Last week, I bought a very good book as a Christmas present for myself. The title is “In the Presence of My Enemies” by Gracia Burnham. It tackles the REAL story of faith, hope and love. And how God, in the midst of this long DARK NIGHT will come to restore and heal the broken SELF.
Based on a true story of an american couple Martin and Gracia Burnham, who spent their 15 years in the Philippines as a christian missionaries. They were held hostages by the Abu Sayyaf, a group of terrorist connected to Osama Bin Laden in the remote island of Basilan in Mindanao, southern part of the Philippines. The Burnham’s experienced a year of agony and strife in this remote and unexplored jungle.
Every chapter of the book made me cry as if I am there watching what was going on that time. Her presentation is so personal that you can feel yourself among them. I am so bless to know Martin (her husband) not personally of course but as how Gracia presented him in her book. That even I had no way to talk with him personally, he (Martin) imparted a great deal of faith and optimism in my being as I read every page of the book. What a deep person Martin was, a very grounded and down to earth guy, full of faith and courage in his heart. He just uplifted my soul in this earthly conquest.
As I meditated with what I am reading, I remember a bible phrase in my favourite Psalm23. Especially verses 4 to 6;
The Lord is my shepherd I shall not be in want
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters
He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me ; your rod and staff they comfort me
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
It is by God’s grace for the Burnham to endure this terrible ordeal. Not only experiencing the scripture in their spiritual journey BUT experiencing it literally in the jungle of Basilan. They realize more God’s power and constant care as the Good Shepherd.
Isn’t it that walking in the dark valley of death with your enemies will make your knees chill to death. I guess if I am in their situation I will surely die and wanted to immediately eject and pop out in the air. But God in His mysterious plan that we cannot see is always marvelous and perfect. His ways are profound and life changing. Even in the midst of the very limited resources and comfort… God comforted the hearts of Gracia & Martin.
In connection with these, when King David refer to a table in the presence of my enemies, the psalmist is not referring to a banquet table. I personally picture this table as a metaphor. A plateau high above the hills and the mountain where the sheep can graze and eat peacefully in green pasture. Even the enemies presence are everywhere, the Good Shepherd can see on the top of the hill the wolves below the high plateau. For sure, wolves are faster predator in lower ground but will have difficulty in such high level upland. I myself am a cattleman, and we usually bring our cattles in a higher ground with lush green pasture where they are stress- free. It is very important for this large animal to rest and eat well without fear, without the presence of anyone except the one shepherding them. Even cattles know their master just like the sheep.
On the other hand, the Burnhams are literally “in the presence of their enemies”. Can you picture the sheeps among the wolves in this scenario? Brushing their elbow side by side with the tyrant Abu Sayyaff is so horrible to imagine. Put God in that scenario and you’ll perfectly see His shepherding care and constant guidance.
During the rescue operation of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines), Martin was shot in the chest and died. Gracia was shot in her right leg and survived the long nightmare. Watching her husband died as she kept her composure with what Martin have had told her… to be emotionally strong in such difficult times especially in an open fire. Gracia kept silent and acted as one who died in the firing confrontation between the AFP & the Abu Sayyaf, to survived and fullfil what Martin told her when they are still together. It is so painful to imagine that the one you loved the most died beside you and the only thing you could do is to survive. I cannot help myself but cry as I read that page in that very tragic chapter. It is given that someone usually must be a sacrifice for the many to see and witness more and more God’s overflowing love and mercy.
His steadfast and stubborn love for us is so perfect that we don’t understand the journey until we finally reach and see the outcome of His great master plan for us and for the many… For a small mind, a lost of life in a battle of good and evil is a misfortune. But however, for a man who is full of grace, yielding trust and grounded faith in the Lord, a lost of life that was live in accordance of forgiveness and love to his captors is a triumphant victory to celebrate. Because it was a life that was live to the full. Martin here is the true winner of the everlasting crown that have a great prize! As for Gracia, I guess, she will touch more souls in her earthly journey, with her very inspiring true to life story with these blinded and self-centered terrorist. Her cup will be filled with glory in God’s time, and for sure her experience with these savages made her a strong woman of faith and a living gospel of God’s salvation to humanity.
I believe that every individual relationship with God is unique. Whether your God’s name is Allah, your God’s name is Buddha, Jesus, Lord Ganesh, Shivah,Venus, the stars, the moon etc., or simply you are an atheist. LISTEN (read between the lines)… As long as YOU LIVE IN peace, YOU LIVE IN love and more love, and sharing these virtues and graces universally and ecumenically to everyone AND NOT EXCLUSIVE to your faith, without discrimination of the race, color of the skin and religion… THAT IS GOD! GOD IS WITH YOU! GOD IS THERE IN YOUR HEART… a harmonious and sound relationship with the creation of God who is ONLY ONE.
If you are a Muslim… Go! And be a better Muslim.
If you are a Christian… Go! And be a better Christian.
If you are a Buddhist… Go! And be a better Buddhist.
Surely goodness and love will follow me (Gracia, the Burnhams, the relatives and friends… and other hostages that survived in that unimaginable dark night) all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever (Now, they have a foundation that you can visit at http://www.graciaburnham.org