bark, and started throwing them at a nearby tree. The kidnapper joined him in the game, and they competed to see who had the best aim.

With the next call to Russell, the kidnapper was informed that we couldn't even pay this smallest ransom demand. He was quite angry, and Ben was afraid that the man would become physically violent with him. He retied Ben's hands, and made another phone call, to the "Boss."

This was the moment we had most feared. Although we were attempting to continue "negotiations" with the kidnapper, he had  realized that there wasn't a lot of money coming from this situation. Ben was still in the hands of his captor, and he was no longer of any value to him - he was, in fact, a potential witness against him; a source of information to the police in their investigation of this crime. There was no reason to keep Ben alive, and several logical reasons to kill him - plus there was the anger and disappointment of the kidnapper, and possibly fear of a boss' retaliation in response to the failure of their scheme.

We were out of time and had tried everything we could think of to save Ben. There was nothing more we could do. We knew God was aware of Ben's peril. We knew prayers were being lifted on his behalf. We knew that miracles can occur - but would that be God's plan for Ben? Would God move to save him?

And then, God moved. There were no paint-smeared commandos crashing through the jungle to the rescue. There were no flashbang grenades, no car chases, not even any swordplay. There was just love. The love that comes from God, that teaches us to live in ways that are more like His ways. To show mercy and compassion.  To rescue the helpless. To be kind to one another. 

As so many people around the world prayed specifically for God to soften the heart of the kidnapper . . . the young man simply decided to let Ben go home to his family unharmed.

When the man told Ben that he was free to go, Ben immediately twisted his hands and wrists around and showed the kidnapper that he could easily remove his bonds by himself. They both laughed as Ben handed the kidnapper the rope that had so often restrained him over the past 30 hours. Then the kidnapper called Russell and said, "My boss will be mad at me, but I'm going to let him go." 

The kidnapper put his arms around Ben and hugged him goodbye. Then he pointed him in the direction he needed to walk. When Ben crested the small hill next to the hiding place and saw the dirt road on the other side, he immediately knew where he was - on the road that passes right in front of our property. He was about a mile from home - an easy walk for a young boy used to living in the country. 

Ben looked back toward his kidnapper, who waved at him and called out "Adios." He turned toward the road again, and behind him he could hear the kidnapper placing a call, telling Russell where we should go to pick Ben up.

Upon receiving that call, Russell, at his home in the city of Gracias, relayed the information to Allen, who was at our home, much closer to Ben. Allen grabbed the keys and raced to the Land Cruiser. Within moments Ben was in his arms!

Russell's phone rang again, about fifteen minutes later. It was the kidnapper, checking to make sure Ben had made it back to us safely!

Ben came home, scratched and bruised, filthy and smelly, with his clothing and sneakers in tatters, and still wearing his necklace, bearing these two scriptures:

He will cover you with his feathers, under his wings you will find refuge. His faithfulness shall be your shield and rampart. Psalms 91:4

Love one another. John 15:17

There is now another post, relating events that happened immediately after Ben's release: After the Kidnapping

**** I am writing this post a week and a day after Ben's release. As of this point, he continues to show few signs of being traumatized by his experiences. His sleeping and eating patterns are unchanged, and he still jumps at any chance to ride to town! He jokes and laughs about the events of those 30 hours of captivity. Of course, we're keeping a close eye on this, but it would appear that the prayers for him to be protected from trauma were answered, as well as the prayers to spare his life.

****I will likely eventually write more about the events which followed the kidnapping, since this is my regular blog where I write about our lives and our ministry. I seem to have been a bit more affected by this trauma than Ben, and it is highly possibly that in my struggle to get this all down quickly while still finding my feet after these events, I left out parts of this story that have left people with questions in their minds. Although I hope that people will use the comments section of this post to praise God for his mercy and His goodness to us, I plan to put up another post soon, where you will be encouraged to ask any questions you might have.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Ben's Kidnapping - Part 6

This will make a lot more sense if you read parts 1 - 5 before reading this part! If you haven't already done so, then here are the links:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

***I'm running out of ideas for photos to use in these posts. In order to get this online quickly, I'm going with something simple this time . . . posed family portraits from over the years. 

