A Mother and Daughter’s “Kaholatan” (Hope)

October 16, 2013 by Open Doors in General

Mary and Ina Pote outside their home

Kaholatan means hope in the Sama dialect. The Kaholatan Mat Project in Zamboanga, Southern Philippines lives up to its name-bringing hope to poverty-stricken Sama believers by empowering them through the production of handicrafts made from padan, a tropical plant. Ina Pote and Ka Mary recently shared their powerful story when an Open Doors worker visited their home.

On the day of the interview, Ina Pote set out to harvest pandan leaves with her 41 year-old daughter Mary, her grandson Bonji, and their neighbour Agassi. Her gray hair was pulled back in a messy bun and she was clad in brown overalls. In her hand was a slightly rusty sickle. Though in her eighties, she worked vigorously, hacking down the padan plants and bundling them with well-practiced skill.

Ina Pote belongs to the Central Sama people of Mindanao, sea-dwellers. She spent her childhood collecting seashells and watching her father fish in Basilan. At 20, she was married to a handsome fisherman named Sadlani. They had seven children, five of whom died almost immediately after they were born. “I had buwaya-buwaya,” Ina Pote explained. “It’s a sickness, a curse that caused my babies to die.”

Most Samas are deeply poverty-stricken, they have never received proper education and, until recently, have lacked many basic services like healthcare. For decades, Samas have faced constant discrimination. To be Sama is to be deprived, oppressed, maltreated and exploited. To be Sama is to have no sense of self-worth. To be Sama, alone, is to be persecuted, but in an Islamic culture with animistic roots, to be Sama and a follower of Jesus makes life twice as challenging.

As Ina Pote sat comfortably on the floor of their wooden hut in the close-knit Sama community, her fingers danced effortlessly, weaving blue and green strands of pandan into an intricately designed mat as she told the story of her coming to faith.

“Mary was actually the first to follow Isa (Jesus) in the family,” Ina Pote began, eyes and hands still on her craft. “I was against it at first.”

Mary picked up the narrative of the story. “I heard a pastor preaching about Isa in a church in Lumbayao. I got curious, so I began listening to his sermon through the church window. I used to be very cynical. My mind was on different things. But after I listened to him, I had to ask myself, ‘Am I really like that?'”

“That same day, I talked to Isa,” Mary related. “‘Lord, is this really what you said? Is what I heard from the pastor true?’ I prayed to Isa and He opened my eyes. He said all of it was true.”

“Since I was the only Almasihin (Christian) in my family, they persecuted me,” she kept on. “My relatives called me crazy when they saw me carrying my Bible. I told them I’d stand by what is true. ‘Though you say I’ve changed, though you think I’m insane, I would stick to the Bible.'”

“My cousins pulled my hair. They dragged me into the house by my hair. My mother saw them, but she didn’t do anything. She didn’t know Isa Almasih then. I couldn’t blame her,” said Mary compassionately.”

“I grew up worshipping the ombo-ombo,” Ina Pote explained. “It’s a chest. A wooden idol. Our imams (Islamic priests) made us give the ombo-ombo food offerings. We were afraid that if we did not give it offerings, we would bring home bad luck. When I heard about Isa Almasih through a local pastor, I didn’t believe him at first. Time passed and I finally believed in Isa, but I thought it would be fine for me to still worship the ombo-ombo.”

“My mother thought Isa was just like any other god,” Mary interjected. “She only began to understand the difference when we studied the Bible together, because there, Isa said He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

“I changed for good when I attended my cousin’s funeral in Capu,” Ina Pote recollected. “There was a lot of food there, most of them were offered to the ombo-ombo. I took a native cake from the stash, a piece of panyalang, and took a few bites. When I got home, I felt queasy. The panyalang didn’t bide well with my digestion, and then I remembered it was because it was offered to an idol,” she said. “I remembered what Mary told me about Isa being the only God. Now, Isa alone stays in my heart,” said Ina Pote. “He gives me strength.”

Ina Pote and Mary signed up for the Kaholatan Mat Project five years ago and now receive a good price for each mat they produce. Mary also sews Ina Pote’s mats into Kaholatan products such as passport holders, wallets and slippers.

I am happy when people buy mats from us, because we have a source of income,” Mary said thankfully. “God is using Kaholatan to provide for my family’s needs. We have enough money to buy food and water now. We don’t have to ask the nearby store for credit anymore.” She adds that Isa has been using this venture to bring the unexpected blessing of education for her children. “In the past, my dream for my children was only for them to reach sixth grade because I didn’t have the money to send them to school. I’m in awe of the fact that they’re in high school now. I know this is from the Lord.”

I pray that despite life’s hurdles, God would keep me in Kaholatan,” she added. “I pray that God would also allow my children to finish their education. Please pray that I would also persevere in this ministry, that I would be faithful in producing excellent products.”

Father, we praise You for bringing Ina Pote and Ka Mary into faith in Christ and for using the Kaholatan Mat Project to sustain their family. Grow their faith, Lord, and bless the work of their hands. We do not know their fate in last month’s Zamboanga siege, but pray that You would continue to sustain them and other Muslim Background Believers in whatever their circumstances might be. Protect them; comfort and encourage them. Provide food and shelter. In the name of Jesus who sustains our faith and will never let us go, Amen.

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