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Missionary held by Phillippine terrorists held to faith despite all

Husband killed in crossfire as attack frees them, but wife Gracia still “trusts in God”

Is there a parallel in science?

One of the remarkable things about religious faith is how it flies in the face of reason, and survives even the most obvious evidence that it is misplaced.

Take the long segment on Dateline NBC tonight about the missionary couple who were taken hostage in 2001 by the Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group in the Philippines, after 17 years of taking the word of the Lord to the natives of the area.

Gracia Burnham is a very pretty, blue eyed blonde woman on camera today, but when a Philippino news reporter visited her after many months of a monotonous captivity where raw grains of rice were all they had sometimes to stave off starvation, she and her husband looked decidedly the worse for wear.

Other hostages were killed and some freed, but the Burnhams were held to the end, which came after a year when the Philippine army attacked and freed Gracia, unfortunately killing her husband in the process.

This long extended suffering and personal tragedy has not dented Gracia’s missionary faith in her God and His care for her, however, even though it would seem to argue that, however caring, her God is unwilling or unable to prevent catastrophe, in the form of losing her husband at the last minute after all they endured together.

Evidently her need for a fantasy of a supernatural power willing and able to intervene on her behalf and rescue her from difficulties trumps the most searing evidence that the protection won’t be forthcoming when most needed.

In this she is thoroughly supported by others with a similar philsophy:

Our church supports New Tribes Missions, and we have been praying mightily this past year that the Lord would have His way with Martin and Gracia Burnham during this entire ordeal. While we wanted both of them to be delivered safely, we knew that, just maybe, the Lord might have a different plan, one that might glorify Him more.

We now know that Jesus allowed Martin to be killed, and Gracia spared. He must have wanted Martin’s martyrdom death to reverberate throughout the world, preparing the hearts and minds of people around the globe to receive the word from Gracia; from what Gracia has shared, and a comparison of Before/After photos, we can tell that this year’s imprisonment was not easy; however, we are about to learn that the Burnham’s captivity did bring great glory and honor to Jesus Christ.

The same phenomenon is seen in the hearts and minds of countless millions across the globe who typically maintain the same religious faith in the face of untoward disaster, even one as shocking as inadvertently running over their own infant while backing up, which has happened at least twice in the US in recent days, according to the NBC news that followed Dateline tonight.

There is nothing new in religious cognitive dissonance, of course, or the means by which those who encounter it manage to ignore it. The problem of innocence undeservedly meeting horrendous evil has been with us since St Aquinas, who was only one of the religious apologists to make an unsuccessful attempt to reconcile it with the existence of a humanity-loving, all powerful Deity.

Modern philosophers with a ruthless taste for reason and reality such as Simon Blackburn, the Oxford philosopher and author of The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, rule the problem insoluble and thus, as Blackburn demonstrates in his powerful little book Think, one that forces us to abandon belief in a God who is at once omnipotent and the active protector of humanity.

In other words, any religious belief in a powerful God to whom we can pray to protect us and expect results does not meet reasonable standards of argument, reason and evidence. So how is it that this fundamental belief is held onto by those who suffer such awful setbacks through no fault of their own, indeed when they are fully paid up members of a church who faithfully attend services every Sunday, let alone missionaries?

The answer is given by the modern brain scientist, who explains that the left frontal cortex, when confronted by evidence which contradicts a favored, fundamental belief, will simply revise the data input to conform to it, or ignore it. The belief in God as a protector is maintained by simply being unable to accept the alternative, or even consider it.

We point to this phenomenon of how easily religious belief triumphs over the most irrefutable evidence to the contrary, in order to challenge all critics of HIV?AIDS to answer this question:

How does this kind of thought-resistant religiosity differ in the slightest from the twenty year adherence of believers in HIV to their favored dogma in the face of similar overwhelming evidence against the belief?

We suggest that there is an exact equivalence, as follows:

Science – Religion

Theory – Dogma

Conference Hall – Church

HIV – The Devil

David Ho – Son of God

AZT, ddI, Protease Inhibitors, Nevirapine – Holy Water

David Baltimore – Pope

Anthony Fauci – Bishop

Robert Gallo – High Priest

NIH Granting Process – Inquisition

Activists – Missionaries

Patients – Penitents

Taxpayer support – Vatican holdings and collections

Paradigm critics – Heretics

Canceled funding – The stake

Evidence overwhelmingly against – Evidence overwhelmingly against.

