Category Archives: Book Review

“In The Presence of My Enemies”: thoughts about Gracia Burnham’s book

Colette Fabry, Co-Author of awriteheart.comI’m always in the middle of reading a book, and every so often I come across a really great one. This past week I read Gracia Burnham’s book “In The Presence Of My Enemies”, the true story of her kidnapping by a terrorist group in the Philippines. She and her husband Martin, along with several others, were taken hostage in the middle of the night and kept in torturous conditions. Sadly, after 1 year and 11 days, Martin lost his life during a rescue attempt by the Philippine army. They had survived 16 gun-battle rescue attempts, and on the 17th the Burnham’s were shot, she in the leg and he in the chest. The book kept my interest with every single word and I had a hard time putting it down.

Gracia and Martin experienced a living nightmare. While most Americans were trying to make sense of 911 and the craziness and sadness of that, these two missionaries were in the middle of the jungle wondering if they would ever get home to their three children. Reading this book, I saw such real Christianity lived out. Not many people can say that they experienced anything near this kind of horror. But people do live out difficult trials and can learn from Gracia’s insight – I know I sure did.

Her words taught me that…

The toughest of times have the ability to strengthen relationships.

I noticed something pretty amazing about Martin and Gracia.  During the most difficult times they learned to rely on each other. Instead of turning on each other in frustration and fear, they helped and comforted each other. They shared a toothbrush, learned to sleep leaning against one another and continually watched out for the other. They didn’t let this awful trial come between them, but instead, they learned to work together and allowed it to strengthen their marriage.

My heart sunk to the bottom of my toes. Everything we owned in this life was back there in that backpack. The sheet we pulled over us at night, my long sleeved shirt, our toothbrush…A horrible wave of guilt swept over me. How stupid of me. I just lost it all. ‘ Oh Martin, I’m so sorry.  I’m so sorry!’ I cried between sobs. My husband did not reproach me. He just quietly answered, ‘You know honey, we’ve got to save our energy for walking. I forgive  you. And you need to forgive yourself. Its going to be ok.'” ~Gracia Burnham

During difficult times it’s wise to know when to speak and when not to.

When either Martin or Gracia wrestled with discouragement and despair, the other gently listened. They just let the other feel whatever it was they were feeling and didn’t jump right in to fix each other with words; I’m sure they barely had the energy or even the ability, but nonetheless, they just loved each other through their feelings. When Gracia spent several days crying, Martin let her. He held her and he wiped her tears or let her sit by herself. He knew that she had to work through things on her own. He realized that he couldn’t heal her heart, but that he could support it.

[pullquote type=”right”]The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord…Proverbs 37:23[/pullquote]” ‘Oh, I’m not giving up my faith’, I’d tell Martin.  ‘I still believe that God made the world, He sent his Son, Jesus, and Jesus died for me… I’m just choosing not to believe the part about God loving me. Because Gods not coming through.’ …I was really mad at God. After about three days of living with this torment, I was totally miserable. When I wasn’t at the river crying, I was in the house crying. Martin learned not to say anything, because he knew this was something I had to work through myself… I knew that I had a choice. I could give into 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 Gods word says to be true whether I believed it or not.  This was a turning point for me…I simply gave in and handed all my pain and anger over to the Lord right then and there….From that day on, the Lord somehow let me know in my spirit that he was still faithful.” ~Gracia Burnham

 Trials are meant to strengthen our faith.

I felt Gracia’s struggle and if I were her I would wonder: “Why would God allow this? Where is He? Does He even care about me or even know where I am?” She had to wrap her brain around her faith and what it looked like before her abduction, versus what it looked like in captivity. Trials do this to everyone, especially if you are being held against your will, hungry, tired and thirsty. She chose to believe Gods promises such as,  “I will never leave you nor forsake you”. Not because she felt the truth of those words right then, but because God can’t lie.  She learned that God walks through hard and difficulty with us and doesn’t rescue us immediately from trials. He supplied so many needs and Gracia began to be thankful for each one. She told one story about a care package miraculously finding it’s way to them. Gracia watched as their captors rummaged through the box before giving it to them, helping themselves to a package of candy bars. She was angry. She was happy to receive the soap and peanuts and all the wonderful supplies in the box, including a new pair of Martin’s prescription glasses…but she was so mad about the stolen candy bars. God worked in her heart and she changed her attitude to one of thanksgiving. So many of us do the same thing…focus on what we don’t have instead of what we do. Reading her raw struggle was awesome and such a valuable lesson.

