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Family and Friends of Murdered Missionary React to News of His Death - 2002-06-07

The family and friends of a U.S. missionary killed in a rescue attempt Friday in the Philippines gathered at the family church in Kansas hours after hearing the news. Martin Burnham was killed in the rescue attempt that injured, but freed, his wife Gracia.

Each morning for the past year, family and friends of Martin and Gracia Burnham have met at the Rose Hill Bible Church in Rose Hill, Kansas, to pray for the release of the Burnhams.

Members of the Muslim Abu Sayyaf rebel group kidnapped the couple from a hotel in the southern Philippines in May of 2001. Friday morning in Kansas, Martin's father Paul got the news that his son had been killed in a rescue attempt, and that Gracia was injured. Martin's brother Doug Burnham spoke to reporters at the church.

"We had no information that this was going to happen," he said. "We knew that there was an ongoing effort to find the hostages and release them safely. We did not have any idea that this was going to happen."

The Burnhams were members of the New Tribes Mission, and had worked in the Philippines since the mid-1980s. The pastor of the Burnham's family church in Kansas, Robert Varner, says the family has always known a certain amount of risk comes with being a missionary. But, news of the kidnapping and now Martin's death is still a shock.

"We had been praying that God's will would be done," he said. "As I talked with Paul this morning, he said it was not the result we had desired, but we had prayed for God's will and sometimes God's answer is different from what we expect or long for."

The couple has three children who have been living back in the United States with their grandparents since the kidnapping. There is no word on when Gracia Burnham will be able to return to the United States, but the family hopes to reunite the children with their mother as soon as possible.

"We can rejoice in that Gracia was spared," Rev. Varner said. "The kids still have their mother, not that we would not have desired for both parents to be there, but we have to be thankful that her life was spared."

President Bush has telephoned the Burnham family to offer his condolences. In Rose Hill, several neighbors left flowers in the front yard of Martin's father.

Brother Doug Burnham says the support has meant a lot.

"We appreciate the Rose Hill community and Wichita community for being there to support and encourage us," he said. "We are just thankful that it has been brought to an end, even though it is not the end we expected."

A local representative of the New Tribes Mission Friday called the Burnhams the best of the best missionaries, and said he hopes their efforts would inspire others to serve.