Tuesday morning came early for everyone - no one had slept all that well anyway. The kidnapper had given us an impossible ransom demand, and an impossible deadline. And, of course, he was threatening to kill Ben if we didn't comply. Our hope for Ben's safe return had fallen to a very low level.

Meanwhile, however, it had been determined that it was no longer necessary to keep all the details of Ben's kidnapping out of the news. The police were searching and roadblocks were everywhere, Ben's description was being played on the radio, and everyone was talking about us. If the kidnapper found out anything about our search, it was more likely to be through a local news source than the internet. So, the details of the kidnapping, with our names and location and some other details were released on Facebook. And then they were shared. And shared. And shared. And the prayers going up on Ben's behalf multiplied.

Most people linked back to the information posted on the Facebook page of The Foundation, our mission organization. Eventually, over 300,000 people visited that page as it was emphasizing the prayer request for Ben! We don't know how many prayers that actually represents - plus many people told me they heard about Ben through a church prayer chain, at a Bible study, and in other non-Facebook ways like people just telling each other - so we'll never know how many prayers went up on Ben's behalf, but I can safely say that it was a multitude of prayers!

We were encouraged by the prayers, but the situation was very grim, and we know that God doesn't always answer prayers in the way that we would like them to be answered. We've known missionaries who have not been saved from violence and other serious situations . . . and we were trying to be as prepared as a family can be for such an outcome in this case. 

In the non-spiritual realm, we were experiencing some serious frustrations. Promises had been made to send in an elite group of Honduran police investigators, specially trained in anti-kidnapping tactics. At first, the promise was that they'd be flown in immediately by helicopter. Then they'd leave immediately by car, and be here early Monday evening. Then they'd be arriving before midnight. In actuality, these men didn't get to Gracias until about ten minutes before Ben was released - and I still have no idea why! That's what it's like to live in Honduras. 

However, in preparing to write Russell's part of this story, I learned something from Russell that I hadn't previously known. On Tuesday morning, a local police detective had gone to Russell's house, and had coached him on how to negotiate with the kidnapper. Between calls, he explained strategies and suggested "stories" to tell the kidnapper, which would make him believe that if he gave us more time, he might eventually get some money from us. These stories had to be carefully crafted, so that the kidnapper wouldn't recognize them as lies, and so that we had a way to later back out of actually having the money we'd said we would be getting - and they needed to encourage the kidnapper to continue negotiating with us. During the calls, the detective was listening in on speaker phone, and scribbling notes and suggestions to Russell on a pad of paper. This detective, before being stationed here in Lempira, had actually been a member of the national anti-kidnapping squad! The expert level assistance on negotiating with kidnappers was already acting on Ben's behalf, even while I and my prayer warriors were praying desperately for its arrival!

The kidnapper's first call on Tuesday morning came at 7:30am. Since the ransom deadline was at 8am, and we didn't have the money, you may be able to imagine how terrified we were at this moment! However, the negotiations with the kidnapper, using the strategies of the detective, bought us some time. The ransom was dropped to 2 million Lempiras - an amount still ridiculously outside of our means. At 8:30 the kidnapper called again, and Russell demanded the opportunity to speak with Ben. It was this call which gave us the info that Ben was okay - that he'd been fed, and given a warm place to sleep, and wasn't being treated abusively. That did a lot to raise our spirits!

At 10:00 Russell received a text from the kidnapper. He had run out of pre-paid minutes on my phone, and Russell had to transfer some to him! Once he was able to talk with Russell again, the ransom demand was lowered to 1 million Lempiras - about $50,000. 

These frequent calls were worrisome. Clearly the kidnapper was feeling some sort of urgency to conclude this situation - and we still hadn't found Ben! There was hope that the cell phone calls could be tracked, or at least the records from the cell phone company (regarding which cell tower was receiving his calls) could be accessed, to help us determine his location. Since the kidnapper continued to use my phone to place the calls, it didn't seem like it should be so hard to get this information, but - again, this is what it's like to live in Honduras - there were promises and delays and paperwork issues, and in the end, this very likely method of locating Ben was never available for our use. 

