Candles and cheering are not often seen together, but as rescued New Tribes missionary Gracia Burnham returned home to Rose Hill, Kansas, Monday night, the visual mixture of solemnity and celebration seemed entirely appropriate.
"It's a bittersweet reunion," said Rose Hill resident Mimi Newman as she watched for a bus carrying Burnham and her family to drive down the street near her home. "You're sad and you're happy. You're joyful. But there's a lot of healing ahead [for the Burnhams]."
Newman was one of more than a thousand well-wishers who lined Rose Hill Road for miles last night to show support and to catch a glimpse of the missionary for whom they've been praying for more than a year. It seemed like every one of Rose Hill's 3,432 residents showed up to greet her.
In addition to the inevitable signs of "Welcome Home," most banners reflected the deep faith of Gracia Burnham and her husband, Martin, who was killed in a firefight Friday, June 7, as Philippine troops tried to rescue them from the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group. "God Is Faithful," said one sign. Others read, "Martin & Gracia, Christian Heroes," "Acts 1:8," "God's love shines through you," and "God has answered our prayers."
Speaking briefly after her arrival at the airport, Gracia Burnham thanked those who prayed for the two of them. "We needed every single prayer during our ordeal in the jungle," she said. "A very bad thing happened to Martin and I when we were taken hostage, but we want everyone to know that God was good to us every single day of our captivity. Martin was also a source of strength to all the hostages. He was a good man, and he died well."
The initial reunion between Burnham and her children and other family members took place in front of television ...