Friday, July 11, 2008

The Big Name Speaker

Sunday morning we had our most famous, "big name" speaker at the conference, Gracia Burnham.

Gracia and her husband, missionary pilot Martin Burnham, were captured by Islamic rebels in the Philippines in 2001. They were hostages for over a year until rescued by the Filipino army. During the rescue, her husband was killed and she was injured. Here she is with President Bush after her release and recovery in 2002.

I first bumped into Gracia at her book table in the foyer on Saturday. She was shorter than I had expected, with a seriousness refined by her experiences, yet easy to talk with (a rare combination). I asked her what her new book ("To Fly Again") was about. She started explaining and I put a copy in my bag. Then I realized what I had done. Maybe the lack of sleep really was catching up with me after all! I quickly pulled the book, PAID her for it, and then put it back in my bag! After getting home, I discovered that she had even pre-autographed it.

What I appreciated about her, both in our short, informal conversation and in her message on Sunday morning, was how "ordinary" she is. She never comes across as a superwoman. She told us, "The hardest thing about being a hostage was seeing what I was really like. I came face to face with a Gracia I didn't want to see: a hateful Gracia, a coveting Gracia, a despairing Gracia, a faithless Gracia."

In a way, perhaps this ironic contrast of our "big name speaker" being very humble is a fitting summary of the entire conference. It was a powerful conference, despite the fact--or perhaps because of the fact--that most of the speakers were "nobodies" as far as the world is concerned. I haven't even had time to tell you about the speakers from Romania, Egypt, Bangladesh, Cuba, and China. You won't find many of their names in the news or on the New York Times bestseller list.

26 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence. 30 But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— 31 that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.”[ (1 Cor. 1, NKJV)

And that is the message of the persecuted church.

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