Sermon Illustrations

We never know who will respond to the love of God and Good News of Jesus Christ, and it is not our job to figure it out, only to keep reaching out to others and sharing the Good News. Mark Early tells the story of Gracia Burnham’s ordeal. She and her husband Martin were missionaries in the Philippines. They were on a much-needed, brief vacation near where they were serving in order to celebrate their wedding anniversary, when they were abducted by Abu Sayyaf rebels. Many of these rebels are mere children who had been taken from their homes and forced into guerilla warfare. Early writes, “For 377 days, Gracia Burnham, an American missionary, was held captive by Abu Sayyaf, a Filipino group associated with Al Qaeda. During that time, she experienced horrors we can’t even imagine. She also gained an insight to one of the world’s most pressing issues. I’m not talking about Islamic extremism, although Burnham obviously has some hard-earned insights into that phenomenon. I’m talking about the use of child soldiers. After being kidnaped, Gracia and her husband Martin, whose story is told in the June 4th issue of the New Republic, were starved and force-marched through the jungle. Along the way they saw other hostages beheaded and raped. Finally, she saw her husband Martin die after a botched rescue attempt. One of Burnham’s principal tormentors was a 14-year-old Abu Sayyaf soldier named Ahmed. Burnham admits to loathing him for ‘hoarding food when she had none, throwing stones at her while she bathed — fully clothed — in the river, and pushing her along the trail saying ‘faster, faster.’ And yet Burnham prayed for a way to love Ahmed. She got her chance after he was wounded in a firefight and soiled himself. When she saw that he was embarrassed, she thought of her own son and felt love for Ahmed. She washed Ahmed’s clothes in the river before he was taken into the jungle on a stretcher, bound, gagged and ‘stark raving mad.’ To this day, she has no idea what happened to him.”

I wonder if we are willing to go that far to reach out in love to those that many see as hopeless? The Bible says, “The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion” (Numbers 14:18).