This is the story of the missionary ministry of Martin and Gracia Burnham. In 1986 Gracia and Martin Burnham began work as missionaries with the New Tribes Mission in the Philippines. For seventeen years Martin flew as a jungle pilot. He delivered mail, supplies and provided encouragement to other missionaries. He also transported sick and injured patients to medical centers. Gracia supported his efforts and home-schooled their children, all of whom were born in the Philippines.
In 2001 the Burnhams celebrated their eighteenth wedding anniversary at the Dos Palmas Resort on Palawan Island. It was there, on May 27, that they and several other guests were kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf Group, a Muslim militant group linked to Al-Qaeda. They were taken to an ASG stronghold on Basilan Island. The ASG militants were unfamiliar with the Koran and had only a sketchy notion of Islam. They considered it as a set of behavioral rules to be violated when it suited them. Kidnapping, murder and theft were justified by their special status as holy warriors.
In the ensuing months some of the hostages were killed, and most were ransomed and set free. The militants demanded a $1 million ransom for the Burnhams. They were paid $330,000, but still refused to release them. By November, 2001, only Gracia, Martin and one other hostage remained in captivity. For the next 376 day the militants kept on the move. Their captives had to travel with them, facing near starvation and unrelenting fatigue. Days of boredom were mixed with unexpected gun battles between ASG and the Philippine military. Often they were in the crossfire and witnessed many cold-blooded murders.
Through it all the Burnhams held onto their faith, often encouraging one another by recalling and reciting all of the Bible verses they could remember, like:
“I love you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3) and
“If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31b).
Gracia watched as Martin lived out his faith. He told her that they had to remember what was true, and that God’s Word was the truth. Martin’s attitude expressed the heart of a servant and surely served as a testimony to her, as well as their captors.
They named one of their kidnappers “57” because he always carried a large AK 57 rifle. When Musab told them he could not read the Koran, Gracia suggested he should have the Koran translated into his language. He said, “Oh no, then the Koran would be corrupted.”
Musab “57” suffered from headaches, and the Burnham’s treated him with some medications they had. They could have just done nothing and let “57” suffer. Martin’s guiding principle was to try and make enemies into brothers, remembering what Jesus said from the cross when he was crucified: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24). Martin and Gracia planted seeds of love. Instead of feeling hate toward their kidnappers, they felt compassion for their ignorance.
Martin and the other hostage were killed on June 7, 2002, in a firefight between the Philippine military and the Abu Sayyaf Group. Gracia was wounded in the leg, but was freed. She returned to the United States and to her children.
For the next year she wrote a book about her experience. This book was called In the Presence of My Enemies, and tells the details about the captive experience. She has also written To Fly Again: Surviving the Tailspins of Life. God gave her a platform to speak to the world.
Gracia established The Martin and Gracia Burnham Foundation. She hopes to provide funds and resources to support the following:
Ministry to Muslims Tribal Mission
Missionary Aviation The Persecuted Church
The foundation is administered through the Servant Christian Community Foundation. Additional information is found on the website: www.graciaburnham.org
Similar to the above is the story of the missionary ministry of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. Jim and Elisabeth Elliot met while attending Wheaton College. They were married in Quito, Ecuador in 1953. Jim wanted to be a missionary to the unreached people of the world and knew that the Auca (alternatively known as Huaorani) in eastern Ecuador were in that category. The Auca were very fierce, and no one had yet succeeded in making contact with them and come out alive.
After discovering the whereabouts of the Auca in 1956, Jim and four other missionaries went into Auca territory. Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, and Ed McCully had met in college and shared a burning desire to follow Jesus' command, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). Missionary Roger Youderiano had been working in Ecuador with the Jivaros tribe of head-shrinkers, and was a paratrooper trained in World War II. The fifth person in their group was a friend of Jim and Ed’s named Pete Fleming.
For years they had prayed for this primitive group who had never heard the redemption story of peace with God through the death and resurrection of Christ. Oil prospectors were coming closer and closer to the Huao natives. The men felt they should act soon so they would not lose the opportunity for peaceful contact.
They had a seemingly friendly contact with three of the tribe members, but were then speared to death while attempting to evangelize them. A movie called End of the Spear was later made to tell their story.
God took these common young men of uncommon commitment and used them for His own glory. They were killed and never had the privilege to tell the Huaorani of the God they loved and served. Jim Elliot is remembered for this statement from his journal, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
Jim and Elisabeth’s daughter was just ten months old when her father died. After her husband’s death, Elisabeth remained in Ecuador and continued work with the Quichua Indians. No doubt by God’s plan, she met two Auca women who lived with her for a year. They proved to be the key that opened the door to the Auca, allowing her to live for two years among the same tribe who had killed her husband! After these two years, she returned to her missionary work with the Quichua, ministering to them until 1963, when she and her daughter returned to the States.
Since then she has written many books and toured the country well into her 70s speaking about her thoughts and experiences. Among her books are Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot and Through Gates of Splendor.
For every unreached person who is taught about God and salvation by such dedicated people like Martin Burham and Jim Eliot, there are thousands more who need to be reached. Because of the courage and strong faith of these missionaries and their wives, others continue to evangelize with even more determination and dedication.
Those they had hoped to meet and teach have been reached, thanks to the groundwork and ultimate sacrifice they made. With His faithfulness, God continues to multiply these successes. It is a memorial to their obedience.