Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Clouds of Witnesses: IN THE PRESENSE OF MY ENEMIES, part 2.

Having finished In The Presense of My Enemies by Gracia Burnham with Dean Merrill a few weeks ago, this has been the first opportunity to comment on the book as a whole. This is the true story of Gracia and husband Martin Burnham's year long ordeal as hostages of Philippine Muslim Terrorists. It details their constant flight from the Philippine army and their walk with Christ as they suffered incredible privations and mistreatment from their captors. Martin Burnham was killed during the rescue.
This book should be read for three reasons. First, this is an incredible account of God's presence and provision in the most harrowing of circumstances. The terrorists are on the run with their hostages all the time, fleeing the Philippine Army intent on rescue. The book claims that the Burnhams and their fellow hostages were in the middle of fifty-five shoot-outs with the Philippine special forces. Always on the run, stripped of all comforts, dignity and privacy, the Burnhams realized how much of "civilization" is non-essential for true contentment in their Lord. Their knowledge of scripture was crucial in maintaining their relationship with God. They had no Bible; the only verses they could read were in letters written to them from family and friends. Had they not led faithful lives before, I do not see how they could have survived their ordeal when God seemed so far away. What about our own faithfulness? How is the level of our current intimacy with God going to help when we face the future? If our walk with God is weak now, do we dare rest content that when times of testing will come, we will receive undeserved grace? Will our lack of intimacy with Jesus now cause us to fall away in the future? Or will present faithfulness and close relationship with Him serve as a reminder of God's presence when in hard times His presence seems to be removed?
A second reason this book should be read is to see the mind of Islamic terrorists linked to Osama Bin Laden in action. Human reason alone is insufficient to reason with them. They are willing to die to establish Islam all over the world. There is no logic ruling their personal ethics; one cannot rely on their promises. On the night of the kidnapping, they promised not to touch the women. Later, many of the female captives were forced into sexual relations with their captors. This personal account gives a close-up view of their disdain for the lives of others. One should never witness to anyone without reliance upon the Holy Spirit. How much more this is true when witnessing to those as represented by the Burnham's captors. The Burnhams were able to show Christ to their captors. Again, their previous faithfulness cannot be over-emphasized here.
A third reason to read this account is to become knowledgeable of the witness of Martin Burnham. Of course, since he did not survive, we cannot see things through his perspective. Yet the account of him is so well written that I felt as if I became aquainted with him personally. His witness as portrayed in the book is forever stamped upon my consciousness. He was a man who early in life became sold out to God. His calling as a Missions pilot caused him to face mortality in a much more real way than most of us do. His presense was a stabilizing force for not only his wife, but the whole group, terrorists and hostages alike. While he did not survive captivity, his witness so shines throughout the narrative that he deserves to be remembered as an example of how a Saint is to walk in the presence of the Enemy.
Gracia Burnham has no complete, tidy answer as to why God allowed this to happen. Still she does not allow herself to become engulfed in sorrow. Perhaps the witness alone that they gave was one reason. I don't know. Gracia Burnham is very honest about her own shortcomings that were made known to her through this ordeal. Still, what impressed me the most about her was her not lashing out at the inept, but well meaning rescuers who accidentally killed her husband. When they asked her if she was angry with them, she answered that she never considered them the "bad guys." Whatever her shortcomings, her walk with the Lord before this tragedy was strong enough to face her year of terror.

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