“People in today’s world … will not pay attention to Christians because we can explain our theology in crystal-clear terms. They will not esteem us because we give to charity or maintain a positive outlook on life. What will impress them is genuine love in our hearts.”
Gracia Burnham, In the Presence of My Enemies
In the middle of the night, May 27, 2001, Gracia and her husband Martin were kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group while vacationing in the southern Philippines. Having served as missionaries for 15 years, they thought that this sudden abduction would be over in a matter of days, or even weeks. But as the leaders of the group continued to run farther and farther away from help, Gracia began to wonder if they would ever get out of there. And occasionally, she found herself frustrated and begging God.
An Unexpected Calling
Gracia and Martin hadn’t intended to go into ministry; she was the daughter of a pastor, and Martin was a missionary kid from the Philippines. However, God worked through the details and opened the doors for them.
Growing up, Gracia’s family moved quite often, but in all of the moving and traveling, she found books on Amy Carmichael and Mary Slessor. Reading about their lives as they served God was inspirational for her, but she never thought that she herself would become a missionary.
When she met Martin Burnham at Bible College, he was an aviation pilot who had grown up in the Philippines. His passion for flying, his love for Jesus and his optimistic attitude drew many people to him, including Gracia. They married and entered the field of missions not long after.
They had prepared for circumstances such as kidnapping, but when it actually happened to them, it seemed so unreal at first. When the shock wore off, amidst the fighting and shooting and running, Gracia realized that anything could happen.
Love Your Enemies
In the situation Martin and Gracia found themselves, she became frustrated, tired and occasionally bitter. It can be hard to love people, especially if they get on your nerves or treat you terribly. Gracia had a hard time loving her captors and struggled to trust that God would rescue Martin and herself.
I wonder: if I had been in that situation, how would I have reacted? I probably wouldn’t have been very loving; most likely I would have been angry, miserable, frightened and not very trusting.
However, despite all this, Gracia began to reach out to the people around her, including the other captives and the kidnappers. She shared about Jesus, she sang all the hymns she knew and she prayed.
God gave her a mission in the darkest time imaginable. Though she might not have exactly loved the Abu Sayyaf members, she began to get to know them better.
A Legacy of Love
After surviving an attack and being injured by a bullet, Gracia was reunited with her family. However, Martin went home to be with the Lord during the attack. They had been held captive for just over a year.
Gracia Burnham lived through a difficult and trying circumstance, and now shares her story with others. You can read more about the Burnham’s story in Gracia’s book, In the Presence of My Enemies. (It’s available on Amazon at this link.)
I remember meeting her after she shared her story a few years ago. She was so intentional when we met her, she gave hugs and chatted with us. (She even signed my quiz book!) Her smile and her story made me realize that I could be doing more.
More often than not I feel miserable and grumpy, especially with all the lockdown protocols and lack of freedom to go out and ‘do’ life. But when I am in a foul mood, I’m not doing a very good job of sharing Christ’s love.
I could be doing more. I can smile when I pass someone. I can say hello. I can be cheerful, even though I’d rather scowl and complain. I can change my attitude and extend grace. I can ask God to help me love others, especially when I don’t feel like it or feel like the other person doesn’t deserve it.
Jesus gave His life for me because He loves me; and now I can share Christ’s love for those around me.
“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35).”
Just like the quote from her book, what will impress people is the genuine love we have for them. How are you showing genuine love?
Written by Abbi Befus