Over the next several hours, the kidnapper continued to make frequent calls to Russell - often calls came just 20 minutes apart - and he dropped the ransom down to 500,000 Lempiras, and then to 300,000 Lempiras - about $15,000. It's much easier to say "We will not pay a ransom" when you really can't pay the amount demanded. But even if we had decided to cave in to his demands at this point, we couldn't have put our hands on that much money - we'd just held a wedding and our pockets were empty!

Our hearts were about to be broken, it seemed. The kidnapper couldn't realistically reduce his demands much more! He had continued to threaten Ben's life and well-being throughout the day - and the threats had become more graphic and horrifying. What would happen to Ben?

We had grabbed at every potential source of human help. Friends in the US were calling their Congressmen and Senators to put pressure on the Honduran government to do more, and were also contacting any influential people they thought might possibly be able to assist us. Allen was frantically trying to pull in help with tracking the phone calls and with other methods of locating Ben. In the end, though, whether or not Ben lived or died was completely and obviously in God's hands. 

Tell the Part YOU played in Ben's Story

As I focus in on writing the conclusion of Ben's story (I think there will be 2 or 3 more parts), I've had on my mind the number of people who have told me that they felt led to pray very specifically for one particular person, or outcome, or just one part of the larger picture. 

While thousands of people prayed for Ben's safety, some missionaries in Tegucigalpa told me that they felt led to pray specifically for me (and I have needed those prayers). A number of people from all over the world have said that they were fervently praying that the heart of the kidnapper would be softened. Some - a  surprisingly large number - prayed that these events would lead the kidnapper to turn to God and change his life. Many people have shared that they found a particular scripture that seemed to somehow be the passage for this situation, and they prayed and meditated on that scripture throughout the hours when Ben was being held.

If you felt led to pray in any particular way during Ben's kidnapping last week, and you'd be willing to post about it in the comments here, I'd love to hear it. I absolutely believe that what we've experienced is much more than a story of a little boy being kidnapped and then returned to his family - it is the story of a miraculous answer to prayer . . . and if you prayed, then you are a part of the miracle, and therefore part of the story! 

Thank you all, again, for praying for us! And thanks for commenting . . . I'm looking forward to reading what someone else writes, for a change, LOL.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Ben's Kidnapping - Part 5

Parts 1 - 4 are available by clicking these links:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

***If this were a book or novel, you wouldn't likely have learned of Ben's part of the story before this part. As you read this, you already know (from reading Part 4) that roadblocks, for instance, are not going to be effective in finding Ben, since the kidnapper had taken him off-road, up into the forested hills. Just remember that at this point in the story we didn't know what was happening to him, so we were following up on anything that might possibly be helpful.

***Some details of this post may not exactly match what Ben reported in his. Rather than try to figure out exactly whose recollection is accurate, I'm just leaving it as it is, and letting you know that it's hard for people to remember every detail perfectly, especially in such a scary situation, so some small details won't match up!

***I don't have pictures of police checkpoints or men searching fields, to illustrate this part of the story, so instead, you'll get random photos of Ben growing up with the other kids. The first one was taken one day before the kidnapping, as the family prepared to ride the zip line in La Campa Lempira. Check out the happy honeymooners!

While I was at the police station in Gracias, giving my statement, Allen and Russell were at the location where I'd been dropped off, calling in anyone who might be able to help. The police - initially six uniformed police and several detectives, all heavily armed - had arrived quickly and started combing the area. Before long, men from Gracias who have become our friends over the years started to come out to search. Russell's father-in-law was out there. Groups of men from several nearby villages formed search parties and headed out to look. Our whole extended community was on the lookout for Ben! The local churches started praying.

Close to the place Ben had last been seen, searchers found some recent tire tracks in the mud, and several farm gates that had been left open, leading us to suspect that the kidnapper had hidden a vehicle in that area prior to initiating the kidnapping, and had by now left with Ben by road. 

Roadblocks had already been set up on the main roads going in and out of our area. Allen had contacted many of the more out-of-the-way places to get additional roadblocks in those areas, and our new son-in-law contacted his military superiors to arrange for additional roadblocks across the country. 

