You are here

Journeys of Faith: Artifacts from the Mission Field

On May 8, 1984, two men forced Presbyterian missionary Benjamin Weir into a car without license plates, leaving Carol Weir alone on the sidewalk. “Help! Help!” she shouted. “They’re kidnapping my husband!”

 
Benjamin and Carol Weir, 1974. View image record on Pearl. [Image ID: ds4367]
 
Four hundred and ninety-five days of forced captivity at the hands of Beirut militants followed. Hidden in windowless rooms around the city and in the Bekaa Valley, Reverend Weir lived blindfolded and in solitary confinement, enduring extreme temperatures, physical abuse, even the theft of his wedding ring. Carol Weir’s trials were less dramatic but equally profound. Until the 495th day, she did not know when, or if, she would see Benjamin again.
 
Baby keys found in Syria-Lebanon Mission records, processed by the society in 2015. The Weirs raised four children while serving as foreign missionaries.
 
The Weirs had lived in Lebanon for three decades, working in evangelical and teaching positions with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), its predecessor denominations, and the interdenominational Near East School of Theology.
 
Syria-Lebanon map showing mission locations, undated. View image record on Pearl. [Image ID: ds4766]
 
Rev. Weir's station reports and correspondence, included in the newly processed Syria-Lebanon Mission Records, describe the rifts between the country’s Maronite, Druze, Sunni, and Shiite factions that would eventually turn “Beirut” into a byword for urban desolation.
 
Drawing of the Weir's apartment in West Beirut, Lebanon. Image from Weir family Christmas card, by D. Williams, 1984. View entire card on Pearl. [Image ID: 4886]
 
While a hostage, Rev. Weir used his Arabic fluency to talk with his captors about politics, education, Christian and Muslim theology, and what it meant to be a Protestant, or “Injili.” During the same time, Carol Weir and the Weirs’ four grown children—Christine, Susan, John, and Ann—petitioned governments and NGOs around the world to facilitate Benjamin’s release.
 
Benjamin Weir's Lebanese Residency Papers, 1981. View full item on Pearl. [Image ID: 4771]
 
With help from the PC(USA)’s Program Agency, Presbyterian churches across the country, and the Office of the General Assembly, on March 19, 1985, the PC(USA) “endorsed a nationwide postcard-writing campaign” featuring “pleas that something be done for our hostages.” As Carol Weir went on to write in Hostage Bound, Hostage Free, “Our goal was one million cards.” 

Flip-flop worn by Benjamin Weir upon his release from captivity, September 1985.
 
On September 14, 1985, Rev. Weir was let out of a car close to Beirut’s American University. Several days later, he reunited with his wife in Norfolk, Virginia. “The door opened and there stood Carol,” Benjamin Weir wrote. “There was a look of pure amazement on her face.” In January 1986, San Francisco Presbytery nominated Rev. Weir for the highest elected office in the PC(USA): Moderator of the General Assembly. The year after his election, the Weirs traveled the country raising awareness about the plight of hostages remaining in Beirut. 
 
"You are 'thumb-body' special," commemorative art work using yellow ribbons by children of John Knox Presbyterian Church, North Canton, OH, 1987.
 
As Benjamin Weir held the moderator’s gavel at the Minneapolis GA—the last item included in the Society’s in-house version of Journeys of Faith: Artifacts from the Mission Field—a replacement wedding ring adorned his finger. He had survived so much and claimed a future he could hardly have imagined during his captivity, despite his daily prayers for his family, his captors, and himself. Even the symbol of his marital bond with Carol had come home.

Moderator's gavel from the 198th General Assembly in Minneapolis, MN, 1986.