Khalil*, an Open Doors worker, recently went to the outskirts of Marawi City to get updates from OD partners. Marawi is in the northern part of Mindanao district in the Philippines. He and another team member also went to evacuation centers to meet with displaced believers. Marawi is the center of the siege between the Philippine government and the Maute group (ISIS), a siege that has been dragging on for more than a month.
Khalil reported that “Marawi is still closed to the public; the military is still not allowing civilians to go inside the city. Those who wish to do so must go through stringent procedures to get clearances from the office of the civil defense, armed forces and the Philippine National Police.”
“The relief goods OD gave through a partner pastor has already been delivered to them yesterday,” Khalil said. “But according to the pastor, the relief we gave would only be good for three to five days. Aside from goods, we also gave financial help through the pastor who is handling the Muslim Background Believers (MBBs) for them to buy kamote (sweet potato) or whatever crops they could buy for food.”
He also added that the goods we gave are not exclusively for MBBs. “Surely, the MBBs’ Muslim relatives will share in the goods they receive, since this is the culture of their people, the Maranao.”
“On the one hand, it means the little relief they receive will be split so they can share; on the other hand, sharing the relief will keep them from getting persecuted and will, in fact, open opportunities for the gospel to be shared among their unbelieving relatives. As always, however, sharing the gospel is dangerous and should be treated with great care, especially in the Muslim context.”
Recently, Bibles translated into Maranao were found in relief packs in some evacuation centers, causing an uproar among the Islamic community and peace advocates. The Bibles came with hygiene items such as shampoo, bath soap and toothpaste. It said “Su Sindaw” or “The Light” on the cover. It was distributed to around 300 families by another Christian NGO. Local Muslims found the act appalling and an offense to their sensibilities, some going as far as wanting to burn the Bibles.
“When we were distributing the kits and the Bible, no one spoke against us,” Fred Dimamay, a member of the Christian group that distributed the Bibles, told local newspaper Inquirer. He added he did not force anyone to convert. “We just asked them to read it if they want.”
An the person who leads prayers in a mosque. More requested in the same interview for Christians to not mix evangelism with giving relief. “I am appealing to our brothers in the Christian faith, please don’t mix evangelization with your attempts to help the needy Maranao.”
Despite the tense situation, Khalil still visited believers in the evacuation camps. According to him, going to evacuation centers is equally as difficult as getting into Marawi City. Evacuation centers are strict with requirements, but we praise God that Khalil and his companion got through.
“In the first camp, a couple said they have not been consistently receiving relief goods ever since the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) government took over the management of the evacuation centers from the Iligan city government, a city to the north of Marawi. At one time, it took about six days before they received a new supply of food and other donations,” he shared.
Some of the believers Khalil talked to worked at the government hospital in Marawi, but they are on “casual” status. They report that beginning August, they will not receive their salary from the hospital anymore because it has been running out of money since the siege began.
“Some of the evacuees are also selling off the relief goods they receive so that they can buy fresh fish and vegetables,” he continued. “They said some of them are getting sick from the tinapa (dried fish), the canned goods and instant noodles they have been receiving. Others report that the kind of rice they’re given had a bad smell. One Christian lady said that before the siege she had not been taking any medicine or going to the health center, but in the evacuation center, she has been going to the clinic almost daily. The pastor of a partner church has been suffering from arthritis because his family doesn’t prepare any other food except the goods they receive. But, he said, it’s partly because he wasn’t disciplining himself. He and his family are not staying in the evacuation center.”
Father of all mercy, we lift before Your throne of grace the Christians in Marawi City, indeed all those who are suffering in the midst of the chaos that is engulfing the city. For those who know You, we pray for Your peace to surround them and Your protection to guard them. We pray for Your strength and hope to lift them up as they enter each day with courage. We pray for the partner NGO and other groups offering aid, that You will refresh them with strength in the midst of their daily exhaustion, physically and emotionally. As they have been pouring themselves out day and night to help those in dire need, fill them with perseverance and joy. We pray for wisdom and comfort for the Christian group distributing Bibles. Even in the face of the backlash against their perceived insensitivity, we pray that Your Holy Spirit will take the Word given out and use it powerfully to bring some to saving faith in Christ. And we pray, Father, for an end to this conflict. Where the government is powerless to defeat ISIS there, we pray for Your intervention. In the name of Jesus, who is a stronghold in the time of trouble for those who call on Him. Amen.