In The Presence of my Enemies by Gracia Burnham
Many of us probably don’t remember a lot that happened in 2011, besides the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, but more did happen that year. In that same year, Muslim extremists also kidnapped a large group of people from a resort in the Philippines. In that group was a married missionary couple, Martin and Gracia Burnham.
The Burnhams had lived in the Philipines for many years serving as missionaries. Martin was a pilot who would fly supplies and people from mission to mission and Gracia raised their children and manned the communications to Martin while he was in flight. They had decided to go on a trip for their honeymoon to a resort, but the resort did not end up being a relaxing get away that the Burnhams had planned.
They were rounded up from sleep and held at gunpoint. Martin didn’t even have a shirt. They were put on a boat, then another boat. They finally made it to land, but were marched, mercilessly, and fed little. They would move locations very frequently. Illness was a common thing for the Burnhams. The captors, who identified with a Muslim extremist group, wanted ransom from all their captives. They went down the list of captives asking who could come up with what money. When the Burnhams told their captors they were American missionaries, who were rather poor, the captors told them that they would be last. They would be political prisoners.
The months went on and on. Some people were ransomed, but not Gracia and Martin. They were fed poorly. Martin was without his glasses and often saw everything blurry. Fellow captives were beheaded, some of the girls were taken as mistresses to the captors.
Over a year after the Burnhams were kidnapped, one other woman and the couple remained. Ultimately, Gracia got out alive, but without her beloved Martin.
What I liked
Gracia’s story is harrowing. I cannot imagine being taken captive like that and then having to live like an animal for over a year. They were treated poorly and their captors believed what they did was right according to Islam. It just goes to show you that not everyone interprets religion correctly.
Gracia is much stronger in the situation than I would have been, I think. I’m stubborn, but I don’t know if I would have made it out alive. It’s so silly that someone would take another person.
What I didn’t like
I tried to find out more information about what happened to Gracia afterwards. I know she does some speaking events and there is a mission set up in honor of Gracia and her husband, Martin, but I don’t know a lot more than that. I really wanted to know how Gracia fared after all of this. The book seems to end rather abruptly. In biographies and memoirs, I like to have a little bit of a follow-up.
Gracia is certainly an admirable woman.
Would you have survived being captive for over a year in the jungle?
What do you think about groups who interpret religion to the detriment of anyone who isn’t as “devout” as they are?