An open letter to those holding our son, Austin Tice:

Our family is longing for the safe return of our cherished son and beloved brother Austin, who was taken captive while working as a journalist in Syria. So many things have happened in the more than 18 weeks he has been missing. We missed him terribly at the family gathering for the feast of Thanksgiving. We are a close-knit family, sharing so many memories and traditions. Now, as we prepare for the joyful celebration of Christmas, we desperately want our family to be whole. Our hearts are heavy to think his chair may once again be empty at our family table; we dread missing his great storytelling and contagious laugh.

Austin is the oldest of our seven children. The Tice kids are very close, and Austin’s absence is agonizing. Like children everywhere, they grew up loving, fussing, challenging and, most importantly, supporting one another. Austin is so proud to be the thoughtful mentor and protector of his sisters and brothers, encouraging them to dream big and work hard to make those dreams come true. He has set an example by never settling for less than excellence in himself.

He is an Eagle Scout — Boy Scouting’s highest rank — a diligent student and a frequent volunteer, willingly sharing his time and talent to help others. As a Marine, he earned the loyalty and respect of his men by wholly embracing the call to lead by example. Now, as a journalist, he is determined to get the story and tell it with a deep commitment to honesty and thoughtful analysis.

This undated photo obtained from the family of Austin Tice, shows American freelance journalist Austin Tice, 31, who has been missing in Syria since mid-August, 2012. home. (Anonymous/AP)

As parents, we encourage our children to learn about and understand other cultures; to discover and explore the things we have in common as people sharing a world that grows ever more connected. Austin has traveled widely, always eager to meet and engage the local people. He has a special affinity for the people of the Middle East; he is especially attracted to your tradition of hospitality. He deeply connects with your intense loyalty to family, faith and ideals.

A passionate and serious man, Austin has no patience for shallow and materialistic pursuits. He went to Syria to see the truth and to share the stories of its people. He wanted to experience and understand the fundamental and essential nature of their challenges.

Austin’s big heart holds a special place for children. In his professional photographs, he tried to capture how the events in Syria affected its children.

Austin has always had an interest in journalism. From the time he began reading, he wanted to know what was going on “all around.” He has faithfully kept a journal. He has written for the newspaper at every school he attended, from middle school right up through college. He was thrilled to be offered a contract to report from Syria over his summer break from Georgetown law school.

Austin is just one of the many journalists taking great risks to further knowledge and understanding of other people, places and events. There is a global consensus through treaty and convention that the work of journalists is essential and should be protected and respected.

We steadfastly work and pray for Austin’s safe return. We are sustained by our faith and by the kind thoughts and prayers that are being offered for Austin and our family. We are humbled, amazed and deeply grateful for the tremendous outpouring of support and assistance we have received from every corner of the globe; affirmation of all the lives that have been touched by our extraordinary son.

We urge you, whoever you are: Let Austin come home for Christmas. Let us hug him, laugh and cry with him, love him in person. Let us be a whole family again.