All objections converted to supporting evidence – All objections converted to supporting evidence.

We cannot discern any difference at all between the two paradigms in nature or shape. However, we have no doubt those cleverer than us will be able to find some difference, however small.

After quietly serving God as missionaries in the Philippines for 17 years, a sudden turn of events catapulted Martin and Gracia Burnham into world news. In 2001, a terrorist group known as the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped the Burnhams along with several other people. In the ensuing months some of the hostages were killed and others freed. By November 2001, only the Burnhams and one other hostage remained in captivity.

For 376 days Martin and Gracia experienced frequent gun battles, near starvation, and constant exhaustion. They also experienced God’s sustaining grace.

On June 7, 2002, Gracia was wounded, but set free through a firefight between the Philippine military and the Burnham’s captors. But in the same gun battle, Martin was killed.

The world expected Gracia to be emotionally destroyed by all she suffered. Instead, she chose to trust God and forgive those who took her captive and caused the death of her husband. God has used her testimony to give hope and encouragement to many experiencing life’s difficulties.

Gracia now lives in Rose Hill, Kansas, raising her children and serving as a representative of New Tribes Mission.

An able communicator, Gracia’s passion for missions shines through each time she talks about her experiences. As a popular speaker, Gracia’s schedule is usually full a year in advance.




Resources to aid your Understanding

In The Presence of My Enemies – Saga of Missionary Gracia Burnham: Book – CDROM – Audio Cassette

Subtitle: “Fear not .. I will strengthen you and harden you to difficulties …” (Isaiah 41:10) Missionary Mark Burnham lived this wonderful truth in the year he was captured. He strongly witnessed the truth of the Gospel to his Muslim captors. May we all face the coming terror with this kind of Holy Spirit power!

The New World Order is coming! Are you ready? Once you understand what this New World Order really is, and how it is being gradually implemented, you will be able to see it progressing in your daily news!!

Learn how to protect yourself, your loved ones!

Stand by for insights so startling you will never look at the news the same way again.


NEWS BRIEF: “Manila Says US Forces Planned Botched Rescue Mission”, Straits Times, June 10, 2002.

“MANILA – There appears to be a dispute over the United States’ role in the botched rescue operation of hostages, with Manila insisting that the US had prior knowledge. However, Washington has maintained that it first learned of the operation after it was informed of the death of an American missionary. Philippines Defence Secretary Angelo Reyes said that US forces helped plan the operation in the southern Philippines that ended in the death of the missionary and a Filipina captive …

“Christian missionary Martin Burnham, 42, and Filipino nurse Ediborah Yap were slain, while Burnham’s wife, Gracia, 43, was wounded in the leg but rescued. A Filipino farm hand the rebels used as a guide and porter was also rescued. The operation ended a 376-day hostage drama that drew 1,000 US military advisers and engineers to the separatist-plagued south for a six-month campaign to help local troops stamp out the Abu Sayyaf guerilla group, described as a local ally of the Al-Qaeda terror network. ‘The fighting was done by Filipino soldiers, but in the conduct of the rescue and recovery mission the Americans actively participated,’ Mr Reyes told reporters.”

Our church supports New Tribes Missions, and we have been praying mightily this past year that the Lord would have His way with Martin and Gracia Burnham during this entire ordeal. While we wanted both of them to be delivered safely, we knew that, just maybe, the Lord might have a different plan, one that might glorify Him more.

We now know that Jesus allowed Martin to be killed, and Gracia spared. He must have wanted Martin’s martyrdom death to reverberate throughout the world, preparing the hearts and minds of people around the globe to receive the word from Gracia; from what Gracia has shared, and a comparison of Before/After photos, we can tell that this year’s imprisonment was not easy; however, we are about to learn that the Burnham’s captivity did bring great glory and honor to Jesus Christ.

As we all realize, the time may be quickly approaching where each of us might be called upon to endure a Burnham-type imprisonment and even martyrdom; therefore, let us bow and heads in prayer, asking the Lord to impart to our hearts and minds the kind of steadfastness Martin exemplified as an example to us.

