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Missions agency denies involvement in families’ deal for kidnapped Burnhams

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–New Tribes Mission, in an April 25 news release, acknowledged that the families of kidnapped missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham had reached a deal for their release.

But, the missions agency said, it “was not party to” any deal for the Philippines-based couple.

Additionally, no report of the missionaries’ release followed an April 24 statement read by one of the Burnhams’ relatives over Radio Mindanao of a deal with the Osama bin Laden-related Abu Sayyaf Group which kidnapped the missionaries on May 27, 2001.

“NTM was not involved in any deal,” the missions agency said in its April 25 news release. “The mission was not consulted about this agreement. The families acted independently of NTM. New Tribes Mission maintains its policy to not pay ransom. NTM was not aware the family members were involved in a deal until they revealed it to mission representatives in confidence Saturday, April 20.”

The missions agency, based in Sanford, Fla., noted that its “primary concern continues to be the soon and safe release of Martin and Gracia.” To those who have been praying for the Burnhams, NTM said: “In the midst of the uncertainties of politics, deals and military actions, your prayers are all the more valued and necessary.”

New Tribes Mission issued a news release March 26 also denying “any participation in attempts to pay ransom or raise money for ransom” for the release of Burnham, 42, and his wife, Gracia, 43.

The missions agency, in its March news release, said a “U.S. news network,” which it did not identify, had reported that the U.S. government had facilitated a ransom payment to the Abu Sayyaf Group.

New Tribes Mission acknowledged there has been a shift in U.S. policy on ransom payments, but the missions agency stated that it would continue its longstanding “no ransom” position “for a number of reasons, none of which has to do with the value we place on our missionaries.”

“Paying ransom only increases the risk of future kidnappings. As missionaries, the nature of our work makes us vulnerable to kidnappings,” NTM said in March. “Therefore, major mission organizations have agreed to establish a no ransom position in order to send the message that it is not profitable to kidnap missionaries.” The interdenominational missions agency specializes in planting indigenous churches among unevangelized people groups in remote areas around the world.

The Burnhams have been NTM workers since 1985; he is a pilot and she also works in conjunction with NTM aviation needs. Martin Burnham grew up in the Philippines, where his parents have been missionaries for more than 32 years.

The New Tribes Mission’s website is www.ntm.org; e-mail updates about the Burnhams can be received by sending an e-mail to [email protected].