In the Presence of My Enemies. By Gracia Burnham with Dean Merrill. Wheaton : Tyndale House Publishers, 2003. 307 pp. Cloth. $22.99.
Martin and Gracia (pronounced “gray-sha”) Burnham became known worldwide. This book tells the story of their kidnapping and being held hostage for one year and eleven days. It also tells of their courtship, marriage, and ministry prior to being captured.
The Burnhams were missionaries in the Philippines with New Tribes Mission. That organization was founded by Doc Latham and is solidly in the Free Grace camp.
This is not a theological book. Rather, it is as the cover suggests, “A gripping account of the kidnapping of American missionaries and their year of terror in the Philippine jungle.”
Gracia shows how the Muslims who held them, as well as all Muslims, are striving for eternal life based on their works. She writes, “Muhammad will intercede with Allah, who will judge humanity, consigning those with good deeds to paradise and condemning those who fall short to hell—unless they were fallen mujahideen, those who had died in holy war and were thus already rewarded” (p. 152).
She then concludes: “With this way of thinking, clearly the odds of reaching paradise were slim to none.”
Gracia makes it clear that she and Martin prayed regularly for their captors and that on at least one occasion they told them that Jesus died for our sins (p. 151). One of their captors responded, “I don’t want anybody paying for my sin. I’ll do my own paying” (p. 151).
Martin witnessed to one of the captives, Guillermo, whom it appeared the Abu Sayyaf were about to kill. Martin told Guillermo that “we can’t save ourselves and that without God’s mercy, we all face eternal death” (p. 108).
I found it very difficult to find in the book where Gracia clearly told what one must do to escape eternal death and have eternal life. When recounting her own testimony she said, “When I was seven or eight, I had a wonderful Sunday school teacher who explained to me the importance of committing my life to Christ. Not long after that, I remember begging for the opportunity to be baptized” (p. 22, italics added). I was surprised that she used confusing language like that to describe her own new birth. (See also pp. 142-43.)
The clearest statements she makes are found when one Sunday she wrote down a list of promises she could remember from God’s Word. Ninth in this long list was, “He that believeth in Me, tho dead, shall live” (p. 185). Seventeenth on the list was, “He that believeth in Me shall not perish but have everlasting life” (p. 186). Unfortunately, many will miss the point since these Scriptures are never mentioned when they were witnessing, are never explained, and are merely two of eighteen promises given in a long list that people are likely to rush through.
Evidently the intended audience is those who are already born again and who know the saving message. However, I wonder, in light of her notoriety, if many of the readers might be people who do not yet believe in Jesus for eternal life. Many in Christendom think that they must persevere in faith and good works to make it into the kingdom. I wish somewhere she had made it clear that all who simply believe in Jesus have eternal life.
This book is quite challenging. Martin and Gracia held up for over a year under terrible conditions. Even after the death of her husband, due at least in part to many botched raids by the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines), Gracia did not turn her back on God.
I recommend this book.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Irving , TX