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Search The Fig Tree's stories of people who make a difference:

Ingrid Betancourt shares how her captivity
in Columbia changed her spiritual outlook

By Shannon St. Hilaire

As part of a book tour on her memoir of her six-and-a-half year captivity with a guerrilla military organization in Columbia, Ingrid Betancourt, former Colombian presidential candidate, shared spiritual insights she gained.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) captured her and her assistant in 2002.  Columbian armed forces rescued her and 14 other hostages via helicopter in July 2008.

In Even Silence Has an End, Ingrid, who is now studying theology at Oxford University in Oxford, England, shares lessons she learned in captivity.

“It was an extreme experience that reveals the human condition,” she said.  “We all have to ask and answer one question in our lives—who do we want to be?

“We discover the world is not satisfying and we think how to change it and transform ourselves.  We are the world, and if we change ourselves we change the world, too,” she said.

Although Ingrid was born in Bogotá, Colombia, she grew up in France.  She returned to Colombia in 1989 to work to end the corruption there.

“I wanted do something for the country where I was born and which meant so much to me,” she said.

“Colombia is a beautiful country, but with problems because of our decisions,” she said. “Political corruption becomes social injustice, which becomes violence, then drugs, then despair.”

Today, the FARC are holding 300,000 hostages in the Colombian jungle, Ingrid said. Hostages face hunger, lack of privacy, humiliation, and boredom, among other hardships. Ingrid’s time in captivity changed her worldview.  She no longer works in politics, but shares her story and belief in human dignity.

“In captivity, I learned that the first thing we must do is change the heart of planet Earth,” she said.  “It’s true that people are great as we are, but we must go the extra mile and change our relationships.  That’s how the world goes around.”

In her third year of captivity, one of the captors gave Ingrid a Bible, which she read many times. She also devoted her time to thought, prayer, and meditation.

She felt a special connection to her faith through praying with the rosary.  She made the rosary she used in captivity out of the buttons from her prisoner’s jacket and the belts used to hold the machine guns.  She liked the idea that the materials were used for something positive.

“I thought the rosary was like a cell phone. I thought that through intense meditation, I could plug into a stream of love from Mary, and I did.”

She related her suffering in captivity to Jesus’ suffering on the cross.  By meditating on Jesus and the crucifixion, she found parallels between her life and his.

“I was browsing my life, seeing the mistakes I had made and how to discipline myself,” she said.  “We each have our own intimate, silent relationship with God.  If we don’t have that, we should at least leave the door open in case God knocks.”

She sees her life as a result of the good and bad.  Her abduction helped her continue down her life path with more awareness, she said, discovering the difficulty and importance of self-improvement.

Ingrid believes it was an opportunity for her to learn and to understand that there were reasons for what she was going through that she didn’t understand but someday would.
For her, faith is more important than hope.

“Faith is a decision not to lose hope,” she said.  “Once we have made the decision, we have to put it into rational thought.  A void faith does not serve.  We must feel it with powerful thoughts.”

During her time in captivity, she developed these thoughts, learning “not to ask ‘Why me?’  Wrong question.  The right question is: How am I going to confront this?  Am I a victim or a survivor?” Ingrid asked.  “Do I want to be deprived of myself because of the evil around me?  I cannot live a life where I lose my soul, become someone I don’t agree with.”

As she returned to life outside of captivity, she found that the spiritual awareness that she had gained through suffering in captivity was paralleled in the suffering of her family.  They had suffered persecution from Colombians when they asked for the government to negotiate for Ingrid’s release.

“They had suffered in silence, too, and our bonds were stronger than before,” she said.  “I was humiliated, and they were, too.  We all had the opportunity to grow.”
In her theology studies, Ingrid continues the rational investigation of faith she began in captivity.  

“The driving force of humanity is spiritual and intellectual.  We must believe in both ways.  Just believing in God is not enough,” she said.  “Our beliefs must be rooted in reality.  Intellectually, I find reasons to believe that what I was told by my culture and my parents is true.”

Ingrid eventually forgave her captors.  During her time in captivity, she learned that freedom resides in her emotions, which were the only part of herself that she could control.

“Freedom has to come in hand with forgiveness—easy to say, but hard to do,” she said.  “One day I realized I had nothing to forgive, because I am so happy.”

For information, call Angela Ruff, special projects manager at Gonzaga University, at 313-3572.