Martin Ray Burnham

1959 – 2002

“If I have to go, I want to go out strong for the Lord.” Those were some of 42-year-old Martin Burnham’s last words before he was killed.

Martin and Gracia Burnham, New Tribes missionaries, were kidnapped last year by a Muslim extremist group called Abu Sayyaf while celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary at a beach resort in western Palawan Province, Philippines. During their time in captivity, Martin was a source of strength for all the hostages. Gracia said, “He was a good man and died well.”

Days before his death, Martin was prompted to write a goodbye letter to his three children— Jeffrey, 15; Melinda, 12; and Zachary, 11. The letter, which Martin gave to Gracia, was lost in the firefight between the Philippine Army and Abu Sayyaf rebels that killed Martin and Filipino nurse Ediborah Yap but was later discovered by troops who went back to look for it.

According to a July 8 report from the Maranatha Christian Journal, friends and former hostages remarked that Martin gave his life for Christ and his mission to help others. They mentioned that although Martin and Gracia appeared frail and frightened in taped interviews, the couple was steadfast in their faith. Francis Ganzon, a Filipino who was released by the guerrillas two weeks after she was captured with the Burnhams, said that when other hostages were praying to be released, Martin was praying, “Thank you, Lord.”

Former hostages also said that Martin led the group in singing inspirational songs. He kept his faith despite tremendous difficulties. The captors had Martin carry bags of rice in the rain. Wearing severely worn shoes, he would slip often. “He fell down many times but never complained,” said Oreta Burnham, Martin’s mother, who with her husband, Paul, have served in the Philippines since 1969.

Although reports have concluded that Martin was killed by a bullet in the crossfire between the Philippine Army and Abu Sayyaf rebels, a June 24 report from the Gulf News online edition states that “Abu Sayyaf leader Abu Sabaya had ordered his subordinates to kill American missionary Martin Burnham if the Philippines soldiers came too close.” Adzmar Aluk, one of the arrested Abu Sayyaf members, revealed this during a taped military interrogation. Aluk said: “Sabaya ordered Martin’s killing. He told my companions, guarding Martin, to shoot and kill him if the soldiers come near us. It was Ibno (Abu Lukman) who executed the hostage.”

On Friday, June 14th, hundreds turned out to celebrate the life of Martin Burham at a Wichita, Kansas church. Letters from relatives were read by Martin’s uncle, Rev. Galen Hinshaw. Martin’s daughter Mindy wrote, “My dad was the most generous person I have ever known.”

Living one’s life to share the gospel at all costs is a generosity that the Burnhams know well. It’s the ultimate gift that we, as members of Christ’s Body, can also give as we ask the Lord to open doors to share His love with others, even those who may not receive it with kindness.

Continue to pray for the Burnhams. Pray for strength and encouragement as they face their loss and the Lord’s gain. Praise God for the strong witness of Martin and Gracia to their captors and fellow hostages. Pray God will use their testimony to lead others to Christ, even their kidnappers—members of Abu Sayyaf.

With permission from Job Anbalagan

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