Letter: When ISIS Hostage Kassig Found His Calling

Abdul Rahman, formerly Peter, wrote to teachers about "taking a stand."

October 14, 2014, 1:14 PM

— -- Two years before American Abdul Rahman Kassig appeared as a hostage in an ISIS video, the then-student penned an email to his family and college teachers, explaining in powerful prose that he wouldn’t be coming back from the aid work he was doing in Lebanon over a spring break.

“I do not know much, every day that I am here I have more questions than answers,” Abdul Rahman, formerly Peter, Kassig wrote from Beirut. “But what I do know is that I have a chance to do something here, to take a stand. To make a difference… Here, in this land, I have found my calling.”

The letter marked a turning point in Kassig’s life that led him to help strangers half a world away from his hometown, risking his life to do so.

Margarat Brabant, a Political Science professor and Kassig’s advisor at Butler University, said it was obvious Kassig “had a need to, as he described it, do more in the world.”

“I think he felt somewhat conflicted about how safe his life was here in the United States, in some ways sheltered from the pain and suffering of other human beings,” Brabant told ABC News Monday. “So when he had the opportunity to respond in a most immediate way… that is what he chose to do.”

“He may have, in his life, come to the proverbial crossroads and he needed to make a choice. That’s the choice he declares in that letter, that was right for him,” she added.

Below is the letter provided to ABC News by the Kassig family. The Kassigs removed some portions out of concern for Abdul Rahman Kassig’s safety.

Dear Friends, Family, and Teachers,

Yesterday I had the best conversation that I have ever had with my mom. From 4,000 miles away in a shelled out parking lot in Beirut I told her about what I had been involved in over the last week.

I wrote this email once before today already but the internet is finicky here and so I lost all of what I had typed up before I could send it.

Yesterday I went to the camps outside of Beirut. In In Burj el-Burajneh 18,000 refugees are crammed into 1 sq. km of housing in the most deplorable of conditions. There, people die every day. There is a shortage of basic medical supplies, food, furniture... there is a shortage of everything except suffering.

I don't want to waste your time by trying to explain what is in my heart and in my mind. Many of you have known me for many years, others have only known me a short while. Either way, I have tried to live my life in a way that displays what it is that I believe, but the truth is, much of my life I have only been searching for my calling, I had not yet found it.

Here, in this land, I have found my calling. I have lived a selfish life, I have run until I could not run anymore.

I do not know much, every day that I am here I have more questions and less answers, but what I do know is that I have a chance to do something here, to take a stand. To make a difference.

Yesterday my life was laid out on a table in front of me. With only hours left before my scheduled flight back to the United States, I watched people dying right in front of me. I had seen it before and I had walked away before.

I don't expect everyone to understand this and I think I did a much better job in my first draft but you'll just have to take my word for it I guess.

I am staying in the region indefinitely. I am formally requesting that I be withdrawn from my courses for the remainder of the semester.

I have had the conversation with my parents and it was the easiest one we ever had. They knew simply from the sound of my voice. I have never been freer, more alive, happier, or better received than in this place.

There is too much work to be done here. Too many people in need of immediate help.

I know what it is that I lose by staying, but those who can understand what is to be gained by staying require no further explanation, and those that don't...no amount of explanation would ever be enough.

This decision isn't one that everyone would make, most people wouldn't I guess, but those of you that really know me understand that this is what I was made to do. My whole life has led me to this point in time...

I am enrolling in Arabic courses taught where I am staying, and launching immediately into what can be done to support life, hope, peace, and freedom.

It’s strange, for the first time in a long there isn't that old familiar fear in my chest that I have come to know so well. For most, this world is madness, but for me, the madness resides in the world I'm leaving behind...

Well, I guess that's it then. This isn't goodbye but its definitely a change. You can always reach me via email or cell. I promise to stay as safe as I am capable of staying. Anytime I'm in beirut you can know I'm fine its super tame here...

I'm just not going to turn my back this time, it's as simple as that.

With Love and Respect,


Weeks after he sent the letter, Kassig founded his own non-profit called Special Emergency Response and Assistance (SERA) and used the online platform Fundrazr.com to solicit donations.

“We may not have much, but I have always felt that the reasons why you do something are as important as what you do,” he wrote on Fundrazr. “I felt that more could be done to help people and that the most effective way to bring assistance was through a close connection to those who were in desperate need, by meeting them where they were.”

He was kidnapped while working for SERA in Syria in October 2013. Four Western hostages have been murdered by ISIS: American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning. In its latest execution video, an ISIS militant threatened Kassig next.

ABC News’ James Gordon Meek and Lee Ferran contributed to this report. Rob Hess is a Chicago-based freelance journalist.

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