Gracia Burnham

June 19, 2006

On Man 27, 2001 Martin and Gracia Burnham were celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary at a resort in the Philippines. They came to the island for a few days of R&R during a break in their schedule as missionaries with New Tribes Mission. Martin was a jungle pilot who delivered mail to other missionaries in remote locations and also transported sick and injured patients to medical faculties. Gracia assisted Martin in a variety of support roles and also home-schooled their three children. Gracia had managed to schedule the trip to the resort of Dos Palmas on the recommendation of fellow missionaries. That evening she and Martin walked on the beach, swam in the ocean and rode the kayaks. It was a welcome respite from the pressures of missionary life.
Late in the night they were awakened by the sound of someone pounding on the door. Gracia said she thought it was a drunk security guard because that had happened before. But this time was different. Before Martin could get to the door, it burst open and in came several armed men who took Martin and Gracia hostage. The soldiers were part of Abu Sayyaf, a militant band of Muslim terrorists. In a story that would make headlines around the world, the Burnhams were held by the terrorists for 376 days. During that time they were marched from village to village in the jungle, endured gun battles, starvation, exhaustion, and times of deep discouragement as everything they believed about God was put to the test. During a firefight between the terrorists and the Philippine military on June 7, 2002, Martin was killed while Gracia was wounded and then rescued.
Upon returning to America, Gracia told her story in the bestselling book In the Presence of My Enemies. She lives in Kansas where she leads the Martin and Gracia Burnham Foundation.
Today Gracia spoke twice during the MEF seminar in Colorado Springs. A record crowd of 771 people filled a hotel ballroom to hear her story. She talked about the “gooney-gooneys” that different hostages would get when they thought something was about to happen during their long captivity. Once when she was crying and felt she could not go on, Martin told her, “You can cry later. Crying takes energy. Do what needs to be done right now, and then you can cry.” Just minutes before the firefight that took Martin’s life, he told her that he had been meditating on Psalm 100:1, which speaks of serving the Lord with gladness. For seventeen years the two of them had served the Lord as missionaries in the Philippines. Now they spent their days as hostages on the run from the Philippine military, living on the edge of starvation and despair, simply trying to stay alive. Martin said in some ways being a hostage didn’t seem like serving the Lord, but since this was what God had ordained for them, they should try to serve the Lord with gladness. A few minutes later he was dead.
Gracia means Grace in Spanish. It is a fitting name, for she spoke with courage, clarity, honesty, compassion, and without a trace of self-pity. A big part of her heart is still with the people of the Philippines, especially the Muslims whose religion offers no hope. It is evident that God has given her abundant grace to continue on with life as a single mother. Now she travels from place to place, often speaking to secular audiences about her experiences.
All of us who heard her were deeply moved, and there were many tears as she spoke. She ended by saying that she does not regard her husband as a martyr, but simply as a Christian who died serving the Lord. She laughed a lot and we laughed with her, and you got the feeling that she does not put herself on a pedestal. When we met her later, she said, “I just tell my story and let God do the rest.”

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