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For Captive, Book Offers New Purpose

Ashley Smith's ordeal is seen as a testimonial to Orange County Pastor Rick Warren's bestseller.

March 15, 2005|Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writer

Orange County Pastor Rick Warren's book of Christian guidance, "The Purpose-Driven Life," has sold more than 21 million copies in over 30 languages and, his publisher says, has helped countless Christians navigate questions of personal faith.

But a single chapter read aloud Saturday in a suburban Atlanta apartment might well become the book's biggest success story.

Ashley Smith, who was held captive for 7 1/2 hours by the man accused of killing an Atlanta judge and three others, told interviewers Monday that a passage from Warren's book seemed to help persuade her captor to set her free.

"This is, I would say, one of the more dramatic, if not the most dramatic [testimonials] I'm aware of," said Vicki Cessna, spokeswoman for Christian publisher Zondervan in Grand Rapids, Mich. "Obviously the book has had far-reaching, life-changing influences for millions of people. We're just honored that this in any way helped facilitate a positive outcome for Ashley."

Warren, who is in Uganda to meet with African pastors, said in a statement that he and his wife, Kay, had "grieved with the rest of the country over the senseless loss of life." He added that they were "thankful that Ms. Smith was able to draw from the Scripture and her reading from 'The Purpose-Driven Life' to bring some hope to her captor's life that was unraveling so tragically and dramatically."

Warren is the founding pastor of the 20,000-member Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, one of the first and most successful of the nation's mega-churches.

Warren's book, which has spent more than two years on the Publishers Weekly national bestseller list, is aimed at helping Christians embrace the faith's most fundamental belief -- that they exist to serve God. It's written in a direct, conversational style. Warren says in the introduction that the book should be read one chapter a day -- a 40-day journey to "the answer to life's most important question: What on Earth am I here for?"

Smith, 26, told interviewers Monday that accused killer Brian Gene Nichols, 33, took her captive in her apartment early Saturday and briefly bound her with tape. She said Nichols told her that he did not want to hurt her but would if the police came. He initially refused her request to let her go see her daughter, she said.

Then Smith began talking about her husband, how he had been stabbed to death four years ago, and that if Nichols killed her, her daughter would be upset. "He still told me no," Smith said in a CNN interview. "But I could kind of feel that he started to know who I was, and he said, 'Maybe, maybe I'll let you go. Just maybe. We'll see how things go.' "

Smith later retrieved Warren's book from her bedroom and started reading aloud Chapter 33, which focuses on the Christian concept that life is meant to be spent in service to God and others. He stopped her and asked to hear the beginning again, and then they discussed its theme.

Smith said she asked him what he thought her life's purpose was. She said Nichols responded: " 'I think it's to talk to people and tell them about you.' " A few hours later, she said, Nichols let her leave and she alerted police where to find him.

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