10 years ago today
“If I have to go, I want to go out strong for the Lord.” Those were some of 42-year-old Martin Burnham’s last words before he was killed.
Martin and Gracia Burnham, New Tribes missionaries, were celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary on May 27, 2001, at a beach resort in western Palawan Province, Philippines, when their lives were forever changed.
Muslim extremists from a group called Abu Sayyaf kidnapped Martin and Gracia, holding them hostage for a year in the jungle along with several others. Rather than responding with hatred or despair, Martin chose to react to the situation with Christ-like love. He led the group in singing inspirational songs and encouraged them. When his captors forced him to carry bags of rice in the rain, he did so without complaining, even though his severely worn shoes caused him to often slip and fall down.
Friends and former hostages shared that Martin and Gracia remained steadfast in their faith despite enduring near starvation, constant exhaustion and frequent gun battles. Although they sometimes felt forgotten by God, they continued to cling to their faith in Him.
Days before his death on June 7, 2002, Martin was prompted to write a goodbye letter to his three children – Jeffrey, 15; Melinda, 12; and Zachary, 11. The letter, which Martin gave to Gracia, was initially lost in a firefight between the Philippine Army and Abu Sayyaf rebels. It was later discovered by troops who went back to look for it.
Although reports concluded that Martin was killed by a bullet in the crossfire between the Philippine Army and Abu Sayyaf rebels, an arrested militant later confessed that the Abu Sayyaf leader had ordered his subordinates to kill Martin if the Philippine soldiers came too close. Gracia, wounded, was set free.
Living one’s life to share the gospel at all costs is a generosity that the Burnhams knew well. It’s the ultimate gift that we, as members of Christ’s Body, can also give as we ask the Lord to open doors to share His love with others, even those who may not receive it with kindness.
It is a generosity that Gracia continues to show to others. On her website she writes, "The past 10 years have been unbelievable. I have spoken of my experiences in more places than I can recall. I have traveled from California to New York and from Texas to Canada (and even overseas!) in order to speak of God's grace to us.”
Gracia, a friend of VOM’s sister mission in the States, has shared at many of their regional conferences. She has also written two books, entitled In the Presence of my Enemies and To Fly Again.
Today, Martin and Gracia’s faithfulness is continuing to impact the Philippines.
As we remember Martin’s life and legacy 10 years later, may we also show the generosity of sharing Christ with others, even at great cost.