On Sunday morning, May 27, 2001, Abu Sayyaf rebels descended on a beach resort in the Philippines and abducted 20 hostages, including American missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham, who were celebrating their wedding anniversary. In the United States, it was Memorial Day weekend, and CT editors were enjoying a holiday break. But by 10 a.m. on the first post-holiday workday, online managing editor Ted Olsen had compiled a compact news report studded with hyperlinks to Internet information sources ranging from the BBC and The Washington Post to a U.S. Navy information page about the Al Qaeda-connected rebel group.
In the months that followed, Ted dogged the story for our online readers, regularly updating them with reports from the Philippine press and other sources that would not have appeared in American newspapers.
One year after the Abu Sayyaf raid, The Wichita Eagle published a story about the difficulty that Martin and Gracia's family faced in keeping their plight before the public. Matt Felling of the Center for Media and Public Affairs told the Eagle, "The scale of the story isn't that great. It's two people in the Philippines."
The newspaper added, "Nothing much has changed for the Burnhams in the past year, and news, by definition, prizes what is new."
What Ted Olsen knew, however, was that Christian media can play a special role, because, as Martin Burnham's mother, Oreta, told the Eagle, "Christian audiences are more likely to write congressmen, write letters to the editor and pray. And that's the best way to keep pressure on politicians to do something."
The elder Burnhams gave Christianity Today's online efforts a great deal of credit for keeping the story alive.
I asked Ted what kept him coming back to the story. ...