Flying Again: Burnham 10 Years after Kidnapping

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In 2002, millions followed the kidnapping of missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham. They were taken hostage by the Filipino terror group, Abu Sayyaf, and were held for more than a year before a rescue attempt resulted in Martin's death and Gracia's release.

On the 10-year anniversary of Martin's death, CBN News Anchor Wendy Griffith spoke with Gracia, who is using their story to set others free.

Daily Survival

It became one of the year's biggest stories: missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf - a radical Muslim group known for beheading victims if ransoms were not paid on time.

The couple had been celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary at a resort in Palawan when terrorist kidnapped them and more than a dozen others.

In a military boat, along with armed Filipino soldiers, CBN News' Griffith passed by the area of Basilan Island where the Abu Sayyaf first brought Martin and Gracia Burnham when they were kidnapped in 2001.

They had spent just over a year in these jungles, constantly on the run, never knowing where their next meal was coming from and completely dependent upon God for their daily survival.

"Yeah, we asked God for everything we needed," Gracia recalled. "If we needed a drink of water, I asked God for a drink of water. And if we came to a stream, I drank the water. It didn't matter that it was dirty and the guys were, you know doing stuff up river, it was water, and God provided it for us."

"And, you know, of course, there were days God didn't provide food for us and we had to trust Him with that day," she added.

Weight of Death

Griffith: Gracia, what do you remember about the day Martin was killed and you were rescued?

"I remember that we hadn't eaten for; we were going on our 10th day. I didn't know you could live for 10 days without food. But we had salt, and we had water," she explained.

"We would eat little leaves from certain plants that we had passed by, so we were weak and exhausted," she continued.

"And I told Martin, I don't know how much longer I can do this. I always said that to him," she said. "And he said, 'You know Gracia, I think we're going to get out of here. I just don't know when."

About noon, on June 7, 2002, shots rang out in the jungle as the Philippine military attempted to rescue Martin and Gracia from their yearlong captivity.

"I was immediately shot in the leg before we could even get to the ground, and I kind of slid down the hill and came to rest beside Martin and he was bleeding from his chest," Gracia recalled.

"And Martin just laid there breathing heavily, almost snoring," she continued. "And suddenly he got heavy, you know that term, the weight of death. But I wasn't sure. I hadn't watched anyone die before."

"I kind of started to move my hands around a little bit so they would know I was still alive. I didn't want to startle them and they shoot me," she said. "And they saw I was alive and came and started dragging me up the hill. And I looked back at Martin and he was white. And that's when I knew he was dead."

"And they kind of bandaged me up at the top of the hill and called a helicopter and it came and lifted me right out of there," she said with tears.

Griffith: Ten years later and it's still so emotional for you...

"Yeah, well we'd been, we'd been begging God to let one of us come home and raise our kids," Gracia said. "And, isn't it funny that the one God chose was the weak one?

"You know, don't you think he would've chosen the strong one to come home and tell the story and travel and speak like I do?" she asked. "But God often uses weak things."

Lambs Among Wolves

Before their year in captivity, Martin was a busy pilot for New Tribes Mission and Gracia supported him while helping raise their three children in the Philippines.

CBN News visited the home where the Burnhams lived for more than a decade while they were missionaries in Mindanao. Many of the locals still have fond memories of their times with Martin and Gracia.

"She was the one who taught me how to make pizza," Gracia's friend, Eggie Ocaya, said. "And we would do different toppings. Gracia, I still love to make pizza and it's because of you!"

"Martin was the best pilot that I've ever seen," family friend, Dr. Allan Melicor, said. "Martin often flew Dr. Melicor to remote villages to see patients."

"To me, Martin and Gracia Burnham reflect the persona of Christ, so when they were abducted, I said, 'Lord...Why them? Why Martin and Gracia?'"

"The Lord said, 'Oh, why not them?'" he recalled. "Because I think the people who abducted them are really seeing what Christians ought to be - (Martin and Gracia) are actually lambs walking among wolves."

Forgiveness and Salvation

Griffith: Gracia, the Abu Sayyaf took so much from you -- your husband, a year of your life -- how do you find forgiveness?

"I think that God came and did something in my heart and I asked him, 'Would you build forgiveness in my life. Would you help me start to love these guys and He did it,'" she said.

Today, several Abu Sayyaf members have come to know the Lord because Gracia chose to forgive. She began the Martin and Gracia Burnham Foundation to help reach Muslims in the Philippines.

"Some of the very guys that held us hostage got a hold of some of those things we got printed and it impacted their lives," she explained. "And God somehow used it and so far four - four of them have come to know the Lord."

Gracia also wrote the New York Times bestseller, In the Presence of My Enemies and a follow-up, To Fly Again. She's also a much-sought after speaker whose story of God's grace under trial resonates.

"So many people invested hours praying for me and Martin, and they just want to hug me and tell me 'We've prayed for you' and I never get tired of hearing that," she said.

In Their Father's Footsteps

Griffith: What do you miss the most about Martin?

"I think his laugh. Martin was quite a funny guy," she said. "But you know what, my son Zachary has it. Every once in a while I'll be upstairs and I'll hear Zach in the basement and here will come Martin's laugh, you know, floating up the stairs. It makes me happy."

Today, Gracia's youngest son, Zach, studies music at Calvary Bible School in Kansas City, the same school where his parents met and married. Her oldest son, Jeff, is a missionary pilot just like his dad, serving in Africa. Her daughter, Mindy, married a New Tribes missionary, just like Gracia.

"I'm a grandmother, twice, yay!" Gracia said. "My kids are grown and they're fine and they love the Lord. And so the rest of what happens to me is just icing on the cake."

To Fly, Again

Gracia said just like the title of her second book, she is learning to fly again.

"God's grace is huge in my life," she explained. "It would be awful if I had gone through this horrible thing and come out on the other end thinking I had anything to do with it. So if I'm flying today it's because of God's goodness in my life."

*Originally published June 6, 2012.

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Wendy Griffith

Wendy Griffith

CBN News Anchor/Reporter

Wendy Griffith is a Co-host for the The 700 Club and an Anchor and Senior Reporter for the Christian Broadcasting Network based in Virginia Beach, Virginia. In addition to The 700 Club, she co-anchors Christian World News, a weekly show that focuses on the triumphs and challenges of the global church. Follow Wendy on Twitter @WendygCBN and "like" her at Facebook.com/WendyGriffithCBN.