History Book – The Captives of God

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MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Monday, June 6th. Good morning! This is The world and all in it of WORLD Radio supported by the listeners. I am Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Next, the world history book. Twenty years ago this week, the captivity of an American missionary couple came to a dramatic end. This is Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER: For 17 years, missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham lived and worked in the Philippines with New Tribes Mission. Martin was a jungle pilot and Gracia supported the work in many ways while homeschooling their children.

On May 27, 2001, the Burnhams were celebrating their wedding anniversary at a resort when Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim terror group linked to al-Qaeda, abducted the couple and 18 other guests. Within six months, all but the Burnhams and one additional captive remained in custody. Some had been released, others killed.

The Abu Sayyaf took refuge in the jungle, forcing the Burhams to live in primitive conditions while escaping the Philippine army. On the afternoon of June 7, 2002, the soldiers managed to corner the group.

NEWSCAST: Martin Burham was killed during a rescue attempt by the Philippine military, but his wife Gracia survived. Family members say that during Martin’s final hours, he and Gracia felt they might not make it out alive.

In the two decades since the rescue, Gracia has visited hundreds of churches to share her story. Earlier this year, she spoke at Cross Con youth conference. Here is a short excerpt from his presentation.

GRACIA BURNHAM: Well, you know how our story went, and you know how Martin died in the shooting that saved me. But… my children and I have asked people like you all over the world to pray for the guys who have held us captive. And why are we surprised when God does something great and answers our prayer? I do not know. Oh me, little faith. God gave me a “rest of the story”.

Several years ago, an American couple who work in the prison ministry in the Philippines contacted me. They had got their hands on a series of comic books printed by our foundation. These were printed in Tausug – the language that many Abu Sayyaf spoke. They are beautiful, colorful, I have no idea what they say – they are in Tausug. But they gave them away in jail and the guys loved them…

But they said the interesting thing happening here is that these guys found out Gracia Burnham printed them. They come to us saying “we are the former Abu Sayyaf. It was we who held Martin and Gracia captive.

I said, “Well, ask them their names. Maybe I know them. And here are the names; of course guys we walked, lived, starved with for a year – about 23 of them are in jail for the rest of their lives.

… This American couple and I came together to find ways to show the love of Christ to these guys. And I could spend an hour telling you this story. But great things are happening. These guys read the scriptures in their own dialects. Some of them attend Bible studies. To make a long and awesome story very short, so far five Abu Sayyaf elders that I know have come to know the Lord as their Saviour. [APPLAUSE]

Some of them are in jail. Some are not. One is a very violent man with over 20 counts of murder against him – a new person in Christ, a brother in the Lord. And we just keep praying. And I wonder if you’d like to start praying too, when you think of me and my story. Pray for those guys in jail…

God can do anything, can’t He? And it’s not over until it’s over. And I think God let me be a small part of what’s going on back there in the prison, just to encourage my heart because he likes to do good things for his children.

If I had known while we were going through our tough year in the jungle, that one day even one of these guys would know Jesus, because of our experience, I think the days would have been easier to bear. And I could kick myself now and say, wouldn’t it have been enough to entrust the days of my life to a good God? Can we begin to believe that God takes us through difficult situations, not to crush us, but so that we can learn to see his hand and learn to trust him when he does good work? And the work of God is good, it is always good.

And I was encouraged by the fact that there can be no harvest without seed planters. And maybe planting seeds isn’t always fun. Maybe planting seeds for you is downright uncomfortable. And you see no fruit for your labors. You might wonder why you were called to plant seeds, because you’re not even good at it. But all of a sudden you see what God is doing. And I was heartened that the seed we planted long ago in the jungle has not been wasted. Others are reaping what we sowed so long ago. So keep planting those seeds, my friend – those gospel seeds that Christ died for our sins, the ones that God said will never be wasted. Keep going when you feel like giving up. When you don’t see any fruit, when you wonder if you really know what you’re doing, keep going. It is God who will do the work on the road. And thank you for having me. God bless you friends.

It’s this week’s WORLD history book, I’m Paul Butler.


WORLD Radio transcriptions are created on very short notice. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative recording of WORLD Radio programming is the audio recording.

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