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Two Indigenous Missionaries Slain in Philippines

December 10, 2015

 'Pastor Cris' at home a month before he was killed.
Feliciano Lasawang, "Pastor Cris," at home a month before he was killed.

An indigenous missionary working in a remote mountain area of the southern Philippines and his 24-year-old son were shot dead as they bathed in a river on Nov. 27. A communist death squad is suspected.

Feliciano Lasawang, known locally as Pastor Cris, and his son, Darwin, were bathing at 6 a.m. in the Culaman River, where they used to conduct baptisms, when gunmen believed to be members of a death squad of the Communist Party of the Philippines fired on them. Pastor Lasawang was 50.

"Pastor Cris was shot three times in the body, and his son once only in the face, and they died on the spot," said a native ministry leader on the island of Mindanao, citing relatives in the pastor's nearby parsonage who heard the gunshots.

The executions took place on the country's southern-most island near Culaman, north of Jose Abad Santos in Davao del Sur Province (technically Davao Occidental Province, but still governed by Davao del Sur until elections in 2016).

Pastor Lasawang leaves behind his wife and seven surviving children, the youngest two girls, ages 13 and 15. The father and son were evangelists and led food and medical relief efforts in an area of southern Mindanao where both Islamic insurgents and Communist Party rebels pose dangers. The ministry leader said the communist militants are hostile to Christians because church growth hampers their cause.

"We become a hindrance to their mass recruitment of young people, to adults and children joining in their armed struggle against the government," he said. "In the areas where we have a ministry, a church and pastor, they become unfruitful, and they hate that."

Pastor Lasawang and his son, natives of the B'laan tribe, were reaching predominantly Muslim Kalagan and Sama tribes, as well as ethnic Manobo. The church they planted had sent out three evangelists to share Christ with other little-reached peoples in remote areas, the director said. Though Islamic extremists also are active in the area, local Christians believe communist militants pose the greater threat.

The church is stunned and in mourning, but the director said he expects the killings will help it to mature rather than wither.

"They were in shock at first when I talked to them, and they are in pain, but also with hope about what the Lord is going to do next," he said. "My heart is in deep sorrow knowing how they died, yet glorifying God, knowing where Pastor Chris and his son have gone."

Normally the ministry director visits churches he's planted once a month, but due to the dangers in Davao del Sur, he had been unable to visit Pastor Lasawang and his team for two years. The pastor had said the director could visit in October, however, if he exercised vigilance. After a long, rough trip over tortuous mountain paths and across rivers, the director on Oct. 27 was able to visit with the pastor he had discipled and trained.

"We arrived with the ministry's medical team to distribute medicines and challenge them to keep on fighting the good fight of faith," he said. "It was a short but very sweet fellowship. We talked about the future of the work, how we are going to accommodate the increasing attendance at church and continue the discipleship and evangelism program."

Pastor Lasawang asked the director to return in December to speak at the church, dedicate children and baptize new believers.

"We both had lively plans, full of hopes, accelerating desires to serve the Servant King," he said, "not knowing in God's plan that that would be our last fellowship here on earth."

Pastor Lasawang prays at baby dedication.
Pastor Lasawang prays at baby dedication.

Since 2006, the ministry has worked in areas where both Islamist and communist terrorists are present, as the director and his indigenous teams reach pockets where foreign missionaries would be quickly kidnapped or killed. The ministry has planted 18 house churches, 37 churches with buildings and 11 underground fellowships.

The ministry team trains church leaders and evangelists at their center at an undisclosed site in Mindanao and also visits remote areas to conduct week-long trainings. Those wishing to help the church now bereft of two of its leaders can give toward the living expenses of the surviving family members through Christian Aid Mission. They can also contribute toward the costs of young people in the fellowship who wish to attend Bible school and toward the expenses of former communists who now serve as evangelists, the ministry director said.

"We hate communism, but we love the communists, just like we love the Muslims but hate Mohammedanism," he said. "Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. We will continue to proclaim the gospel and build biblically sound churches anywhere the Holy Spirit of God leads us."

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