VIDEO: Missionary free from captivity, resentment


The Washburn Student Government Association and Christian Challenge sponsored an event Feb. 1 at White Concert Hall with an address given by Gracia Burnham. Burnham gave a compelling and inspirational speech about her experience in captivity in the Philippine jungle that began in 2001 and lasted for more than a year.

Burnham and her husband, Martin, had served as missionaries in the Philippines for 17 years while raising three children. They were celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary at a resort when they were kidnapped by a terrorist militant group of Muslims, the Abu Sayyaf.

During their ordeal, they were marched through jungles, slept on the ground with only the clothes on their backs or old dirty rice sacks. They suffered from exhaustion, illness and had little to eat. They saw some of their fellow hostages set free and others murdered.

“As the days grew on and on, as we got hungrier and dirtier, as we suffered from lack of sleep because we could not get comfortable on the jungle floor, as we got dysentery and diarrhea, when there was no place to take a bath and no clean clothes to change into, I started feeling more like an animal than a human being,” said Burnham.

In the end, during a skirmish between the Philippine military and the Abu Sayyaf, Burnham was wounded and her husband was killed.

Since that time, Burnham has written two books and traveled around the country and other parts of the world telling her story.

“[My husband] always knew what to say,” said Burnham. “I didn’t know what sort of man I was married to. I knew he was a neat Christian guy, but I never understood, before our captivity, his Christ-likeness, his thinking through things in a godly way.”

Burnham also spoke about how her relationship with her captors changed over time.

“I thought we were the good guys and the Abu Sayyaf were the bad guys at the beginning,” said Burnham. “It’s hard to forgive when you think you’re the good guy. When (we) finally realize we’re all the same, we can start to forgive others.”

Burnham gave an update on some of her captors, who are now being held in a maximum security prison in Manila.

“The Martin and Gracia Burnham Foundation are working with them, doing projects like fixing the roof of their barracks to show them love,” said Burnham.

Burnham said her former captors send her letters and that her latest letter from a captor asked her to raise his two children.

However, Burnham’s captors have not officially apologized.

“I don’t know that he’d say he was sorry,” said Burnham.  “He’s sorry he’s in jail. I’m not sure he’s sorry about his Jihad, but he wants more for his children.”

The story about the Burnhams made headlines in the United States after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Burnham has been interviewed on several television programs since her return and continues to make appearances to spread the word of her story. She has written two books: “In the Presence of My Enemies” and “To Fly Again.” Both books are available at the Washburn University Bookstore.