Despite the loss of their church building and rampant persecution from Muslim extremists in the local community, a church body in the Philippines continues to boldly proclaim the Gospel.
According to a report from Christian Aid Mission, a group of Muslim extremists set fire to a local church in a remote area of Mindanao last Christmas Eve, completely leveling the structure and destroying the only five copies of the Bible in a local tribal language.
The loss of the church, which the congregation had built with their own hands over the course of a year, was a severe blow to the Christian community, as it also served as the only school in the region.
"Now all our hard work, love and sacrifice to build the tribal hall-church-school is gone and turned to ashes," the ministry leader, Efren Puzon, said. "But we know our labor of love is not in vain. Everything is for our own good, and God is always in control; God is with us."
The report notes that the church, which is pastored by a man named Makisig who converted to Christianity just a few years ago, is located in a hotbed of Islamist rebels and communist. Even though it only stood for a short time, the church was never without persecution, as it was routinely pelted with stones and other objects. Christians living in the region are also continually ridiculed by the predominantly Muslim community.
"Their children also are persecuted," Puzon said. "Other children tease them, saying they will be crucified like their Issa [Jesus]. Some of the children are bullied in the school. Other children hit their heads for fun. Their women, too, are being gossiped about, with slander that they sleep with me. Some women whose work is washing the clothes of the other families are now banned from washing clothes as a means of living."
The area's children had already been traumatized as witnesses to Islamist militant disturbances, he added.
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.
Despite such persecution and setbacks, the church continues to boldly proclaim the Gospel, taking to heart Jesus' words in Matthew 5:11-12: "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
"[Church pastor] Brother Makisig told me by phone that if they passed through and survived the war and conflicts in their area before, when they didn't have God, how much more can they survive now because they have God," Puzon said. "He said, 'I read from the Bible that if Jesus Christ was persecuted, we as servants will not be above our Master; we will also be persecuted.'"
Makisig and his church are hoping to rebuild their church building, but resources are scarce, as the area has been depleted of timber and nipa fronds. Even if such materials could be found, however, such a structure could easily be burned down again.
Though the area is remote, the church is praying to rebuild with walls of concrete and a roof of galvanized iron at the cost of 200,000 pesos (US$4,260), Puzon said.
"Brother Makisig said there's no lack of workers, the only problem is the materials," Puzon said. "We are praying for a bigger tribal hall-church because Brother Makisig believes God will multiply the members of the church. And to God be the glory, the number who believe in Christ is growing in spite of hindrances and persecutions."
To learn more about Christian Aid Mission and how you can help indigenous missionaries such as Puzon, click here.