Philippines (MNN) – A year after the siege of Marawi, some may be wondering what’s left of ISIS in the Southern Philippines.
Last October, government forces finally brought to an end a brutal five-month scourge of the radical group. However, as the fight to eradicate ISIS has shown us in other countries, just because they lost the fight does not mean they have lost the war. There is evidence that fighters are trying to regroup.
This struggle is not just a fight for political power. It is a war of ideologies, and that is one of the toughest to root out.
To reports that Islamists might be targeting Christians in Mindanao, AMG International’s Bill Passons says there is nothing to suggest that the tension is anything new. “This has been an ongoing situation for quite some time. When we speak about Mindanao, Mindanao is a large area, but there are definitely pockets where that statement would be true.”
How do Christians survive the hostility?
The reality for Christians living in areas populated by a radical Islamist element is that they’re aware of the tension, but, “They live in a context where people strongly disagree and would desire them not to be living as a Christian witness. But as God has called them there, they depend on His grace and they navigate those waters on a daily basis.”
A recent report from International Christian Concern suggests security forces are targeting Gospel workers for harassment and prejudice. For those operating under the title ‘missionary’, that might be true, especially if they stand out.
Passons explains that AMG does not send missionaries from the Western world. Rather, “We send national leaders throughout the country to plant churches and spread the Gospel. We also have a variety of different child and youth development programs where we invest and try to meet the deepest needs of the community by being the hands and feet of Christ in any way we can.”
That helps manage the risk. However, sometimes word gets out that things are changing.
“Generally speaking, we do see increased persecution as more people in a community will come to Christ. Sometimes it’s driven by things that are outside of the actual individual Christian’s control: political environment things that are popping up.”
On the political front, he says that can also play a role in triggering more incidents. “They’ve had some changes in the autonomous region in the way that the government is viewing them and looking at them and allowing them to govern themselves, and so some of those political things change. Sometimes, it can just be world events that excite people and make them respond in ways that would be more radical.”
Focusing on the big picture
However, for the team with which AMG works, they’re not looking at the circumstances, but the bigger picture of Christ. Passons asks, “Pray that they would continue to keep their eyes focused on Christ. Pray that they would remain faithful and that their testimony would just bring glory and honor to God.”
There is antagonism and extremist risk in the Southern Philippines, Passons acknowledges, but military intervention isn’t likely to solve the instability problems these issues create.
“Ultimately, what’s going to change this community is just that the Gospel goes out and that these people — maybe even some of these people who have radical ideas now — are confronted with the Gospel and it transforms their lives. That’s what ultimately changes community, so just pray that the Gospel will continue.”
As groundbreaking for rebuilding one of the siege-ravaged communities begins tomorrow, Passons reminds us what we can do to come alongside believers in the Philippines. “As you’re being made aware, I think there’s an obligation that we have to pray and lift up our brothers and sisters around the world.”
He closes with one last thought: “We believe that God’s grace is sufficient.”
Header photo courtesy of Mark Jhomel/CC.