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Former hostage shares story during trip to N. Ind.

Published On: Dec 24 2013 07:30:33 AM CST   Updated On: Sep 24 2013 11:12:13 PM CDT

A northern Indiana woman shares her story of survival in the wake of terrorism at a Kenyan shopping mall that has left at least 61 people dead.


After four days of terror, Kenya's president says security forces have defeated the group who took over a shopping mall. At least 61 civilians died and 175 people were hurt. 5 terrorists were killed.

One woman knows all too well what the victims in the Kenya mall massacre are going through. Gracia Burnham was held hostage for a year by a group connected to Al-Queda.

Her husband never made it home. He was shot and killed during the rescue. That was more ten years ago, but it's an experience she will never forget.

What was supposed to be a romantic getaway... turned into a nightmare. In the summer of 2001, Gracia and Martin Burnham decided to take a break from their missionary work and celebrate their wedding anniversary at a resort in the southern Philippines. It was there that a group of Muslim terrorists took the Burnhams and about twenty other guests hostage.

"Right away the wealthy ones were ransomed out... there was one other man, a businessman from California, they beheaded him about ten days into our captivity," Gracia said.

The Burnhams spent a year in the jungle, under control of the militants.

"We slept on the jungle floor, we drank dirty river water, we witnessed the atrocities the men committed when we went through the villages," she said.

Their faith was tested more and more each day.

"We would think, oh it can't any worse than this and then the next day it would be worse," Gracia said. "We starved, we felt more like animals than human beings sometimes when there was no place to take a bath and no clean clothes to change into and no toilet paper and we had dysentary and we were just brought to lowest."

But the ultimate test came at the very end, during a gun battle between the militia group and the Philippine Military.

"Both of us were shot, I was wounded in the leg and Martin was in the chest and I knew that chest wounds don't heal, leg wounds might," Gracia said.

The military was trying to rescue the Burnhams, but in an ironic twist, accidentally shot and killed Martin. Gracia was freed.

"God didn't exactly do what we asked him to do, but that doesn't mean God's not good," she said.

Gracia spoke in front of a group of Grace College students Tuesday night. She says there were many times in the jungle when she questioned God, but when it was all over... her faith was stronger than ever.

"God gently taught me some things in the jungle, especially to trust Him," she said.

Gracia has since written two books about her harrowing experience. She says she's now focused on her family and work as a public speaker.