Russell, Ben's 24 year old brother, worked the phone diligently on Ben's behalf, speaking with police chiefs from a number of nearby and more distant cities, the Alcaldes (mayors) of nearby municipalities, and the Governor of Lempira. During this time, and throughout the next 24 hours, Allen and Russell were rarely off the phone, except during the few hours they slept that night. They were calling in any forms of assistance they could possibly think of. Over the course of the 30 hours this all lasted, Allen and Russell, from 2 phones, made and answered over 600 calls!

Friends contacted the US Embassy for us. Because I had been kidnapped and held, as well as Ben, the FBI was called in to help (Ben is not a US citizen). The FBI is limited in what they can do in Central America, but they got involved doing what was allowed of them, assisting the Honduran authorities in the investigation.

The first call from the kidnapper, to my husband Allen's phone, came after Ben had been gone about half an hour. The kidnapper was using my cell phone to make the ransom calls, using the numbers I had stored there. The ransom demand was set at 3 million Lempiras, and the deadline for the kidnapper to receive the money was Tuesday morning at 8am. As it was already after noon on Monday, even if we did have 3 million Lempiras - which we don't - we couldn't have had it in cash by the deadline. The kidnapper threatened vaguely, saying, "If I don't get that money, you know what will happen." 

Following that first call, Allen gave his phone to Russell, and Russell was the one to talk with the kidnapper for the rest of our interactions with him, as Russell is able to more perfectly understand Spanish idioms and nuances. This is a lot of responsibility for a young man, but Russell is strong and resourceful (in addition to speaking amazingly good Honduran Spanish), and we were confident that having him field the calls was the best way to handle this. The kidnapper called a second time about a half hour after the first call, and spoke with Russell. The demands - and the threats - were the same. 

We were, of course, trying to explain to the kidnapper that we're just missionaries, and we don't have that kind of money. We didn't say to him, "We won't pay a ransom," because that seemed to us to give the kidnapper no reason to keep Ben alive. Our hope was that the longer we kept the kidnapper talking and negotiating, the better chance we'd have of finding Ben before the situation got even worse.

Allen came into Gracias, to be with me and also to purchase a replacement phone for his own use. Russell remained out at the search site, on the phone, most of the afternoon. When they each returned to their own homes, they continued to field and place phone calls. Russell took Allen's phone home with him, in case the kidnapper should call again.

While all of that was going on, I finished up at the police station - where I discovered that I am quite possibly the worst witness in the history of ever. I simply hadn't paid attention to details at all! In my own defense, I had kicked into full on "mother-mode" with Ben for most of the time we were with the kidnapper, and so my focus was almost entirely on him. The joke at my house is that I'll know to do better the next time I'm kidnapped. I sure hope it remains just a joke!

Once done with my statement to the police, I went to a hotel in town, and used the internet while waiting for news from the searchers. I updated my private Facebook group of prayer warriors with as much info as I felt it would be safe to share, and encouraged them to keep putting out requests for prayer using very vague details . . . my only thought was to get as many people praying as possible! Eventually some fellow missionaries from the Gracias area drove me home. My 19 year old son was home alone, and I wanted to go and be with him. 

My family was scattered all about. One daughter was off on her honeymoon, two other daughters had left early that morning to drive some of the wedding guests to the airport (and they were wondering why there were so very many police checkpoints at which every single car was being searched on this particular day - we didn't inform them of the kidnapping until later in the day). Russell was in town answering and making phone calls, 19 year old Gus was at home, and Ben . . . we didn't know where Ben was.  

From that point until Ben was released, I was pretty much on the internet the whole time, trying to keep those who were praying informed with whatever info could be shared at that moment. Women from my Facebook group set up a sign-up time chart, to make sure that there would be non-stop prayers going up on Ben's behalf throughout the night and the next day. I know most of these friends didn't just pray during their one hour or half hour slot, but prayed continuously, with many tears, throughout the night. They also kept me company in my vigil, and encouraged me to try to sleep, with assurances that they would not cease praying while I did so. I managed to get about two hours of sleep that night.

Russell received a couple more calls from the kidnapper, around 8pm. Nothing had changed, except that the kidnapper was a bit more specific in his threats. Russell won't tell me exactly what the threats were, which is probably for the best.