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52 Books in 52 Weeks: “In The Presence Of My Enemies”

Welcome to week 21 of the “52 Books in 52 Weeks [1]” series!  If you haven’t seen all the books take a moment and catch up [1]!

I promise you I have been reading- I am just WAY behind on writing reviews!

I openly wept while I was reading In the Presence of My Enemies [2].  So much so that my cat came out from her spot where she had been soundly sleeping to make sure I was okay.

In The Presence of My Enemies [2] is the story of Martin and Gracia Burnham, who spent over 15 years of their lives as missionaries with New Tribes Missions.  They worked in the Philippines.  Martin was a pilot and flew supplies (such as medicine, food, schooling materials etc) to tribes who could not be reached by road.  He had the incredible ability to land his little planes on short runways surrounded by trees.  For many people he was a lifeline to letters from families in the states, medicine that saved lives and food.  His wife, Gracia, worked as a radio operator with Martin and other pilots.  She kept everyone organized in the sky.

To celebrate their wedding anniversary (she tells their love story in the book) they left their three children with trusted friends and rented a room for one evening at a resort in the Philippines.  Gracia states in the book that she thought about cancelling several times because the $200 for the evening was extravagant on their budget but she and Martin had spent so little time together between the children and their jobs they decided one night couldn’t hurt.

That night the resort was taken over by Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim extremist group in the Philippines.  For just over one year the couple was held hostage and moved almost daily around the jungles.  They were not the only hostages taken and they watched as ransoms were paid for some, some of the women were taken as wives for the extremists and some were killed.  Gracia’s book is an account of their day to day life- the events that held them together and the things that made her want to fall apart.

Eventually the Philippine army breaks in to rescue them and Martin dies next to Gracia during that rescue (she points this out very early in the book so I promise that is not a spoiler).   After such a long journey where their marriage, friendship and faith endured to read of his death from her perspective was heart breaking.

Gracia finishes the book with her story of being home, how her children are doing and the ministry she now has.  She speaks candidly about trying to learn to forgive her captors and the healing she and her family has gone through.  She talks about being angry with God and the struggle to understand why bad things happen.  And while she doesn’t have all the answers there is a trust you can read in the undertone of the story that speaks volumes about her journey.