In May of 2001, just a few months before the September 11th attacks, two Christian missionaries were taken captive by a militant group of Muslims called the Abu Sayyaf Group in a remote island in the Philippines.
For the 13 months they were held captive, their friends and families were on their knees praying for a safe return home, including one of their former professors, Dr. Hubert Hartzler, now Superintendent of Timothy Christian School.
“When I heard the broadcast that morning that Martin and Gracia Burnham had been kidnapped, my heart went to my feet.”
Dr. Hartzler first met Gracia in 1978. She was one of his students at Calvary Bible College in Kansas City. He also helped recruit Martin to that school. He was there when they first started dating, helped officiate their wedding along with Gracia’s dad and shared in many other life joys. Dr. Hartzler and his wife, Belinda, had quickly made the Burnhams part of their family.
Those memories all came to mind as Dr. Hartzler, now saw two people he loved dearly, making news headlines because of this unthinkable event. Their capture became even more of a focus after the September 11th attacks.
“We had everyone we knew praying for them.”
During their 13 months in captivity in the jungle, the Burnhams worshipped the Lord every day. Martin witnessed to his captors, even the head of this militant group; Abu Sabaya.
“Martin explained the plan of salvation to him very clearly. He looked at this as a missionary experience, telling his captor, ‘You will have to answer to God when this is done.’ He said, ‘I have to face God for my sins too, but Jesus Christ is my advocate.’ Martin wasn’t worried about dying,” says Hartzler.
Toward the end of their captivity, Gracia and Martin had been running for 8 days with their captors. They had endured 17 gun battles between the Philippine military and the group they were with, however it was during this last battle that Martin was killed when a stray bullet hit him. Gracia was injured, but survived.
Dr. and Mrs. Hartzler saw Gracia for the first time at Martin’s funeral. It was a joy for them to see her, spend some time, and offer comfort.
Gracia has spent the last 16 years sharing this experience. In her New York Times best-selling book: In the Presence of My Enemies, Gracia shares her and Martin’s story.
She will share her emotional and inspiring journey with the TCS community on April, 21, 2017 at our annual Spring Banquet. Dr. Hartzler believes her message ties into our mission at TCS: “…to equip our students to live productive God-glorifying lives,” enabling and empowering them to live for Christ as they move on in life and preparing them to meet all challenges intelligently and with Christ-like character.
“Education is preparation for life. A Christian education has to prepare one for the culture in which we are going to live. Right now, we live in a culture that has been compromised, from a Christian perspective. In America we have been infiltrated by many people whose exact purpose is to do us harm. We must know who to live for and how to stand strong ‘in the presence of our enemies,’ as Martin and Gracia did. We must live for the Lord when the going gets tough.”
Gracia’s message is even more important in today’s world. Over 260 million Christians around the world live in threat of being killed because they are Christians. Kidnappings, beheadings, persecution and torture are common place. Isis exists in all 50 states and terrorism is not foreign to any of us.
Yet Gracia’s story shows that God gives victory to those who are His, no matter what.
We invite you to come hear Gracia’s inspiring message as someone who, in the presence of her enemies and in the face of death, lived a God-fearing, God-honoring life and was a testimony to the very people who killed her husband. Several of the Burnham’s captors have since given their life to Christ as a result of missionaries whom Gracia helped send back to the Philippines.
You can watch Gracia describe her story here. We are excited to welcome her and to hear more about her journey in April.
Tickets are now on sale on Eventbrite.