By Cecily Markland
Fifteen years ago, while serving a mission in Russia, Travis Tuttle, of Gilbert, Ariz., and his companion, Andrew Propst, of Lebanon, Ore., both 20 at the time, were kidnapped, beaten, threatened at gunpoint and held for four days while their captors hoped to receive the ransom money they demanded.
Now, that harrowing experience has been made into a motion picture. An independent film written and directed by Garrett Batty, “The Saratov Approach,” is “90 to 95 percent accurate. Very close to what actually happened,” Travis says.
The son of Donna and Roy Tuttle of Gilbert, Travis is now 35 and a member of the Stone Creek Ward, Queen Creek Stake. He and his wife Brook have four children.
Watching “The Saratov Approach,” he says, evoked a variety of emotions.
“It was weird to see a story that happened so long ago come to life on the big screen, and it was cool how it was portrayed.”
Travis admits that when Garrett Batty approached them about making the movie they turned him down.
“Andy and I didn’t buy off on the idea at first. It was such a persona l story for us, we weren’t sure about making it so public,” he says. “We told him no several times, but Garrett had a lot of passion for this project—and persistence.”
They were concerned about the quality of the movie and about how they—and the Church—would be portrayed.
Yet, Travis says, “It’s turned out to be a great experience.”
Among the blessings has been the renewed friendship between the two former companions. After their missions, they went separate ways and didn’t have contact for about 12 years.
Today, “It’s been great to reconnect with Andy and we’ve talked a lot about a lot of things,” Travis says.
Those conversations and his own reflection have led to several conclusions. He says he has learned a great deal about forgiveness, about relationships and about trusting in the Lord.
During the ordeal, “we had no idea what was going on outside and were concerned about what was happening to other missionaries, what was going on in the city and with our families,” Travis says.
They knew their decisions could cost them their lives and could affect the greater picture of missionary work as a whole.
“We were so fortunate that we were together, that someone was there to lean on the entire time. We never gave up on each other. When I was down, Andy picked me up; when he was down, I did that for him,” Travis says. “It’s taught me that we should never give up on anybody, a child, spouse, family member, coworker—never give up on anyone.”
While held captive, they didn’t feel bitter or forsaken. Instead, they were confident knowing, “We were worthy, hard-working missionaries, who wanted to teach the gospel. We also had our free agency, and, even with some promptings not to, and when we didn’t have a Book of Mormon left to give them, we chose to go to that particular door that day.”
The two do wonder “why me” at times, but not in the way most would think.
“We recognize there are a lot of people better than we are, but we also know not everyone could have endured what we did,” Travis says. “We feel it was something that was in the making for us for a long time—in how we were raised and different experiences we had on our missions.”
“We feel fortunate and blessed,” says Travis.
He believes the thing that may have helped the most to overcome the trauma is the fact that they stayed in the mission field.
“After we were released, we stayed out there, kept working. We didn’t have a chance to dwell on it. We jumped back into missionary work,” Travis said.
“The Saratov Approach” will be available on DVD sometime next year.