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Learning to Forgive

The Philippines

Eighteen years ago this Sunday, missionary pilot Martin Burnham died in a gun battle. The battle was between men who had kidnapped him, and soldiers who were trying to rescue him, his wife, Gracia, and other hostages.

Read the following story about the Burnhams from the Kids of Courage archives.

Gracia Burnham was angry. A gang of violent Muslims had kidnapped her. Gracia did not even like to go camping. But the group forced Gracia and her husband Martin to live with them in the jungle. The jungle had no beds, bathrooms, stores, or air conditioning.

Gracia and Martin were missionaries in the Philippines. Before the men kidnapped them, Gracia homeschooled their three kids: Mindy, Zach, and Jeff. Martin, a pilot, flew mail and supplies to other missionaries in hard-to-reach places.

The men who kidnapped the Burnhams belonged to a group that wanted Muslims to have more power in the Philippines. They had the mistaken idea that they could get power by hurting innocent people. The kidnappers took Martin, Gracia, and other innocent people into the jungle. Friends and relatives took care of Mindy, Zach, and Jeff.

Rude Treatment
The kidnappers often behaved rudely to the Burnhams. At Christmastime, they made fun of Martin and Gracia because they would not be at home with their families on Christmas. They kept Martin on a chain like a dog. Martin and Gracia got very little food, even when the kidnappers had a lot to eat.

Gracia felt so angry that she wished bad things would happen to the kidnappers. She told Martin that she wished the men would suffer forever.

Martin was very wise. He reminded her that God does not want us to wish for our enemies to suffer. Gracia remembered that the Bible says, “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14–15, NIV).

When Gracia forgave her kidnappers, her anger went away. But it was not easy to forgive. From day to day, their captors forced them to endure new burdens. Gracia had to forgive again and again. After a while, she found it easier to not get as angry when she was mistreated.

About a year after the Burnhams were kidnapped, their struggle ended. Sadly, Martin died in a battle between soldiers from the Philippine military and the kidnappers.

Gracia was shot in the leg, but she was able to get away from the kidnappers and out of the jungle. She joined her children in the United States. Now she teaches others the lessons she learned in the jungle about forgiveness.

Sources include: To Fly Again by Gracia Burnham with Dean Merrill (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2005).