Today marks 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 June 7, 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.
This 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. Here's how 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.”
Gracia regularly shares her story, and the lessons that God has taught her, at VOM ADVANCE Conferences around the United States. The next conference Gracia will be a part of will be June 11 in Auburn, Maine.
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.