LIBERTY, MO. One year after her husband died during a rescue effort in the Philippines, Gracia Burnham continues to preach the value of missionary work.
Burnham and her husband, Martin, were taken hostage by the radical Muslim Abu Sayyaf group in 2001. They spent 376 days in captivity before Filipino soldiers tried to rescue them one year ago Saturday, in a firefight that left Martin Burnham dead and his wife wounded.
About 1,800 people gathered Friday night at a Liberty church where Gracia Burnham, now living in her hometown of Rose Hill, Kan., thanked them for their prayers.
Since her return, she said, "I learned that this whole hostage thing was hard on a lot of people. We just need to shower each other with love as we heal."
She said she has grappled with Martin's death and the meanings that people have attached to their ordeal.
"People call Martin a martyr, and I'm not sure what to think about that," she said, noting examples of people who have been persecuted for their Christian beliefs. "I think we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
She shared fragments of her tale, from the couple's capture at a Philippine island resort while celebrating their wedding anniversary to the rescue a year ago.
Throughout her talk, she stressed the need for continued religious missionary work.
Burnham, who recounts her story in the recently published book "In the Presence of My Enemies," appeared in Liberty as part of a fund-raising event for Calvary Bible College in Kansas City.
Both Martin and Gracia Burnham graduated from the college, he in 1983 and she two years earlier. The college, in south Kansas City, recently dedicated a granite bench on campus to the memory of Martin Burnham.
"The name of Martin Burnham will go down in history as far as missionaries go," said Randy Grimm, the college's director of development. "This bench is a testament to his work. We are so honored and proud to have it at this school."