08/08/2014 09:45 BST | Updated 07/10/2014 06:59 BST

A Matter of Principle


Terry Waite with Stephen Fear

When Terry Waite first became an envoy for the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, in 1990, I'm sure he never thought it would lead to his later incarceration in Lebanon, where he remained in sole confinement from 1987-91. Held captive by Hezbollah.

Waite is a humanitarian of outstanding tolerance and principles. I was privileged to have the good fortune of being present at the opening of the new Bristol office and shop of Emmaus, a charity for the homeless and disadvantaged, where Terry Waite is UK president.

Typical of the man, his arrival and demeanour throughout, was one of kindness and humility. When asked to sing with a jazz duo brought in to entertain us he did so; unblinking and without ego.

A man of huge stature in both physical size and intellect, Terry Waite stands head and shoulders above most of us - certainly me anyway.

We listened as he told us of the time when he was released from captivity after those four long years, chained to a wall and in solitary confinement. Apparently, Hezbollah, who were responsible for his imprisonment, used to bind captives in masking tape before releasing them by throwing them in the boot of a car and dumping them in the City. They would cover every part of the body except the mouth.

Waite told us how when he landed in the boot he felt the presence of another person. Without thinking, and in complete darkness he said, "Not much room in here is there?" "No," came back a voice, "but there was until you came in." It was of course the voice of John Macarthy, the journalist also held captive for many years.

Can you imagine what it must be like to be chained in one spot, in pitch black, for over 4 years, with no one to talk with and dodgy food? What sort of person would emerge? How damaged would you be, both mentally and physically?

As a committed Christian, Terry Waite had his faith, and somehow never faltered in his belief. He is as kind and forgiving now as he was prior to his ordeal, when as a young man he decided his life's course. His humanity, kindness, good humour and tolerance is an example to us all.

I am always being asked whether I have a role model. My answer is yes, Terry Waite. As an individual role model Terry Waite comes out top for me. An outstanding person of great integrity.

Father Henri-Antoine Groues, the priest and former member of the French Resistance, who was better known as Abbé Pierre, founded Emmaus in post-war France, and is someone else who stands out in contrast in a society which is often obsessed with self. Terry Waite is the perfect choice as his modern day successor.

Founded on the principles of caring about the homeless and disenfranchised, Emmaus provides both a home and a job for the men and women who find sanctuary within its walls. It is not based on religion, and espouses the principle of; "Anyone is Welcome", the person's religion or background doesn't come into it. The only time a person is turned away is when there really are no beds. Of course with more financial help the charity can help more people more of the time.

As Dr Richard Pendlebury, director of Emmaus told me: "we provide a job and a home, that's where we differ." He continued, "People who find refuge here, work at workshops within the building repairing furniture and all manner of things donated by the public."

These things are then sold on eBay, or through the community shop, every Emmaus community has one. All the money raised is used to run that particular home.

It works I can tell you that. Every resident I have met when I visit the charity are enthusiastic and care deeply about the home where they live and the opportunity they have been given. Many have been lonely and on the streets for many years prior to finding a home among the dedicated staff, and other residents who become their new family.

They must agree to certain ground rules which include not stealing, not drinking alchohol, not taking drugs, and contributing to the well being of the family group they have joined. Without these rules the structure would collapse so they are essential and strictly adhered too.

There are currently 24 Emmaus communities throughout the UK, each home stands alone, but in a cooperative, where both staff and residents are members of an unrelated but close family unit. Those that are good at cooking, cook. Those that are good at repairing sofas, or mobile phones, repair. There is also a family van which goes out every day collecting and delivering items donated by the general public.

Emmaus is a true social enterprise creating real results every day, not only for its residents and staff but the wider community too.

This is an outstanding charity based on outstanding principles and staffed by caring and dedicated individuals and it deserves more support than it gets.

Remember the next time you walk past a person sitting in a shop doorway that he or she isn't sitting there in the wind and rain as a lifestyle choice. They are there because something went wrong in their life and they are struggling to deal with it. They are someone's son, daughter, mother, brother or father. They could be yours!