SANFORD, Fla. (BP)–New Tribes Mission has issued a news release denying “any participation in attempts to pay ransom or raise money for ransom” for the release of missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham who were kidnapped in the Philippines on May 27 of last year.
The missions agency, in its March 26 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 Osama bin Laden-related Abu Sayyaf Group in the Asian country.
Of the news report, New Tribes Mission noted that “no source is cited and they have failed to verify this with the U.S. government. If such a payment was made, it was done without our consent or knowledge.”
New Tribes Mission acknowledged there has been a shift in U.S. policy on ransom payments, but the missions agency stated that it will 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. “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.
Since the Burnhams were kidnapped, the missions agency said “there have been numerous unverified and unsubstantiated reports originating from unreliable news sources in the Philippines.”
NTM continued, “Increased fighting between the Philippine military and the kidnappers has also been reported in the last several days. Amid these reports have come rumors of sightings and other indications of the presence of the hostages, but these have not been verified.
“Such information underscores the danger that the Burnhams and their fellow hostage, Filipina nurse Deborah Yap, are in,” the missions agency said. “These reports and the danger are also very difficult for the Burnhams’ families. Please continue to pray for God’s peace and strength in the midst of this storm.
“Last weekend Martin and Gracia’s oldest children, Jeffrey and Mindy, made a plea for their release,” the news release recounted. “This was aired on Radio Mindanao. The children communicated their love to their parents and urged the captors to free their mom and dad.”
Listing several prayer requests, New Tribes Mission urged:
— “Please pray that the Burnhams and Ms. Yap will be released soon. Pray for their health and safety, and for them to remain confident and encouraged in the Lord.”
— “Pray that the kidnappers’ hearts will be softened to God’s message of salvation.”
— Pray for government leaders of the Philippines and the United States and their troops.
— “Above all, pray for God’s will to be done and his name to be glorified.”
Martin, 42, and Gracia, 43, from Kansas, were kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf Group from a resort off the island of Palawan in the Philippines. Martin grew up in the Philippines, where his parents have been missionaries for more than 32 years. The Burnhams have been members of NTM since 1985.
The New Tribes Mission’s website is www.ntm.org; e-mail updates about the Burnham can be received by sending an e-mail to [email protected]
Earlier this year, NTM spokesperson Scott Ross said the missions agency had interviewed many of the hostages freed by the terrorists and said reports of the Burnhams’ “condition and situation were very dramatic and graphic,” including their “exposure to the elements, lack of hygiene and health care, and need for adequate nourishment.”
Last November a video clip of the Burnhams was released by a Philippine television station which, showed considerable weight loss by Martin, and the couple’s emotional fatigue. A letter from Martin stated, “[We] are very weary, but God has protected our health and [we] have not suffered major sickness or injury.” The couple said food is often scarce, with little protein.
Sources in the Philippines tell Baptist Press that other international aid workers and missionaries have been on a “heightened state of alert” just as the U.S. population has been since Sept. 11. By varying their travel routes and other logistical routines, these workers hope to avoid being kidnapped by any terrorist group. Some news agencies report that missionaries carry weapons for protection.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: MARTIN AND GRACIA BURNHAM.