Life lessons learned in jungle

Published 3:39 pm Monday, March 22, 2010

Wispy fog veiled mountains amid drizzle as I drove Valleydale Road to Southeastern Bible College on Feb. 22.

My destination was a mission conference, going to hear Gracia Burnham speak. Martin and Gracia Burnham were aviation missionaries for 17 years.

While celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary at a resort, they were kidnapped, taken into a Philippine jungle by Muslim group Abu Sayyaf for 376 days.

She lived through 16 gun battles. Martin died in the last. She was injured.

Burnham’s haunting face was on news channels during 2001-2002.

She kneeled on muddy jungle floor, her gaunt countenance shrouded in scarf. Guerrillas held M-16s.

I watched, wondering, “How will she endure?”

At SEBC guests and students gathered, some future missionaries. A band took the stage, and a voice sang, “The world is broken, may your love go throughout the world, bring the very touch of God…”

Burnham told her story, through tears, of a violent ordeal and lessons learned.

“We were waist deep in swamps, slept on the ground, went without food,” she said, telling of flights through the steamy, steep jungle.

“We endured by quoting scripture like, ‘If God be for us, who can be against us.’ Our prayers for release seemed not heard. I learned this: believe in what is true, not what you feel. Sometimes God calms a storm, but other times He just calms you within a storm. God got our attention, and transformed us. My praying changed to, ‘God, you know we need to be freed’ and then I asked Him for a hamburger,” Burnham said.

Someone tried to ransom them. Instead of being freed, they were taken to a nearby island, and bought hamburgers, fries and Cokes.

“That was when my prayers changed to, ‘God, you have something to teach us here, so show me,’” said Burnham. “I learned to love my enemies.

“We seek God during problems, and are changed when we find Him. Isn’t it enough to trust God with the days of our lives? When you feel like giving up, don’t,” she said.

Martin’s last words, from Psalms 100, “Serve the Lord with gladness.” Speaking this, he was shot.

A bullet struck Gracia Burnham’s leg. She was dragged down a slope to her husband’s side, feeling him slacken in death.

Burnham has two books: “In the Presence of My Enemies,” and “To Fly Again.”

Her Web site is

Gladys Hodge Sherrer can be reached by e–mail at