Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28
The morning after she was rescued from the Abu Sayyaf terrorists, who had kept her captive for over a year, Gracia Burnham turned to a favorite passage in the Bible—2 Corinthians 4, beginning with Paul’s words, “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” The word which Paul used, translated “to lose heart,” is found only three times in the New Testament. It means “to give up hope” or “to be discouraged.” It was used in an ancient manuscript dating back to the first century, of a woman in childbirth who was having an exceedingly difficult delivery. When the baby would not come, she would push harder and harder until her energy and strength were gone, losing hope that she would ever deliver.
Actually, that word described how Gracia felt enduring 372 days and nights in the jungle, suffering through thirteen firefights as her captors battled the Philippine military, skimming the bugs and slime from the filthy water she drank, watching her husband slowly starving to death. In her recently published book In the Presence of My Enemies, Gracia very candidly tells of the struggles she fought with her emotions as well as her faith.
Thinking that surely she would be rescued or ransomed, Gracia’s hopes grew darker. A lack of food and sleep, constant lies from her captors, and physical anguish did battle with her faith. Simply put, Gracia was mad at God for letting this happen. She writes, “I could hear Satan laughing at me, saying, ‘You trust in the Lord–but you’re still here.'” She told Martin, “I haven’t given up my faith–I’m just choosing not to believe the part about God loving me. Because God’s not coming through.” (Enemies, p. 142).
Finally, Gracia came to the crossroads, the same one that millions who have faced diversity have confronted: either you go with your emotions and turn your back on God or you hold on to what you know is true regardless of circumstances. “I knew that I had a choice,” she wrote. “I could give in to my resentment and allow it to dig me into a deeper and deeper hole both psychologically and emotionally, or I could choose to believe what God’s Word says to be true whether I felt it was or not.” (Enemies, Ibid).
And when she made that decision, it was a turning point for her, one that enabled her to endure the terrible ordeal which she confronted. You, no doubt, are aware of the fact that the rescue resulted in the death of the other two remaining hostages—her husband Martin, and Ediborah Yap, a nurse.
Gracia’s story is but another chapter in the ongoing spiritual battles for the souls of people today. In the 20th century, more men and women were martyred for the cause of Jesus Christ than in the previous 19 centuries put together, and the struggle will continue. When the Abu Sayyaf came across a Christian chapel in the jungle, they boasted, “There used to be a cross there, but we destroyed it. We hate the cross. Any time we see a cross we destroy it if we can.” (Ted Olson, “Did Martin die needlessly?” Christianity Today, June 2003, p. 35).
Gracia Burnham learned more about herself during those dark days than she did about the Abu Sayyaf. Yet she discovered that God’s grace is sufficient to survive without being destroyed by the hatred that drove her captors.
She concludes her story by saying, “I resolve to keep living in the embrace of God’s gladness and love for as long as he gives me breath.” She learned what Paul knew–the triumph of the cross alone allows us to endure without losing heart.
Resource reading: Matthew 10:26-42