He had been taken hostage before.
In April, 2011, James Wright Foley, a freelance journalist, was held captive in Tripoli by militant forces. They released him 44 days later.
While imprisoned, Foley worried about his family most of all. He wrote about that for Marquette University’s magazine:
Myself and two colleagues had been captured and were being held in a military detention center in Tripoli. Each day brought increasing worry that our moms would begin to panic. My colleague, Clare, was supposed to call her mom on her birthday, which was the day after we were captured. I had still not fully admitted to myself that my mom knew what had happened. But I kept telling Clare my mom had a strong faith.
Notice, Foley didn’t say his faith was strong. He said his mom’s faith was strong.
The strength of his faith was drawn from the strength of his mother’s faith. God shaped us like that, to draw strength one from the other. How we live out our faith matters not only for our welfare but for the welfare of others.
While being taken hostage, Foley had witnessed the death of fellow journalist Anton Hammerl, a friend he had much respect for. That was the hardest thing, he said later, trying to deal with that survivor’s guilt and the grief. Foley said while he was held captive he began to pray that his mom would know that he was okay. Prayer was the only hope he had of communicating with his mother.
I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused.
Clare (Clare Morgana Gillis, one of the other journalists captured) and I prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone.
The act of praying with others builds our faith – it empowers us in ways that praying alone does not.
I’m not talking about those who pray for show. I doubt that either one of these journalists were concerned about looking more spiritual than the other. They were in a desperate situation. They had witnessed one of their fellow journalist being shot down. They had been beaten and battered by their captors. They had no idea if they would get out alive or not. Prayer energized them and kept their spirits alert.
Eighteen days into his captivity, James Foley was taken out of his cell, and into an office, where his captors told him he could make a phone call. Foley only knew one phone number. The number home. He said a silent prayer that someone would be there to answer it.
His mom picked up on the other end.
“That was a miracle. That was God right there. It was the day before Easter,” Foley said. “I had no idea what people were doing for me. You are in a cell, it’s like being in a submarine. You are trying to stay sane, through prayer…”.
“Mom, can’t you feel me praying to you that I’m okay?” Foley asked.
His mom replied: “Jim, can’t you feel all your friends and all the people praying for you? They are having prayer vigils for you at Marquette.”
Foley replied: “I guess I can.”
The prayers of the people transcended the walls of the cell where Foley was held. It was his mother’s “absolute belief in the power of prayer” that enabled Foley to know that he was not alone.
Foley drew strength from his mother’s faith and her prayers. From the faith and prayers of his family. From the faith and prayers of his friends. From the faith and prayers of those he did not even know.
“Prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us. It didn’t make sense, but faith did,” Foley said.
Foley was taken captive again in 2012 in Syria. His mother, Diane Foley, a woman of great faith, has confirmed that her beautiful son was beheaded by the militant group ISIS.
Journalists working the comfort of newsrooms barely make a living wage. Freelance journalists like Foley make even less. Journalists like Foley aren’t doing what they do for money or fame. Foley was compelled by something beyond.
In the wake of the news that ISIS reportedly beheaded journalist James Wright Foley, I read a tweet addressed to the militants: “If your religion calls for jihad, beheadings, the rape of women and children, then who is your devil?”
The answer is obvious: Truth is the enemy of those pursuing evil. Evil people hate truth and truth-tellers.
Jesus said, I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life.
James Wright Foley was a conflict reporter. Truth was his inspiration. He drew his strength from prayer. He trusted in the God of miracles.
His devotion cost him his life.
When nothing else in the world made sense to Foley, faith did.
“In my darkest moments, I could feel love,” he said.
Prayer is never the least thing we can do – it is always the best thing we can do.
Pray for peace. Pray for the Foley family.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of After the Flag has been Folded (William Morrow).