One year after Islamic extremists invaded Marawi in the Philippines, the charity Open Doors is helping displaced Christians rebuild their homes and lives.
On 23 May 2017 the Maute group, an affiliate of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS), took over the city and held it for five months, displacing 98 per cent of the population. Over 3,000 buildings were destroyed, and an estimated 50,000 people are still in temporary shelters.
Christians were a particular target for the extremists. Open Doors worker Ayesha* said, “There were really many Christians who were killed at that time. There were eight Christians who were asked to recite the Al-Fatiha and Shahada (Islamic prayers). When they refused to recite them, right then and there, they were shot, with placards placed on their bodies stating they were traitors.”
Pastor Leo* is one of Open Doors partners in Marawi. His daughter, a nurse in a hospital, was held hostage. He remembers, “It was three o`clock in the afternoon and my daughter was about to go home when the attackers came.
“I was on my way to pick her up and before I reached the hospital, she called telling me that there were ISIS and Maute who attacked them and took control of the hospital. She also said that there were already many dead including the security guards and policemen. There were other Christian hostages while the others ran for their lives.”
Thankfully, his daughter survived and eventually managed to escape.
Hamil*, a 21-year-old Christian from Marawi, was not so fortunate with his family; his mother died of an illness during the siege because of a lack of medical care. He said, “The hospital was closed. There was no pharmacy to buy medicine. We couldn’t do anything about it. We were helpless.”
Hamil and Pastor Leo were both involved in distributing aid to displaced people during the siege, with support from Open Doors. Pastor Leo said, “We were really thankful to God for providing our needs. You helped us… It is good because God was with us. He helped us survive the war in Marawi.”
One of those who received relief packs from Hamil was Sarosa*. She said, “We received financial aid, several pair of clothes, rice with canned goods, toothpaste, and soap. We were provided completely with everything. Jesus is real, because his help is real to us, to me, and to my family. I will never forget it.”
Open Doors partners have been repairing homes, including the homes of Hamil and Sarosa, and also helping displaced believers start small businesses. Ayesha says, “Many [people] lost their jobs because of the war, and how we’re going to respond to that is very important. It is their daily sustenance. If they don’t have jobs, they don’t have food to eat.”
Open Doors is also running reconciliation projects, to help Christians to forgive those who have hurt them. Ayesha says, “How are we going to become a source of encouragement to them in such a way that they will be inspired to still stay in Marawi, and reach out the locals in Marawi in spite of what had happened? That to me is really the most painful part – to reach out to those who caused the death and destruction of your loved ones and took you out of your normal lives. This is the most painful thing and the most challenging need that we need to rebuild as Open Doors.”
One believer who took part in a reconciliation session recently said, “I learned that even though we are affected by the war, we must still show God’s love and always be light and salt in our community.”
Leo would like to thank those who are supporting the work rebuilding homes and lives in Marawi. “Thank you for giving me this opportunity to thank those who supported us, those who gave us aid. Whoever you are, thank you so much for your kind and generous hearts. Thank you for your lives.”
The Philippines is not on the Open Doors 2018 World Watch List, but believers from Muslim backgrounds are particular targets for persecution in the Philippines, and even now the siege of Marawi is over, Islamic extremists are still active – three weeks ago two people were injured after a bomb went off outside a Catholic cathedral in the city of Koronadal, which is a seven hour drive from Marawi. Open Doors has been working in the Philippines since 1992.
*names changed for security reasons