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Founder of The Martin and Gracia Burnham Foundation, a foundation helping to support Christian missions to tribes, Muslims, and Christian martyrs around the world
1986 – 2001, worked with her husband as New Tribes missionaries to the Philippines
B.S. in Christian Education from Calvary Bible College in Kansas City, MO, in 1981
Widow, mother of three children
IN THE PRESENCE OF MY ENEMIES
Gracia Burnham has overcome tragedy with forgiveness and grace. On May 27, 2001, Gracia and her husband, Martin were vacationing at a resort in the southwest Philippine Islands to celebrate their 18th wedding anniversary. Suddenly early in the morning, the Islamic terrorist group Abu Sayyaf kidnapped 20 people at the resort. Most of the hostages were ransomed and set free by November 2001, however, the Burnhams and a Filipino nurse were still held captive. For an additional seven months, sick and staving, the Burnhams traveled through the rugged Philippine jungles with their captors. Occasionally, the boredom and fatigue of the journey would be interrupted by unexpected gun battles between the Abu Sayyaf and the Philippine military, which was trying to rescue the captives. Through this, the Burnhams managed to hang on to their faith. They would encourage themselves by recalling all of the passages of the Bible they could remember.
On June 7, 2002, the Philippine military initiated another attempt to rescue the hostages. Unfortunately, Martin and the Philippine nurse were caught in the crossfire and killed. Gracia was wounded in the leg and was quickly evacuated by the military. After being debriefed at the U.S. embassy in Manila, Gracia was flown home to Kansas and reunited with her three children. Shortly after she returned home, Gracia wrote about her experiences over the past year in captivity in her first book In the Presence of My Enemies. This book focused on the details of the Burnhams captivity. Her latest book, To Fly Again, focuses on the spiritual aspects of life since returning, like adjusting to life without Martin and trusting God day by day for His grace and provision.
TO FLY AGAIN
Gracia wants to thank people for all their faithful prayers and encourage them that they helped bring her home. Her experience in the Philippines helped her see God’s hand, and she sees His hand more readily now. Sometimes people will tell Gracia their problems and say, “But it’s nothing like you went through.” However, Gracia says everyone’s trials are equal. She says sometimes we personally doubt that God cares about our problems and the little things in our lives, but we should look at God instead of our problems. Gracia says, “We have a huge God and as we worship Him then He will give us strength upon strength upon strength to go on.”
Gracia enjoys the everyday. After the captivity experience, Gracia sees God’s goodness and grace everywhere and thanks God for the little things.
Even her family is different. They are more open with their affection, and they love and appreciate each other more. Her kids are not bitter about the experience.
Also upon her return home, people started sending Gracia various amounts of money. A wise person advised her to start a foundation. Thus, the Martin and Gracia Burnham Foundation was born. The foundation is able to give money to ministries that reach out to tribes, Muslims, and Christian martyrs. She says this is a different way of ministry for her since her seventeen years on the mission field with New Tribes. Martin was a missionary pilot, delivering mail, supplies, and encouragement to other missionaries, and Gracia would assist him. She says that was a more one-on-one, supportive role in missions. Now her mission work involves giving money and allowing others to do the ministry on the mission field. As for going back on the mission field, Gracia will only go where God calls her. She is open to going back to the Philippines. Despite what happened, she still considers it home, but will only go by God’s leading.
SOME LESSONS LEARNED
One low point in the jungle was the 13th gun battle between their captors and the Filipino military. The Burnhams and their captors had to flee by wading through waist high swamp water until they were safe. Martin told Gracia that they had to remember what was true. They remembered all the Bible verses they could, like “I love you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3) and “If God be for us who can be against us?” (Roman 8:31).
Gracia learned that God’s Word is true, and she had the privilege of watching Martin live out his faith. He had such a servant attitude, was a testimony to the men that held them captive, and helped Gracia – in bad situations he kept a good attitude. Certain things that Martin said then apply now. An example of this is in the jungle, when Gracia felt discouraged and couldn’t go on, Martin would say, “Gracia, what would the kids say? They would say keep going today, because tomorrow you may go home.” Sometimes even today when she gets discouraged and is tired of being a single mom, she reminds herself of these words, and it helps her go on.
FORGIVING HER CAPTORS
One of the Abu Sayyaf captors, Musab, really got on Gracia’s nerves. He was really pompous and arrogant. One day he made Martin carry a bag of rice, despite Martin’s frail condition from hunger. This made her very angry. She turned to Martin and said that someday she wanted to see Musab cast into hell. Martin responded gently saying that this would be an awful thing because he would be separated from God. Gracia felt convicted and prayed for the gifts of the Spirit for her to be able to love Musab. Gracia says the fruits of the Spirit are truly gifts and God gave Gracia and Martin the gift of love for their captors.
Recently, nine of the Burnhams captors she testified against were put in a Manila jail. These men were able to overpower the guard and took control of the jail for 24 hours. The police seized the jail and 23 of the Muslims prisoners were killed. She suspects her captors were killed. This was a hard day for Gracia because she realized that their days of grace were over. She is still waiting for FBI confirmation of who died. She realized anew the lessons she learned through Martin and Musab in the jungle that no one wants to face judgement. It has given her more of a burden for her neighbors and the urgency for those who don’t know the Lord to come to a saving knowledge of Him. These are days of grace, and people must turn to the Lord for salvation.
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