[pullquote type=”right”]Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not to thine own understanding. Proverbs 3:5[/pullquote]”We began making little piles of all the wonderful things.  But at the same time, we couldn’t stop thinking about those Snickers bars. The bounty we had wasn’t quite enough somehow. And then we looked at each other and said, ‘You know, this box has arrived from our mission out of nowhere–and we’re complaining about what the Abu Sayyaf took? We should be rejoicing in the Lord’s goodness.’  We decided we needed to share. Martin began going from group to group giving…We had asked the Lord earlier in the month to send us something nice for Thanksgiving and realized something incredible: It was Thursday, November 22– Thanksgiving Day!”  ~Gracia Burnham

 The picture is always bigger than what we can see.

Although Gracia would never have chosen to go through what she did – to enter into such suffering and the heartache of losing her husband – through her very words I was able to see part of a bigger plan. Deep in the jungle, amongst 50+ terrorists, men who may have never heard the name of Jesus, Gracia and Martin shared the gospel.  They lived it and spoke it in the midst of the most horrendous trial.  Gracia taught the other hostages the words to “How Great Thou Art” and they sang them while the terrorists listened. Martin had several conversations with others about God and in his kind and gentle way he was able to share Jesus. I know that when this couple gave their lives to be missionaries they never imagined that this was how they were going to be used.

“…I was able to harmonize while we sang the song (How Great Thou Art) every day and sometimes several times a day. The Abu Sayyaf never hissed at us for singing it….More than once Martin said to me ‘Maybe God has us here just to praise him in this very dark place.'”  ~Gracia Burnham

We are stronger than we think.

Gracia never thought in a million years that she could endure what she did…walking miles with no food and sleeping night after night in mud…being bitten by bugs, filthy for weeks at a time, separated from her children…the fear and terror of being shot at, running for her very life, living with out the basic essentials,  the humiliation of having to go to the bathroom in front of strangers and the heartache and shock of watching her husband as he was shot and as he took his last breath on this earth. But she did it. And she did it well!  What an amazing example of strength and resilience.

I looked back at where Martin still lay. The red spot on his shirt was larger now. His complexion was pasty white. And then I knew–the man I loved more than  anyone in the world was gone. I wanted the world to stop in that moment, to reflect on my dreadful loss, to mourn the senseless death of my wonderful husband. Unfortunately, the circumstances demanded otherwise.  I had to think about getting myself off this mountain alive.” ~Gracia Burnham

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After reading her book, I want to hug Gracia Burnham and give her a life supply of candy bars!  I can’t wait to read her next book, called “To Fly Again”  I have no doubt that she did!  Through the pages of her book I feel as if I know her, that she is a kindred spirit.  Her story glorifies her God, and my prayer is that yours and mine will as well.

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With each post we have published in July, Colette has added ONE MORE of her FAVORITE THINGS to this month’s giveaway! 

As of this post, the giveaway includes:

Godiva Chocolates,
a SURPRISE gift from Anthropologie,
Dunkin’ Donuts coffee,
Victoria’s Secret hair spray and leave-in conditioner,
a lilac scented Yankee Candle,
a beautiful salad tong set from anthropologie,and
“In the Presence of My Enemies” by Gracia Burnham!

There are THREE WAYS TO ENTER!!!

1. Subscribe to our email newsletter – click HERE!
2. Follow us on Instagram – click HERE!
3. Tag a friend under any post on our Facebook wall and encourage them to follow, like, or subscribe – click HERE!

You CAN be entered more than once! SUBSCRIBE, FOLLOW, and TAG NOW!!! The giveaway ends this week!!!
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Feature photo attribution: flickr photo by Horia Varlan http://flickr.com/photos/horiavarlan/4268896468 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license