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Thomas Hamill, American hostage in Iraq, was growing in his faith, pastor says

MACON, Miss. (BP)–Thomas Hamill’s faith was just beginning to grow when he was captured by militants in Iraq, the pastor of the church he attended in Mississippi said.

Greg Duncan has been pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Macon, Miss., for about six months, the same length of time Hamill has been in Iraq, working as a fuel truck driver for a subsidiary of Halliburton.

Hamill was last seen on videotape April 9 with his captors threatening to kill him within 12 hours if U.S. forces did not withdraw from Fallujah. The deadline passed, and no word of his status has surfaced.

Duncan said during the past six months he has learned about Hamill through his family and through a visit the two had when Hamill made an emergency visit in February for his wife’s heart surgery.

“I have been told he had professed a relationship with Christ several years ago but had not been discipled and brought into the church and into an actual committed relationship with Christ,” Duncan told Baptist Press in a telephone interview. “He had just kind of been on the fringes. We sat down for several hours and talked, and he communicated to me that he recognized that he hadn’t been living the life he should be living and desired to be more faithful.”

Duncan said the first contact he had with Hamill was when Hamill’s wife, Kellie, visited Calvary and then wrote an e-mail to the pastor. She requested that he write a letter of encouragement to her husband, mentioning that if he did not have a relationship with Christ he should consider it, and if he did have one, he could start anew. Duncan wrote the letter.

“He told me when he came home for her surgery, he’d received it and appreciated it,” Duncan said. “His aunt had given him a Bible that he was reading, not only reading it himself but sharing it with others there. So I really feel like God has been drawing Thomas to Himself for some time now, and whether or not he had a relationship several years ago or whether it’s a newfound relationship, I feel confident in some of the things that he’s expressed.”

Some evidence Duncan gives of that relationship is that when family members would tell him they were praying for him, his response would be, “I’m praying for you as well.”

“That’s an encouraging thing when someone not only accepts prayers but also says, ‘I’ll be praying for you,’ in return,” Duncan said.

Discussions with Hamill’s aunt have led Duncan to believe that if someone had been able to spend time discipling Hamill, he would really have a strong faith. But because he was a hard worker, working seven days a week in the dairy business, he found little time for discipleship. Duncan said the two of them talked about how it’s biblical to work hard as long as priorities are in order: God first, family second and then trusting the Lord with the rest.

“He accepted that challenge and said he would do that,” Duncan said.

The pastor told BP that Hamill was very aware of the danger he faced in Iraq, but he saw it as a means by which to meet his family’s needs. He had recently sold the dairy farm that had been in his family for three decades, and he was looking for a good way to pay off debts. He took the job in Iraq in order to make more money than he could ever make in the States, Duncan said.

Kellie Hamill appeared on CNN’s “Larry King Live” April 15 and reiterated her husband’s commitment to his family.

“Tommy is a very family oriented man,” she said. “He’s a kind and loving father and husband. He takes care of his responsibilities. He would do anything for anyone if he could, and he’s just the most wonderful person I’ve ever met.”

Kellie acknowledged it has been difficult to endure the past several days with no news of her husband’s status and with knowing four unidentified bodies were recovered outside Baghdad.

“It makes you worry, but I have faith in the Lord that he’s coming home safe to us,” she said.

The small town of Macon, Miss., has united around the Hamill family, and a prayer vigil was held until the Saturday night deadline the militants mentioned had passed. Now the community has covenanted to make Hamill’s safety an issue of constant prayer, Duncan said. Each night at 7 p.m. community members gather at the courthouse while area ministers take turns leading in prayer for Hamill as well as the other hostages and the military.

“We don’t know the rest of them personally, but they’re someone’s daughter or son, husband or wife,” Duncan said.

As for Hamill’s family, including a 13-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter, Duncan said they are hopeful of a positive end to the difficult days.

“We do believe in prayer and trust in the Lord that His will would be done and through it all His mercy and grace would abound and Jesus would be glorified,” Duncan said. “We don’t understand those things, but we know we need to trust Him with those things.”

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  • Erin Curry