$300,000 payment in Philippines fails for kidnapped missionaries

Monday, April 29, 2002

Apr 29, 2002
By Art Toalston

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--A $300,000 ransom payment has failed to free American missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham from a militant Muslim group in the Philippines linked to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

The Abu Sayyaf Group has demanded $200,000 more for the Burhams' release, according to an April 26 report in The New York Times. The Burnhams, who were kidnapped on May 27, 2001, are affiliated with New Tribes Mission based in Sanford, Fla.

The Times reported that Burnham's mother, Oreta Burnham, said family members had expected her son and daughter-in-law to be released around Easter after the group received a $300,000 ransom payment. Burnham otherwise refused to discuss details of the hoped-for release of the couple.

The Times quoted sources as saying that the Philippine police did not inform the Philippine military after arranging for the payment to the Abu Sayyaf Group out of a concern that the military would siphon off some of the ransom money, which has happened previously. The Times also noted that joint maneuvers by Philippine soldiers and American Special Forces on an island where the Burnhams have been held may have derailed the arrangement.

New Tribes Mission, in an April 25 news release, acknowledged that the families of the Burnhams had reached a deal for their release, but the missions agency said it "was not party to" any deal for the couple.

"NTM was not involved in any deal," NTM said April 25. "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."

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.

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 ntm-burnhams-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Baptist Press. Used with Permission.