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:
***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.