This May marked 15 years since Martin and Gracia Burnham were kidnapped in the Philippines. The missionary couple was on a getaway to celebrate their 18th wedding anniversary when they were kidnapped by radical Muslim Abu Sayyaf fighters. For more than a year, and under the total control of their captors, they were constantly on the move, living in primitive conditions in the jungle, evading capture from the Philippine military, enduring gun battles and witnessing unspeakable atrocities committed by the men of Abu Sayyaf Group.
On the afternoon of 7 June 2002, over a year since their abduction, the Philippine military attempted a rescue. Tragically, Martin was killed during the gunfight. Wounded, but alive, Gracia was rescued and returned home under a national spotlight.
Last week the Burnham’s hometown paper, The Wichita Eagle, did an in-depth story about the family now, and especially how Martin and Gracia’s three children have been affected by their parents’ kidnapping and their dad’s death. Zach, who was 10 when his parents were kidnapped, described his response:
“I shut off,” he said. “I didn’t want to deal with the fact that I might not see them again.”
His grandparents had told him how important it was to talk to the media, so the world would want to save his parents. But it felt like a chore, and he responded listlessly, barely looking up from a rocket ship drawing in one interview.
Mindy knew talking to reporters was about the only thing she could do to help her parents, she said, and yet she remembers refusing to cry for a Christmas news special and rolling her eyes during a photo shoot on a Friday when she wanted to be at a school dance.
When the kids finally heard from their mother after more than a year apart, Jeff, the oldest, bragged to his mother that he had called the police on a TV crew that had set up on the lawn of their house.
Jeff said he hated how some reporters would try to manipulate their emotions, and to this day, his siblings say, Jeff will not talk to the media.
Television reporters wanted to film Zach’s 11th birthday party.
“It was my birthday. I didn’t want to think about my parents’ hostage situation,” he said.
“That one, that was the worst for me. I was just bitter the whole day.”
The story also included a video interview. Gracia also talked about God’s faithfulness to her children in an interview with The Voice of the Martyrs Radio.
We encourage you today to thank the Lord for the Godly legacy of Martin Burnham, and to pray for Gracia and her family as they continue to be a family that God can use.
When we read the Bible we usually read only those passages that we think relate to our personal situation. We are often not aware that there are themes that run through the Bible that reflect its most basic and most essential teachings. The theme of ‘deliverance,’ for example, is an important theme that is very prominent in the book of Exodus as Israel is delivered from the bondage of Egypt. It shows up again when Jews in captivity are allowed to go back to their homeland to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. It has a spiritual dimension when we are taught that we are delivered from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.
There is a theme that is very prominent but mostly neglected and unrecognised by the Western church, primarily because it does not appear to relate to our present situation. But it relates well to many Christians around the world who are experiencing persecution and martyrdom. The theme is ‘suffering for righteousness’ sake.’ In the New Testament and beyond it becomes suffering for Christ’s sake. This theme is first introduced in Genesis 4 in the story of Cain and Abel. Abel is killed for doing the right thing. He suffers for being obedient to God and for offering sacrifices pleasing to Him. It is an unjust murder, which is the case for all suffering for righteousness’ sake.
The theme continues throughout the Old Testament in the stories of Job, Joseph, the three Hebrew young men (the fiery furnace), and with Daniel. All of them suffered for being righteous and for doing good. But it is not just an Old Testament theme. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, his inaugural sermon that would explain the kingdom of God and what it meant to be a genuine follower of Christ, says that those who are persecuted and who are slandered for His sake are blessed. We are not to be surprised if we suffer for the sake of Christ.
We discover as we read through the Bible that suffering is the method God uses to reach the world. It is through Christ’s suffering and death that we have salvation to proclaim. As we see in the book of Acts, the proclamation of the Gospel and witness in Christ’s name often lead to beatings and imprisonment. The apostle Paul, as well as other disciples, experienced the full force of persecution and eventually martyrdom because of their faithful ministry. It continues into the present time.
We don’t consider this when we become a Christian or as we work in ministry. It is far from our minds; yet in most areas of the world to be a Christian and to serve Christ is very costly. Our monthly reports story after story of persons who have suffered for their faith in Christ. It is a very real part of our world. It is also a significant biblical theme. More and more Christians are becoming aware of this fact. It is only then that we can confront the world realistically and pray realistically. We pray for those who are in fact living out this biblical theme and are suffering for righteousness’ sake.
Becoming aware of this theme and the stories of suffering for righteousness’ sake changes the way we think and pray for our brothers and sisters around the world. If we have a loved one who is serving in a hostile area of the world, we feel very much a part of their lives. In the same way, if we know that there are Christians suffering in a particular area of the world, we should have the same feeling toward them that we have toward our family members, because, in reality, these Christians are a part of our families. In fact, we are a part of the same body. If one part suffers, all parts suffer.
Do we feel their pain?