Although mourning the brutal deaths of Pastor Feliciano Lasawang and his 24-year-old son, Christian leaders in the Philippines recalled the exemplary faith of the two men who brought the Gospel to areas overrun by Communist and Islamic militants.
According to a report from Christian Aid Mission, Feliciano Lasawang, known locally as Pastor Chris, 50, and his son, Darwin, were bathing in the Culaman River, located in a remote mountain area of the southern Philippines, when gunmen believed to be members of a death squad of the Communist Party of the Philippines fired on them.
"Pastor Chris 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 report notes that Pastor Lasawang leaves behind his wife and seven surviving children, the youngest two girls, ages 13 and 15.
Christian leaders in the region revealed that both Pastor Lasawang and his son were evangelists who boldly led food and medical relief efforts in an area of southern Mindanao where both Islamic insurgents and Communist Party rebels pose dangers.
At the time of their deaths, the two men were reaching predominantly Muslim Kalagan and Sama tribes and had planted a church that sent out three evangelists to share the Gospel with other little-reached areas.
"We become a hindrance to their mass recruitment of young people, to adults and children joining in their armed struggle against the government," explained a local ministry director of the dangers posed by Islamic extremists and Communist militants. "In the areas where we have a ministry, a church and pastor, they become unfruitful, and they hate that."
According to Voice of the Martyrs, the Philippines is Asia's most Christianized country; however, Christians living in areas with significant influence from Muslim and Communist organizations have routinely faced threats, kidnapping and death.
"The government has yet to adequately address the need for implementing land reform, for taming military excesses, for limiting the elite's power and for ending the Muslim secessionist and Marxist guerrilla wars," reads the report from VOM.
While the death of Pastor Lasawang and his son have stunned his church, they are finding comfort in the belief that God will use the tragedy for His glory.
"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," the ministry director, who personally trained Pastor Lasawang, said. "My heart is in deep sorrow knowing how they died, yet glorifying God, knowing where Pastor Chris and his son have gone."
The ministry director also recalled the last time he had seen Pastor Lasawang: "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."
Despite the horrific loss of their pastor, the church continues to minister to those in area, seeking to share the Gospel with those who are in desperate need of a Savior.
"We hate communism, but we love the communists, just like we love the Muslims but hate Mohammedanism," the ministry director 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."
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. To learn more about Christian Aid Mission, visit their website.