Trouble, Strife – and Unexpected Opportunity
From helping a trigger-happy president to rid the country of drug addicts to aiding victims of an Islamist siege, indigenous missionaries in the Philippines are finding themselves in troubled places.
They are certain that God is sending them into places of turmoil for the advance of the gospel. Hundreds of thousands of users and sellers of illicit drugs have surrendered to avoid being gunned down by police under President Rodrigo Duterte’s lethal crack-down, flooding the country’s few, and already crowded, rehabilitation centers. The administration has given indigenous Christian ministries’ rehab programs free rein to help fill the void.
“We had the opportunity to preach the gospel in a drug rehab program to drug users and drug pushers who had surrendered to the local police,” the director of an indigenous ministry said. “We shared about God’s plan of salvation as the basis for change. We praise God for those who accepted Christ.”
Promising to kill anyone who got involved with drugs soon after he took office in June 2016, Duterte soon found it would cost billions of dollars to build the rehab infrastructure needed to provide treatment for those who surrendered. Among indigenous ministries that have stepped in to help meet the need is another group working with both drug addicts and prison inmates.
“The Duterte administration has opened ministry opportunities for us in reaching out to drug returnees in barangays [local communities] and rehabilitation centers and inmates in several jails throughout the country,” the leader of the group said. “God has given us a field ripe for harvest.”
Genuine transformation in the lives of drug addicts, inmates, and those who are hurting comes through a heart of stone changed into a heart of flesh, she said.
“The Duterte administration has opened ministry opportunities for us in reaching out to drug returnees in rehabilitation centers,” the ministry leader said. “God has given us a field ripe for harvest.”
“From darkness to light, from enslavement to freedom, from death to life – truly, Christ alone can deliver them,” she said. “A group of pastors has been using books to help them evangelize and counsel drug addicts in their local communities, and now 75 addicts are faithfully attending church.”
If Christian workers were not expecting such an opportunity to share Christ among throngs of drug offenders, perhaps even more unexpected was the five-month siege of Marawi city, on the island of Mindanao, by an Islamic extremist group affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS) and other jihadists. More than three months after government forces dislodged the terrorists, who had tried to turn the city into territory for an ISIS caliphate, many people are still displaced.
“During the siege, Christians were targeted, tortured and killed if they didn’t convert to radical Islam,” the director of another ministry based in the Philippines said. “The siege left many displaced and unable to return to the area for fear of their lives. Even Muslim people who are not part of the extreme sects in the area had to flee and remain displaced.”
The city is predominantly Muslim, one reason ISIS saw it as ripe for radicalization and takeover. Many displaced people have no homes to return to after five months of fighting left parts of the city in ruins.
“Native ministries in surrounding areas have reached out with compassionate aid to the displaced people in the name of the Lord Jesus,” the ministry leader said. “This has built relational bridges to share the gospel with those who have not heard.”
The native ministry’s longstanding outreach to children, which combines meeting a physical need with gospel proclamation, has been extended to the displaced children.
“One example of a typical child outreach is a three-day Bible and feeding program where children in poverty, including those displaced from Marawi, receive a nutritious meal, and they hear the gospel message and have Bible study,” the director said. “Hundreds of children hear the gospel through these outreaches.”
Native missionaries never expected to be able to access children and their parents who are regularly putting their faith in Christ thanks to these outreaches. Another place native missionaries never expected to access was a local city hall, but one indigenous ministry was recently invited to preach to municipal employees in Banaue, on Luzon Island. The unexpected opportunity arose after officials saw how Christianity improved attitudes toward work, fellow employees and morale.
The director of the same ministry has long preached in a setting where gospel proclamation would be normal for some pastors – funerals – but with a peculiar rural, native twist: the services can go on for hours and include a gospel film.
“Recently we were able to preach and show a gospel film at several funerals that lasted until 2 and 3 a.m.,” the ministry director said. “I thank the Lord for this passion for lost souls and the prayers of partners that keep me going. Even those who had too much alcohol paused to watch these films! I praise God for those who accepted Christ at these funerals – from a time of death came life.”
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