In The Presence Of My Enemies by Gracia Burnham
I read this book many years ago, pre blogging. It had touched me very deeply. This past weekend a friend of mine who I went to school with had the opportunity to meet Gracia Burnham and this triggered this post, and a little information from my good friend Barb.
Gracia and Martin Burnham had been Missionaries in the Philippines for 17 years, starting in 1986. They lived among the people and were well-known.
Then tragedy struck. They were kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group with ties to Osama bin Laden. The Burnham’s were snatched away from friends and family and thrust into a life on the run in the Philippine jungle. Others that were captured with them were either eventually released for ransom or beheaded. The Burnham’s would remain in captivity for over a year, they faced near starvation, constant exhaustion, frequent gun battles, cold-hearted murder—and intense soul-searching about a God who sometimes seemed to have forgotten them.
The kidnappers demanded $1,000,000 for their release. A ransom of $330,000 was paid, yet the kidnappers refused to release them. During the eventual rescue attempt by the Philippine Army on June 7, 2002, Martin was killed by three gunshots in the chest and Gracia was wounded in her right leg.
This is their story as told by Gracia Burnham.
This book touched me deeply. I could not imagine such a terrifying experience as what Gracia and Martin had gone through, day-to-day not knowing if this would be the day that they died.
Here is what Barb emailed me about her time with Gracia Bunham this past weekend:
Gracia was wonderful sharing her story of faith and forgiveness ….sometimes teary but mostly, surprisingly made us laugh. After a brief video explaining her terrifying time in the jungle, she talked about the time spent there and what has happened in her life since. She showed us the clothing she wore in the jungle, one was her (don’t remember what it was called) but it was a giant piece of fabric sorta like a sarong but sewing in a circle. They had thrown it to her on the boat to cover herself since she was only in shorts and a t-shirt. Besides for clothing, she used it as a blanket, her bathroom (by pulling it up around herself and holding it with her teeth), and in the same way her changing room WHEN she had clothes to change into after bathing in the river (since her captors never let her out of their sight of course), a tear wiper, and a giant kleenex, and also the other captors used theirs with a large branch as a sling to haul off their injured. Many of her captors are now in prison for life and a few actually WRITE her from time to time! One letter she had to have translated was very “nice” sounding: “Dear Gracia…..Do you remember our time in the jungle?” (at this she said something funny, like how could she forget?) and the bad guys actually sent her a bright orange prison t-shirt that said “DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS” across the front and they WROTE MESSAGES to her on it! She said, “What am I suppose to do with this? It’s not something I could wear to the mall!” But amazingly, three of her captors have given their lives to Jesus Christ! Her two oldest kids are married to kids of New Tribes Missionaires and her son is now flying planes the same as his dad ……. I wish I had brought a notebook and took notes. I had her sign my book In the Presence of my Enemies, and then went and bought her other book. I thought, Darn I should have bought this first so I could have had her sign this too. I decided on the hard cover version. When I opened it last night, it was already signed!
I still own this book and if you are interested in a read that is emotionally charged, and a brilliant example of strong faith under the worst of circumstances, I highly recommend you read In The Presence Of My Enemies.
The Burnham’s capture and captivity were the subject of a July 2008 episode of the TV series, Locked Up Abroad.
I purchased my copy of this book many years ago