In 2002, millions followed the kidnapping of missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham. They were taken hostage by the Filipino terror group, Abu Sayyaf, and were held for more than a year before a rescue attempt resulted in Martin’s death and Gracia’s release.
On the 10-year anniversary of Martin’s death, CBN News Anchor Wendy Griffith spoke with Gracia, who is using their story to set others free.
It became one of the year’s biggest stories: missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf – a radical Muslim group known for beheading victims if ransoms were not paid on time.
The couple had been celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary at a resort in Palawan when terrorist kidnapped them and more than a dozen others.
In a military boat, along with armed Filipino soldiers, CBN News’ Griffith passed by the area of Basilan Island where the Abu Sayyaf first brought Martin and Gracia Burnham when they were kidnapped in 2001.
They had spent just over a year in these jungles, constantly on the run, never knowing where their next meal was coming from and completely dependent upon God for their daily survival.
“Yeah, we asked God for everything we needed,” Gracia recalled. “If we needed a drink of water, I asked God for a drink of water. And if we came to a stream, I drank the water. It didn’t matter that it was dirty and the guys were, you know doing stuff up river, it was water, and God provided it for us.”
“And, you know, of course, there were days God didn’t provide food for us and we had to trust Him with that day,” she added.
Griffith: Gracia, what do you remember about the day Martin was killed and you were rescued?
Gracia: “I remember that we hadn’t eaten for; we were going on our 10th day. I didn’t know you could live for 10 days without food. But we had salt, and we had water,” she explained.
“We would eat little leaves from certain plants that we had passed by, so we were weak and exhausted,” she continued.
“And I told Martin, I don’t know how much longer I can do this. I always said that to him,” she said. “And he said, ‘You know Gracia, I think we’re going to get out of here. I just don’t know when.”
About noon, on June 7, 2002, shots rang out in the jungle as the Philippine military attempted to rescue Martin and Gracia from their yearlong captivity.
“I was immediately shot in the leg before we could even get to the ground, and I kind of slid down the hill and came to rest beside Martin and he was bleeding from his chest,” Gracia recalled.
“And Martin just laid there breathing heavily, almost snoring,” she continued. “And suddenly he got heavy, you know that term, the weight of death. But I wasn’t sure. I hadn’t watched anyone die before.”
“I kind of started to move my hands around a little bit so they would know I was still alive. I didn’t want to startle them and they shoot me,” she said. “And they saw I was alive and came and started dragging me up the hill. And I looked back at Martin and he was white. And that’s when I knew he was dead.”
“And they kind of bandaged me up at the top of the hill and called a helicopter and it came and lifted me right out of there,” she said with tears.
Griffith: Ten years later and it’s still so emotional for you…
Gracia: “Yeah, well we’d been, we’d been begging God to let one of us come home and raise our kids,” Gracia said. “And, isn’t it funny that the one God chose was the weak one?
“You know, don’t you think he would’ve chosen the strong one to come home and tell the story and travel and speak like I do?” she asked. “But God often uses weak things.”