Philippines (MNN) — In the course of covering the siege on Marawi, The Manila Times noted the relief efforts aimed at helping the Christians and Muslims fleeing the Islamic city where government forces are engaged in a fierce fight with the Maute terrorist group, now linked with the Islamic State (IS).
Nearly 400,000 residents have abandoned Marawi and outlying towns in the area. More than 18,300 displaced people are currently being sheltered in 78 evacuation centers in and around Mindanao.
Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA, first notes, “Displaced people are being helped by Christians. They’re being given things that they need: soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, but they’re also being given Bibles.” Evidently, some of the relief packs also included magazines on the Bible story of the fisherman, which was also translated to the Maranao language.
The effort was not received well by all. The former president of the Iligan League of Imams urged Christian groups to avoid proselytizing to refugees from Marawi because he said it could result in more harm than good. Nettleton explains, “This imam is saying, ‘We don’t want these Muslims to have Bibles. They shouldn’t have them; they shouldn’t read them. This is going to cause unrest; it’s going to cause problems. You Christians should not mix Bibles in with aid material.’”
In his opinion, it’s pretty clear that this Islamic leader does not want his people to compare Islam and Christianity. Why? “He doesn’t want them to read the Quran and then the Bible and then decide which one is telling the truth.”
The concept that God’s Word changes people has been demonstrated in the paradox of persecution. For example, VOM-USA works with a Bible distributor there, and he says if you put a Bible in a home in India, eventually, people are going to start reading it and it’s going to produce an effect. That’s been a documented phenomenon in nearly every country where similar conditions exist.
However, the surprise came from Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla of Davao, who joined Muslim leaders and peace groups in voicing concern over reports that Bibles are being distributed along with the relief supplies. He warned that the distribution of the Bible could provoke tension between Christians and Muslims.Nettleton observes, “The fact that there is a city that has been taken over by Islamic terrorists says that there’s already tension. There are already problems. We should offer help to those in need, regardless of what their background is or what their faith is. Part of the reason we want Christians to be there is to be a light and to answer spiritual questions and talk about Christ and talk about eternity.”
Nettleton observes, “The fact that there is a city that has been taken over by Islamic terrorists says that there’s already tension. There are already problems. We should offer help to those in need, regardless of what their background is or what their faith is. Part of the reason we want Christians to be there is to be a light and to answer spiritual questions and talk about Christ and talk about eternity.”
The concern is that the act of proselytization could be twisted by groups like the extremist-leaning Maute and used to persuade others to fight the government. He also stated that “proselytizing” shows a lack of respect and calls into question the sincerity of those who are giving aid to the needy. To that, Nettleton responds, “It obviously has to be done in a sensitive way, and in an appropriate way. But, absolutely, as Christians, we should want every person to read God’s Word and to know what it says about Jesus Christ and about the way of salvation, including those who don’t currently believe or accept it.”
As the liberation fight for Marawi continues, Nettleton reminds us of a couple things: stay grounded in God’s Word. You never know when you might need to share it in a time of distress. Come alongside ministries who are supporting the Body of Christ in these challenging areas. Pray for the believers on the ground in this area, that their work is a display of grace.
“The thing I would hope people take away from this is praying for Christians in the Philippines, in other Islamic contexts, where the simple act of helping someone and giving them a Bible, somebody will say, ‘You’re attacking us. You’re causing problems.’”