|Khalil*, an Open Doors worker, recently went to the outskirts of Marawi City to get updates from our partners. 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), which has been dragging on for more than a month.
Khalil shares: “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 strict procedures to get clearances from the office of the civil defense, armed forces and the Philippine National Police.”
“The relief goods Open Doors gave through our partner pastor has already been delivered to them yesterday. But according to the pastor, the relief we gave is only good for three to five days. Aside from goods, we also gave financial help through the pastor who is handling the MBBs (Muslim-background believers) for them to buy kamote (sweet potato) or whatever crops they could buy for food,” says Khalil.
He also adds 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 one hand, it means the little relief they receive will be split so they can share – but 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.”
Bibles in Relief Packs
As always, however, sharing the gospel is dangerous and should be treated with great care, especially in their Muslim context.
A few days ago, Bibles translated in Maranao have been found in relief packs in some evacuation centers, causing uproar among the Islamic community and peace advocates. The Bibles came with hygiene items, such as shampoos, bath soap and toothpaste. It said, “Su Sindaw” or “The Light” in 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.”
Believers in Evacuation Centers
Despite the tense situation, Khalil still visited believers in the evacuation camps. According to him, going to evacuation centers is equally difficult as is getting to Marawi. 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. At one time, it took about six days before they received new supply of food and other donations,” he shares.
Some of the believers Khalil talked with 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 already ran out of money since the siege began.
He continues: “some of the evacuees are also selling off the relief goods they receive so that they can buy fresh fish and vegetables. 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 has not been taking any medicine nor going to the health center, but in the evacuation center, she has been going to the clinic almost daily. The pastor of the 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.”