The Burnhams, like thousands of other missionaries around the world and millions since the time of Christ, gave up the comforts of home and careers that could earn them money and prestige and committed their lives to helping the less fortunate and sharing what Christians call the ‘‘good news'' of salvation through Jesus Christ and the promise of a home in Heaven.
In a significant way, the Burnhams and the many others who similarly labor, are counter-cultural. They exchange the illusion of immediate gratification for something they regard as of greater value. Their rewards are not denied, although some are delayed and paid in a different ‘‘currency''; missionaries see the people to whom they minister transformed and given a hope that transcends their circumstances.
Missionaries may not have fancy homes, expensive clothes, flashy cars and the prestige sought and obtained by others, but neither do they have the burden of maintaining an expensive lifestyle. In fact, some who observe missionaries like the Burnhams come to realize that even though they gain the world's riches, they have nothing if they fail to tend to the care and feeding of their souls. That's the point John Grisham makes in his novel ‘‘The Testament,'' in which a hard-charging Washington lawyer confronts a missionary in the Amazon jungle and is transformed by the power of her example and witness to him. She needs none of what he has. He needs, but cannot buy, what she possesses.
Missionary work has always been dangerous. Whether they confront disease, discouragement or loneliness, the work is forever challenging. Now, in an age in which terrorists might see unarmed, defenseless missionaries as inviting targets, the danger is greater. Church history teaches that persecution, including the death of missionaries, always produces new converts. Some American Christians think they are being persecuted when a newspaper editorial criticizes what they're doing in the political arena. Perhaps they should change places with missionaries like the Burnhams and experience what real persecution looks and feels like.
The Burnhams worked in the Philippines under the auspices of New Tribes Mission. A June 7 news bulletin on the NTM Online Web site (http://www.ntm.org/connect/hlast.shtml) announced Martin's death this way: ‘‘Martin with the Lord.'' For such people, death is the ultimate freedom.
NTM Web pages also include the words of the One the Burnhams followed, even to the Philippine jungles and, for Martin, to death, including: ‘‘'He that loves his life shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be; if any man serve me, him will my Father honor.' — Jesus Christ.''
In addition to his wife, Martin Burnham is survived by three children, Jeff, 15, Mindy, 12 and Zach, 11. They could not have had better role models of selflessness, sacrifice and service, although they also have Martin's parents, who served God in the Philippines for more than 32 years.