Email Update on Gracie Burnham, from other Philippine Missionaries, also with New Tribes, June 10, 2002.

Philippians 1:10-14

“So that you may surely learn to sense what is vital, and approve and prize what is excellent and of real value, recognizing the highest and the best, distinguishing the moral differences, that you may be pure and unerring and blameless so that with hearts sincere and certain, and unsullied, you may approach the day of Christ not stumbling nor causing others to stumble.

“May you abound in and be filled with the fruits of righteousness, of right standing with God and right doing which come through Jesus Christ, to the honor and praise of God, that His glory may be both manifested and recognized.

“Now I want you to know and continue to rest assured, brethren, that what has happened to me, this imprisonment, has actually only served to advance and give a renewed impetus to the spreading of the good news, the Gospel. So much is this a fact that throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest here, my imprisonment has become generally known to be in Christ, that I am a prisoner in His service and for Him.

“And also most of the brethren have derived a fresh confidence in the Lord because of my chains and are much more bold to speak and publish fearlessly the Word of God, acting with more freedom and indifference to the consequences.” [Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary].

Did the imprisonment of Martin and Gracia Burnham by radical Muslim terrorists have this kind of effect on the rest of the Christians in the Philippines and around the world? Many of us have been praying that it would have this kind of effect, so let us now examine this email to see exactly what kind of prisoner Martin was, and whether he was faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ in his imprisonment and his death. We know that the Apostle Paul shared the Gospel with the Roman guards to whom he was chained, and that testimony convicted many, so that many Roman soldiers received Jesus Christ as Savior.

Now, here is the testimony of this email:

“On Friday God answered our prayers of one year. That Martin and Gracia Burnham would accomplish His purpose for their lives in captivity and that they would be released from the evil hands of the ASG, but on different travel schedules to their true home in heaven. Martin is now free, both in body and spirit, and has gone into the presence of the Lover and Savior of his soul. And Gracia is now free, to return to her children, family, friends, and coworkers.

“By God’s amazing grace, Gracia is recovering well from her gun shot wound in her right thigh. She is also doing incredibly well spiritually and emotionally. She shared a little about how God worked miraculously in and through their lives in this last year. She said that: ‘Martin was highly respected by every one of the ASG. In the beginning, they laughed in disbelief at how he responded to being a captive and of their terror, but as time went on, they were awed at his confident faith in the Lord Jesus.

Martin always graciously offered to carry things for the ASG and for the other hostages.

Martin was chained to a tree at night by an ASG guard. Every night for the whole year, Martin would thank the guard who chained him and wished him a good night.

Martin showed the love and compassion of Christ throughout this year of terror, to both his captors and the other hostages.

Martin had lengthy discussions about the claims of Christ will all the ASG guards and hostages. On one occasion he was having a very serious talk with Abu Sabaya about God’s judgment on sin and that one day God would judge his sin. Gracia said she was in the background motioning to Martin to ‘cook it’ but Martin very gently continued sharing the truth of Christ with Sabaya.”

God graciously sustained them throughout this difficult trial. One day, they were very, very tired from hiking all day. The strung up their hammock, sat in it, and began to talk together. Martin said, ‘It’s been a very hard year, but it has also been a very good year’. They began to thank the Lord for everything they could think of. Gracia said, ‘We thanked the Lord for our hammock, our boots (Deborah walked barefooted for the last two months), etc’. They thanked God for every believer that they had ever met, that they could remember. God encouraged their hearts with the thought that person, couple, family, or church was probably praying for them.

The Lord brought Psalm 100:2 to Martin’s mind, which reads, “Serve the Lord with gladness: come before His presence with singing”. The other hostages said that Martin and Gracia sang often.

Martin said, ‘We might not leave this jungle alive, but at least we can leave this world serving the Lord with GLADNESS. We can serve Him right here where we are, and with GLADNESS.”

The last thing that they did before Martin’s death was to pray together, thank God for His faithfulness and then laid down for a nap. They were awakened by a fire fight between the ASG and the Philippine Scout Rangers, and Martin was ushered into the presence of His loving Lord.”

