RICHMOND, Va. Mendy Nantz was on the way to a funeral when it happened.
"Don't scream or do anything stupid or I will kill you," a well-dressed man commanded the 33-year-old missionary.
Idling outside the Africa Inland Mission counseling center in Nairobi, Kenya, Nantz had spent the past few minutes honking the horn of her red Toyota RAV-4. She was waiting for someone to open the steel gate that protected the compound's entrance. But instead of a friendly wave, Nantz was greeted by the barrel of a gun. She was being kidnapped.
As the man shoved her into the RAV's passenger seat, she managed to hit the horn one last time.
"That was stupid," he snarled, throwing the Toyota into reverse.
Immediately, Nantz began to pray.
"Lord, do not let that honk be in vain," she cried out, silently.
Within seconds, the RAV's back doors flew open and two more men jumped in, both carrying guns.
"I was trembling," Nantz recalled. "I started thinking, 'This is the end how do I want to end my life? Do I want to end my life praising God? Or do I want to end my life in fear?'
"I had guns on me all the time. I couldn't cry, I couldn't scream for fear they would shoot, but I could pray," she said.
As the SUV sped away from the compound, the gunmen demanded money and began to rifle through Nantz's belongings. One of the men was ordered to get rid of more than a dozen blue balloons that filled the RAV's backseat.
"Those were for my friend; he died and his funeral is today," Nantz pleaded.
The man pushed the balloons out the window.
Minutes later, the Toyota pulled off the main road, and Nantz started to panic.
"I began to imagine all the horrific things these men could do to me," she said. "I had nothing else to give them. I began to pray specifically, 'Lord, You are my King and my God. You are in control of all situations. Please do not let them touch my body in any way.'"
Nantz considered what she would do if the men tried to rape her. She was ready to kill them or herself to prevent it.
"It was right then that an overwhelming peace came over my soul," Nantz said. "Even though I think I know what I can and can't live through, God knows better than I do."
Abruptly the RAV came to a stop. Nantz knew they were near the Langata cemetery, an isolated area of Nairobi. If her kidnappers were going hurt her, it would be here. The Toyota's doors opened, but no one got out. Seconds passed sluggishly, and the uncertainty was agonizing. What were her kidnappers waiting for? She continued to pray.
Suddenly the doors slammed shut, and the RAV rumbled to life. They were heading back to the main road.
"I really believe the Lord convicted their hearts of their wicked ways and spoke to them," Nantz said. "I don't know if it was a vision. I don't know if it was angels. I don't know if He spoke words to them that they heard. But it was the Lord."
Her thoughts now turned to the prospect of escape.
"I knew the Lord was in control I just needed to be aware of when He was going to allow me an exit from the situation," she said. "I've always heard that if you try to befriend them (kidnappers), they react more nicely to you."
The gunman in the RAV's backseat gave Nantz her first opportunity. Still rummaging through her things, he found a pack of gum.
"You can have it," Nantz remembers telling him. "I want to give it to you as a gift."
He smiled at her, quizzically.
"When he took all that stuff out of my bag, I decided, 'I don't want him to steal from me, so I'm just going to give it to him,'" Nantz said. "I just felt much better. Maybe it was more of a mental thing."
She even felt confident enough to crack several jokes with her assailants, at one point asking if they were taking her to the beach, which was a seven-hour drive.
"They didn't respond. I laughed though," Nantz said.
But any rapport she managed to build was quickly shot down by what had become her kidnappers' standard response: "Shut up, or we'll kill you."
Though her words didn't seem to be making much of a difference, Nantz knew there was one that would. Remembering a devotional about the power of Jesus' name, she began to whisper it aloud.
"I decided that if nothing else I could at least fill the entire RAV with the name of Jesus," Nantz said. "I'm a believer that if you speak it out and you speak it boldly, His name is powerful enough to change any situation, any circumstance.... Because the enemy cannot stand the name of Jesus. He hates it."
"We are Islam," the driver responded.
Once again Nantz was overwhelmed with calmness. Noticing her Bible stuck between the seats, she grabbed it and held it tightly against her heart.
The RAV was now rolling down a long, dirt alley, heading toward a large, red gate. Another wave of fear began to grip her.
"Once I'm in there, I'm lost forever," Nantz remembers thinking. "I thought this was the end of my life."
Stopping short of the gate, the gunmen exited the Toyota and forced Nantz behind the wheel. All three guns were trained on her.
