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Reflections of 'the Christian hostage'

No sooner had the 52 Americans with yellow ribbons pinned to their parkas stepped in front of the TV cameras at Rhein-Main Air Base, West Germany, than the news media began referring to Kathryn Koob as ''the Christian hostage.''

''I probably should have been labeled 'the Christian hostage with the mouth,' '' she says with a mock grimace. ''As it happened, the questions I was asked and the responses I gave (in the initial press interviews) were about my faith and how I survived. But there certainly were other people of God in our group whose religious experiences were every bit as meaningful and as exciting to them as mine were to me.''

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It's been almost two years since the Americans held hostage in Iran returned to the United States for what Miss Koob remembers as an ''absolutely overwhelming'' homecoming. After serving with the US International Communication Agency in the Ivory Coast, the Upper Volta, Romania, and Zambia, and as executive director of the Iran-American Cultural Center in Tehran, she has now taken up new duties at the government's Foreign Press Service in New York City and resumed a relatively normal private life, despite continuing requests for speaking engagements.

Miss Koob has also had time to reflect on the 14 months she spent in captivity, and like former hostages Richard Queen and Barry Rosen, she has collected her thoughts in a new book, ''Guest of the Revolution'' (Nashville: Thomas Nelson). Her account is less a rehearsal of the terrifying events of the Tehran takeover than it is a probing of the spiritual growth she experienced as a result of the ordeal.

''The only reason for writing the book was that it became a matter of Christian servanthood,'' she explains. ''I kept saying in the talks I was asked to give that I hadn't done anything special or spectacular - that it was the same thing anyone would have done who had a deep and abiding faith in God - and friends urged me to write about that. So the purpose of the book is to show that dependency on God and His strength can see you through any crisis in which you're held hostage - whether you think you're hostage to a hospital bed, or to a sour relationship, or to a business deal that's gone bad.''

Miss Koob writes at length about the many kinds of terror she was subjected to as a hostage, including round-the-clock surveillance by revolutionary guards, frenzied chanting of anti-American slogans outside her window, and sporadic interrogations. But she says that she and her ''prison roommate,'' Ann Swift, deputy chief of the US embassy's political section, learned to live with the constant threats by learning to trust God.

''Whether one believed, as I did, that we would go home, or as Ann did, that we probably would never see the United States again, was not the issue. Our strength came to be the trust we had that God would somehow use us, take care of us, and provide for us.''

Together, the two women set up daily routines to keep themselves alert mentally and physically. For Miss Koob, this included regular periods for prayer and meditation.

"Sometimes it would be 3 in the afternoon, and I would find myself thinking, 'Why is this happening to me? Am I ever going to see my family? Why don't I get any mail? Why don't they just shut up outside!'

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''And then I'd say, 'Hey, wait a minute,' and I'd consciously turn to God and say, 'OK, I want to think about those people who are being held political prisoner by their own governments. Give them strength and give them courage, and give the leaders of their countries the wisdom to understand what they're doing to their own people.' ''

As Miss Koob recalls some of her most challenging moments in captivity, there's a dynamism and feistiness that aren't always apparent in her book. A former speech and drama teacher who has a master's degree in theater, she dots her responses with snappy ''Oh, sures'' and unequivocal ''absolutelys.'' It's not hard to picture the consternation she must have aroused among her Iranian guards when she refused to obey their arbitrary dress codes and when she made an unescorted trip from her room to the bathroom down the hall, past heavily armed students.

Miss Koob's confident humor and outspoken conviction have their roots in the heartland of the American Midwest. The oldest of six girls, she grew up on a 200 -acre farm in Jubilee, Iowa, milking cows, feeding chickens, and digging potatoes. ''Common sense'' was a frequently heard admonition at home, she says, as in ''Why didn't you use your common sense before you . . . ?''

Worship at Zion Lutheran Church in Jubilee was another important part of family life for the Koobs, even though, as a youngster, Kathryn didn't always take to organized religion.

''Fortunately, my parents were very wise people,'' she recalls, ''and when I'd get frustrated with what the minister was doing, I would be reminded that we did not go to church to worship the minister - we went to church to worship God.''

Looking back, Miss Koob says that having to recite memorized verses of Scripture and hymns before she was allowed to go to the local basketball games was probably one of the best things that ever happened to her. Those passages were all she had to rely on during the first few months of her imprisonment in Iran, before she received a Bible.

''At first, I would think about Jesus' command to love your enemies, but it certainly was hard to love that girl in the chador who was guarding us day and night, with her cold, analytical, intense dislike,'' she recalls. ''Eventually, I came to understand that the coming of Christ was God's intent that all people should know Him and come under the influence of His love. That makes loving our enemies possible.''

In her speaking engagements today, Miss Koob says she makes a plea for openness, ''for people to be willing to discard old ways of thinking, to accept the fact that different is not necessarily better or worse, but just different.''

She often appears on behalf of the Simons Memorial Scholarship Fund, set up to provide for the education of the children of the eight servicemen killed in the attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran.

''So many people wanted to do something, and this is one way they can show their appreciation for the men and women who serve our country in the armed forces and sometimes get left far behind in terms of responsiveness,'' she notes.

Inquiries about the scholarship fund can be addressed to Trust Administrator, Dallas Community Chest Trust Fund Inc., 4605 Live Oak, Dallas, Texas 75204.

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