Breakfast with Gracia Burnham

by Angie Washington on March 9, 2013

Gracia Burnham and me at IHOP standing conveniently in front of the globe

I arrived at the restaurant way too early and waited in the foyer Wednesday morning.  Part of me still expected her to show up with an entourage.  A driver and bodyguard at least!  She is that much of a rock star to me.

Over a decade ago Gracia Burnham, author of ‘In the Presence of My Enemies’, became a widowed mother of three after 16 years of missionary service in the Philippines. Her husband was killed after they both spent a year in captivity in the jungle.

Now she was having breakfast with me. Wow! She is so much more wonderful in real life than I had imagined in my mind. Can you believe it? So sweet, kind, humble, gentle, smiley, and peaceful. And very short!

I asked if I could blog about our chat and she graciously agreed.

Q: This is my favorite quote from the book –

Because the Abu Sayyaf — and all of us — still retain the power of personal choice, the option of standing stubbornly against the will of God. And that obstinate stance is, apparently, something an almighty God is not willing to bulldoze. Of course, he could have fired heavenly lasers into the brains of Janjalani and Musab and Sabaya, forcing them to wake up one morning and say, “Okay, Martin and Gracia, this has been long enough. Feel free to hike off whenever you like.” But that would have made them puppets instead of independent human beings with free will of their own, for which they will be eternally responsible.

In this section you give some vivid imagery of who God is not. He is not a bulldozer, not a sharpshooter, and not a puppet-master.  Could you give me an image of who God is to you?

Gracia:

God herds me. I see God like a herder behind and around some sheep and they are all milling around and God has his arms out and they are being herded by him. God as my leader? No, I don’t see God out front leading or guiding. God is my herder.

Q: Do you miss living overseas? I’m sorry, people probably ask you that all the time.

Gracia:

I don’t get asked that very often. People assume that I am content and happy to be in the United States. And there is a chosen contentment. But I very much miss living overseas. I would much rather be in the Philippines.

Q: What new trends do you see in this generation of missionaries who are just getting started out as compared to when you began as a missionary over two decades ago?

Gracia:

What I see in today’s missionary is a strong emphasis on safety and comfort. And who am I to say that making a safe and healthy home is not the way to go? But it is a trend. The missionaries going now are talking about the big house they are going to have and where it is going to be and how it is going to be better than the standard of living of the people they are ministering to. Whereas, years ago, the idea was to go to the people and if all they had was one white t-shirt to wear then you wore one white t-shirt. Maybe you had five white t-shirts that you rotated. But the people only ever saw you in one white t-shirt.

Another thing I see happening in the States is the efforts of the church have shifted. Now, all the focus is on getting people on short term trips. I sat in on the board meeting of a group of churches as they discussed their strategy for missions. I had to bite my tongue when they said that the whole of what they were going to do was try and get everyone in their congregation to go serve for a week or two on a short trip. Where is the part where we teach children about the people of the world? When do we pray with the young people so they can ask God if they are called to be a missionary? When do we say to a child who feels called to the mission field, “Yes, okay, we will train you, and pray with you, and spiritually prepare you for a life of sacrifice and simplicity”?

Yes, the simple lifestyle. I don’t see as much simplicity in today’s missionary. The focus is on safety and comfort. Before, the focus was on sacrifice and simplicity. Different lifestyles. We are in different times, so there are different focuses.

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Discussion question:

What pros and cons do you see in the two different missions focuses Gracia highlights? 1. Sacrifice and Simplicity 2. Safety and Comfort

 – Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: angiewashington.com twitter: @atangie work blog: House of Dreams Orphanage

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Click here to hear the back story of when Graica Burnham called me, me?!?, on the phone: A Call from Gracia Burnham.

Related links: The Changing Face of Missions – – Short Term Missions and a Church in Haiti – – A Case for Short Term Missions

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About Angie Washington

Co-Founder, Editor of this collaborative blog site: A Life Overseas

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