Martin and Gracia Burnham were American missionaries in the Philippines for seventeen years, when militant Muslims kidnapped and imprisoned them in their island stronghold. For over a year, Martin and Gracia suffered in captivity and isolation. A ransom was paid but the kidnappers refused to release the Burnhams.
On June 7, 2002, Filipino troops attempted a rescue and during the fight, Martin was fatally shot in the chest. Gracia was airlifted to safety.
The Burnhams’ story became international news and in her grief, Gracia was still able to publicly claim God’s sovereignty and goodness in their ordeal.
In her book, In The Presence Of My Enemies, Gracia looks back on her captivity and in conclusion, speaks candidly about her personal struggle and her commitment to keep trusting in God in a hostile world. It’s faith at work.
We have a chance to show the love of Christ to the world. I think Martin managed to do this successfully in the jungle. I’m not sure I did very well myself. I hope nobody calls me a hero, because I know the facts about the bitterness that blazed in my heart that year. I still have lots of maturing to do.
… I already knew I was a sinner, of course. It’s one of the first things I learned as a child in Sunday school. But I was also a missionary, a pastor’s daughter, a life-long “good girl.” Weren’t people like me supposed to be able to react to adversity with strength and grace and kindness and courage? Why wasn’t I showing more of those traits?
I knew, for example, that I was supposed to forgive my captors, but the truth is that I often hated them. I despised them not only for snatching me away from my family and the simple comforts of a life I loved, but also for forcing me to see a side of myself I didn’t like. There was a Gracia I barely knew existed: fearful Gracia, selfish Gracia, bitter Gracia, angry-at-God Gracia. That wasn’t the only me, but it was a bigger part of me than I wanted to accept.
… Some people want me to offended and angry and bitter with the government for not doing this or that. Others want me to be depressed and morose — the poor, whimpering widow.
I can’t be either of those. What good would it do?
… This ordeal came with the territory. I refuse to let this dampen my joy or detract from the love that God means to flourish in my heart.
… The special people God gives us along the way make us stronger to face the trials of an ugly world. Obviously, I never expected to face something of this magnitude. But I thank the Lord for helping me to endure it. … And I resolve to keep living in the embrace of God’s gladness and love for as long as he gives me breath.