[End of Gracia’s testimony]

“Martin and Gracia’s obedience and perseverance to the Lord’s great commission through this fiery testing of their faith has captured the attention of the world. We thank God for their testimony and anticipate much fruit through their story. The horrendous ordeal is over, but there are many new challenges that face Gracia, Jeff, Mindy, Zach and the rest of their extended family. We want to express our thanks for your faithful prayers for Martin and Gracia and their family. Please continue to pray for God’s purpose to be fulfilled in and through Gracia’s life. And, pray that thousands will hear of the wonderful love of Christ, and experience His saving grace through Gracia’s testimony of God’s faithfulness.”

3 Responses to “Missionary held by Phillippine terrorists held to faith despite all”

  1. McKiernan Says:

    How is it the skeptic always needs to re-kill Jesus again, so that religion may die yet another death ? Perhaps Memorial Day, is the proper day, that truthseekers need to reflect on those who have given their lives protecting such liberties as free speech.

    “Psychological truths may be stated for academic purposes in scientific language, but the effective recognition of emotional strivings in practice may require a different approach. Therefore, we prefer playing the game ‘Ain’t It Awful’ to the game ‘verbalizing projected anal aggression’. The former not only has a more dynamic meaning and impact, but it is actually more precise.” (Eric Berne)

    Gabrielle and the NIGYSOB Game

    Personally, I prefer [01] over [02].

  2. Truthseeker Says:

    Are we killing Jesus, McK, or the Church and its priests? Seems to us that Jesus was a guru of exceptional wisdom, about 2000 years ahead of his time. But the Church? What has it done in terms of ideology but confuse his message and exploit it? Perhaps in our list the Drug companies should have been equated with the Denominations.

    Either way, it is interesting to see you react to a post deploring blind faith as a substitute for reality. Are you then a deacon in the Church of HIV, advocating blind faith in medicine as well as in spiritual matters?

    Some people such as the infinitely reasonable Sam Harris (‘End of Faith’) blame internecine strife of the religious kind on dogma, and say it should be done way with. Then we could all believe in some undefined supernatural force which wouldn’t and couldn’t be blamed for things that go wrong in life.

    Or alternatively, we could simply rejoice in life itself, and act to make it the best it can be. Would we lose anything real if we did that? Perhaps we would gain the world in exchange for a fantasy.

    Do we really need that fantasy to justify a moral code? To make “sense of our lives”? Those are the only two things we need to rescue from religious belief, according to Columbia’s philosopher of science, Philip Kitcher, who is a ruthless analyst.

    We question whether either is true. Why can’t we draw both sense and morality from our real experience?

  3. McKiernan Says:

    Hey, that Philip Kitcher fellow is some bright guy. And, his wife is a Kant scholar as well. McK is a mere nothing on those levels.

    So, what can one say.

    “With the scientific revolution in full force, Kant saw what was coming and was actually trying to rescue the realm of religion from the predations of a cognitively greedy scientific rationalism. Since the ego ultimately has access only to its own phenomena, this left the infinitely greater reality of the noumena untouched, unknown and unknowable.”

    “This is precisely where Kant erred, because in saying that the noumena was unknowable, he essentially reduced religion to a mere sentimental fideism. It would simply be a matter of time before it became wholly irrelevant to “sophisticated” moderns.”

    Then, the question arose, is the comparison to ‘blind’ faith valid and the same with respect to a church of hiv. McK says not possible.

    “Again, either religion embodies real knowledge that surpasses our egoic understanding, or it is simply an absurdity that is defiantly embraced in the teeth of reason and logic ? But if it does embody real knowledge, what kind of knowledge is it? Is it mere information, occupying the same horizontal plane as factual scientific information ?”

    Now I’m not selling anything but here is a mindblower on the dusty road to omniscience::

    “In the perspective of gnosis, Christ, “Light of the world,” is the Universal Intellect, as the Word is the “Wisdom of the Father.” Christ is the Intellect of microcosms as well as that of the macrocosm. He is then the Intellect in us as well as the Intellect in the Universe and a fortiori in God; in this sense, it can be said that there is no truth nor wisdom that does not come from Christ, and this is evidently independent of all consideration of time and place.”

    Frithjof Schuon

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