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It was supposed to be a vacation. It became a life-threatening abduction by one of the world's deadliest terrorist organizations. And it's time for the ordeal to end. The story of Martin and Gracia Burnham will be familiar to many Christianity Today readers. On May 27, 2001, the New Tribes missionaries were celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary at a resort in the southern Philippines. They had been serving in the country for 15 years and were taking a romantic getaway. The militant Muslim group Abu Sayyaf attacked, and within 20 minutes had taken the Burnhams and 18 others hostage.

One year later, Abu Sayyaf has beheaded at least one of those hostages, another American named Guillermo Sobero. Other hostages were freed: some ransomed, others apparently let go to make the kidnappers harder to find. The Burnhams and a Filipina nurse, however, are still captive. And their life is reportedly horrific. They are weak and malnourished, and have suffered from malaria. They are forced to march through the Basilan Island jungles. Martin was injured early on in fighting between the guerrillas and the Philippine military. He is reportedly chained at all times, either to a tree or to a terrorist.

Gracia, meanwhile, is experiencing serious emotional strain. "We think about everyone so often—and I'll admit that I cry a lot," she said in a November letter. Other hostages have suggested that this may be a vast understatement.

Both are likely facing pressure to convert to Islam; several of the now-freed hostages say they converted from Christianity to their captors' religion during their abduction. No one should have to experience such terror. What makes this story even more tragic is that it could have been resolved almost as soon as it ...

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Free the Burnhams
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June 10, 2002

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