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Hostage Crisis Drives me to my Knees

It was hard to watch the CBS news interview with American missionaries Gracia and Martin Burnham. The Burnhams were haggard, filthy, and appeared to be disoriented.

While on vacation, they were kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf terrorists and were being dragged through the Philippine jungle. It had been a year since they had seen their children, and it looked as though they never would. One of their fellow hostages had been beheaded.

Their captors had given a journalist rare access to interview the Burnhams. For the couple, it was an opportunity to show their family members they were still alive; for the terrorists, it was an opportunity to generate ransom money.

The Burnhams were despondent and appeared to believe they had been forgotten, that there was no hope.

“We need someone to show some mercy,” Gracia pleaded. “This is no way to live. There is no way to take care of yourself. Last night, I woke up with severe chest pains, and there’s nothing you can do. You just lay there and you’re in pain.
“We have sores in our mouths because there’s no nutrition in the food we’re eating,” she said. “We have sores on our legs. Well, nobody cares about that here…”

I felt I had to do something to help, and praying was all I could do. I went to my room, got down on my knees, and asked God to give the Burnhams hope, to strengthen them physically, mentally, and spiritually, to rescue them from the hands of their captors. And I made a commitment to pray until they returned home.

I was haunted by Gracia’s gaunt face, by the sound of her quivering voice, the voice of woman who believed all was lost. And it motivated me to pray, again and again, “Please God, please let them know we are praying. Let them know we haven’t forgotten them.”

When I didn’t see anything in the news for a while, I made a simple request in addition to the first: that God would let me know what happened to them. But as time passed, my prayers felt more dry, less regular, and more perfunctory. Even so, I figured that listless prayers were better than no prayers at all.

Six months after I began praying, and eighteen months after the Burnhams had been kidnapped, God answered the second prayer. I heard a radio news report that the Philippine army attempted to rescue the Burnhams, but only Gracia made it out alive. Martin died from three gunshots to the chest.

The news was bittersweet and strangely personal. Though I had never met the couple or their children, praying for them left me feeling like I had gotten to know them, that I had played a miniscule part in getting Gracia home.

One year later, I got a call from a Christian bookstore in the city where I lived. In my one visit to the store, I had apparently entered my name in a raffle, and they drew it from the fishbowl. They wanted me to come in to claim my reward.

The young lady across the counter handed me a bundle which included a Christian CD and a hard bound book: In the Presence of My Enemies — by Gracia Burnham. It was a full retelling of what had happened to her and Martin in the jungle. I didn’t even know she had written a book.

As I drove home, I marveled that God had seen fit – not only to let me know what became of the Burnhams – but to make sure I read Gracia’s own description of what they had survived. At home, I opened the book, and on the first page, Gracia wrote,

This book is dedicated to . . . you. If you prayed for Martin and me while we were in captivity – even once – then put your name here. It is because of your prayers that I came out alive and am able to tell the story. Likewise, I hope to become one who earnestly prays and cares for others who are hurting. We truly need each other, don’t we?

“Yes,” I thought to myself, as my eyes watered up, “we do.” Gracia needed me to pray when she felt hopeless and alone; and I needed Gracia to remind me that even when my prayers feel dry and useless, God listens, God cares, and God answers.

6 Comments
  1. I'm totally teared up now, too, Joshua. Amazing report of answered prayer. Thanks once again. Be blessed in all you put your hands to.Jennie Heberg(Isaiah 43:19)

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    January 24, 2012
  2. Wow. What an amazing story of prayer and the privilege of being a part of God's plan. Amy

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    January 24, 2012
  3. What a wonderful testimony of the powerful Hand of God at work in your life, and in the lives of those you pray for. Sometimes praying seems so ineffectual to us, but God hears every prayer and acts accordingly in His Time. He lets us know, in His own Way, how much our prayers mean to Him. God bless you for having the heart to pray for strangers and to love and care for your brother as you love yourself.

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    January 24, 2012
  4. I am utterly amazed. This is a powerful testimony that shouts loudly on the rooftops and puts a mirror to my face. There is not much more I can say at this moment because I just feel the need to pray.

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    January 25, 2012
  5. Mission accomplished.

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    January 26, 2012
  6. Wow, there are a lot of cool elements to this story. I especially like the fact that God delivered that book into your hands as a quiet reminder that He is always listening to you.BTW, I read the book years ago. What an amazing story.

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    February 6, 2012

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