Nearly a year ago, on 23 May 2017, three days into Ramadan, the Philippine city of Marawi was overrun by the Maute group, an affiliate of so-called Islamic State (IS). It took only a few days for the city to be overrun, but several months for it to be liberated. During this time, 98 per cent of Marawi’s population were displaced. Citizens who couldn’t recite the Muslim prayers were executed.
Although the Philippines holds no rank in the 2018 World Watch List, Open Doors’ annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution, there are serious degrees of hostility against Christians and churches here. Open Doors has been working here for over 25 years, strengthening believers from a Muslim background (particularly those in the Sama, Tausug and Yakan tribes) with spiritual and practical support.
Dayang*, a pastor’s wife in Marawi appreciates the help of Open Doors: “When you came before the war started, you were so concerned for us. You asked us how we were, seeing we’re the only Christian presence in that city. We are a church in Marawi, brave children of God. They stone us, but we keep going. When you came before the war started, I believe the Lord sent an advanced party for us.”
Seeing the conflict at close quarters, an Open Doors co-worker said, “It was shocking to be in this war zone. The Philippine army drew signs on the buildings to indicate IS warriors were there, whether there were any weapons inside, and also if the house had been cleared. Then there was this neighbourhood that was lit on fire by IS soldiers. Many houses of Christians were burnt. Only the church was hardly damaged.”
Henry*, a carpenter, was caught up in the siege and held hostage by the Maute for eight days. During this time he saw many people being tortured, abused and killed but, by God’s grace, was able to escape to safety during the chaos of an airstrike. Once the siege was over Open Doors provided him with a set of tools to enable him to restart his business.
During the conflict, 79 government-run evacuation centres were set up and within a few weeks were housing 70,380 people, with almost 300,000 more displaced around the region. For one woman, this experience convinced her that Jesus was real. When a co-worker asked her why, she said, “Because people came to look for me during the war. When I fled the city, I had no possessions any more. But your organisation came to find me and brought me what I needed to survive.”
In addition to financial help and food relief, Open Doors partners also provided boxes of clothes to displaced Christians. Dayang expressed her gratitude on their behalf: “When the war broke, many helped us who were there for the first week, the second week, and then they were gone. But you stayed. You gave us rice, and we have something to eat. God truly never leaves his children, and I praise Him.”
At the end of the year, Open Doors brought together families for worship and food to remember the faithfulness of God. Dayang said, “I can’t help but cry. Here, we’re laughing, we’re worshipping – it’s like our problems don’t exist. Thank you, all of you. You came from far away just to be here. Open Doors is a channel of blessing to us, and what you’re doing teaches us to be a channel of blessing to others. If a tragedy like what befell us would ever fall on other people, let us be ready. Let us pass it on and prepare our hearts to be blessings to them.”
Open Doors is still helping Christians in Marawi with livelihood projects, biblical trainings, reconstruction and housing assistance, and reconciliation management.
We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.