"Drive!" the group's leader ordered.
This was her chance. The kidnappers were letting her go. And then something happened that Nantz said she will remember for the rest of her life.
Reaching out, the man gently touched his hand to the side of her head.
"Good job," he said.
She punched the gas and the RAV shot down the road. She was safe, and for the first time during the terrifying 45-minute nightmare, tears streamed down her face.
Nantz said she has no idea what the kidnapper meant by his final words but believes God was speaking through him.
"I don't know that he knows he even said it," Nantz said. "I think it was the Lord's words saying, 'Good job, Mendy. You did what I wanted you to do. You praised Me through the whole situation. You trusted Me, and you allowed Me to work things according to My will.' In my heart, that's what I believe. Others may think I'm crazy."
Evidence of God's Hand
Months after her kidnapping, Nantz said it's evident the Lord was at work throughout her ordeal, beginning the moment she was taken.
Remember that final, defiant honk she prayed wouldn't be in vain? It wasn't. A neighbor heard the RAV's horn and came to the window just in time to see the gunmen jump in and speed away. The neighbor immediately informed Nantz's friends, who put out the alert she had been kidnapped.
And the blue balloons the gunmen pushed out the window? They were seen floating through the air by an AIM AIR pilot returning from the Congo. Putting two and two together, Nantz's friends used the balloons' location over the city to direct a search plane to look for her red RAV-4.
But perhaps the most remarkable demonstration of God's provision and protection that day was Nantz's personal safety. She said it's taught her the true power of prayer.
Within 10 minutes of the kidnapping, a prayer chain was mobilized. Literally hundreds of people, some scattered around the world, were on their knees, interceding on Nantz's behalf. She credits those prayers for saving her life and her purity during those terrifying moments near the Langata cemetery.
"I believe that's why I had the overwhelming peace; I believe that's why they started the car and shut the doors," Nantz said. "I don't know what these gunmen saw or felt at that very moment, but I do know they had evil intentions and were stopped by the power of intercessory prayer.
"I didn't realize that when I prayed for them not to touch my body, they didn't touch anything on my body nothing. When we pray, 'Lord, keep me from a situation,' or, 'Lord, bless me in this way,' He's literal about it.
"I was thinking purity-wise, 'Keep them from harming me.' And He answered, 'Mendy, I can do so much better. I can keep them from touching you anywhere from laying a finger on you.' That's amazing to me."
Aspiring Prayer Warrior
The experience has galvanized Nantz to bolster her own prayer life, moving past what she calls "half-hearted praying" to become a true prayer warrior and she's got the perfect role model in mind.
"When you think of Southern Baptist women, the faithful ones, they're prayer warriors," she said. "They get down on their knees, and they pray daily for their missionaries, their families, their church, their pastors.
"That's something I've always wanted to be. I used to think, 'I'm too young to be who they are now. When I get older, when I retire, that's when I'll become this missionary prayer warrior.' But through this experience, I know I can be that lady right now," she added. "And now I have an insight to what drives them to prayer they know how to pray specifically."
Although the kidnapping has forced her to make some lifestyle changes, Nantz said it hasn't shaken the Lord's calling on her life as a Southern Baptist missionary.
"I don't get in my car and just drive off to anywhere now," she said. "I am more aware and more cautious. I'm a little bit more jumpy. But that doesn't stop me from continuing on. ... If the Lord can take me through that, He can take me through anything.
"There's nothing scarier than being out of the will of God. And there is nothing more calming, more peaceful than being in a terrifying situation but right in the middle of His will."
Above all, Nantz said the kidnapping has also strengthened her relationship with the Lord.
"My perspective has changed. I want more than anything [to have] a true, intimate, worshipful relationship with God," she said. "And I do praise Him for every day. I praise Him for everything. Even for the hardships, because they make us stronger.
"This could have happened to any other woman here. However, they have children and they have husbands, and I don't know that their reaction would have been the same as mine. And I give Him praise for allowing it to be me. For allowing me to go through it and be the example and allowing others to learn through my experience."
Kenyan authorities have told Nantz it's unlikely they will ever catch her kidnappers. But whether or not they are brought to justice in this world, Nantz hopes she will see them again in the next.
"I do pray that they come to know the Lord; that this experience wouldn't be in vain, but something for the Kingdom would come of this," she said. "I'd love to see them in heaven and hear them say, 'You're the girl that spoke the name of Jesus into our lives.' I would love to see that. I would love to hear that someday."