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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

View From The Fence

Thursday, June 13, 2002

As I awakened Friday morning and turned on the news I was greeted with bittersweet news. Gracia Burnham had been rescued, but Martin Burnham was killed in the battle that ensued during the rescue.The Burnhams were missionaries in the Philippines when they were taken captive May 27, 2001, by the Abu Sayyaf, a group reported to have ties with Osama bin Laden.During the Burnhams' captivity I have been in contact with Gracia's parents, Norvin and Betty Jones of Cherokee Village. A nicer and more devoted couple I have never met. Throughout the ordeal the Joneses have continued to display their faith in God and have been gracious to me as a member of the media.Every person I have spoken to during the Burnhams' captivity has told me what a wonderful couple they were, and how devoted they were to their cause of preaching the gospel in countries less fortunate than ours.The Joneses never once criticized the US government and its involvement in the Philippines to me. Even when New Tribe Mission, the missionary group the Burnhams worked for, expressed displeasure with our government, the Joneses continued to tell me how good everyone had been to them. Even when unconfirmed sources reported Gracia dead the Joneses continued to ask for only one thing -- the continued prayers for the safe return of their daughter and son-in-law. Their faith inspired me.The Burnhams have three children, ages 15, 12 and 11 -- very close to the ages of my own children. As a mother my heart goes out to the children. For one year and 13 days they have awaited news of the fate of their parents. Friday, in the early morning hours, the call finally came that they had both eagerly awaited and dreaded. Their father was dead but their mother had survived. God had answered at least part of their prayers. In His own infinite wisdom He had spared Gracia to return home to her parents and her children. I've followed this story so closely that I have felt a personal connection to the Joneses. When I heard the news chills raced down my spine. The Joneses have continually asked me to express their gratitude to the residents in Cherokee Village and the surrounding area for their care and concern during the last year. I think this is a true example of what a wonderful area we live in. Neighbors caring about one another is the norm, not the exception.Gracia has spent over a year in captivity deep in the jungle of the Philippines. One can only imagine the horrors she must have experienced.She was shot during the rescue and has undergone surgery for injuries. She will return to the United States this week alive but broken, her helpmate in life gone to her forever. The Burnhams' children were vacationing with the Joneses in Arkansas when the news of their parents arrived. The Joneses traveled to Kansas with the children Friday where they were able to speak to Gracia on the telephone for the first time in over a year. I spoke with Betty Jones Sunday evening. They had returned from Kansas and were gathering belongings to travel back to Kansas for Gracia's homecoming and Martin's funeral this week. Mrs. Jones was her normal gracious self. In a time when she must have had so much on her mind she agreed to visit with me. Each time I speak with her I am newly amazed at her strength and kindness. She spoke calmly to me and relayed details of the last hours and minutes of Martin and Gracia's captivity. She also told me about the last nine days. The Burnhams had nothing to eat but a little uncooked rice as they spent nine days walking through the jungle. It certainly made me think about the good dinner I had just finished eating. There is so much we take for granted.As she told me about Gracia's recount of the last minutes of Martin's life I thanked God for my husband and healthy children. It was all I could do to withhold tears as she told me about Gracia sitting with her husband as he died. Please continue to pray for Gracia's safe return. Her journey is not yet complete. Her road to recovery may be both physically and mentally challenging.