Nearly 200,000 displaced in southern Philippines as extremist attacks persist

Philippines (MNN) — Clashes between Muslim extremists and the army in the southern Philippines still aren’t letting up. The siege in Marawi City has stretched into its fifth week now after ISIS-pledged militants took over in late May. While Filipino authorities say the extremists in Marawi are losing ground, the fight isn’t over.

Reserve soldiers in the Armed Forces of the Philippines. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Earlier this week, a separate group of extremist rebel fighters tried to attack a government outpost, then retreated and holed up in a public elementary school. They took 31 villagers as hostages, including 12 children. After a day of fighting with the government troops that had pursued them, the militants freed the hostages on Wednesday and fled the school.

The Philippines has started working with Indonesia and Malaysia to prevent funds and weapons destined for extremist groups from crossing their borders. The trio of countries has also launched naval patrols to stem any influx of radical Muslim groups. While these Asian nations have a history of ignoring the threat of Muslim extremists whose aim is to establish a caliphate, the recent violence has grabbed international attention and threatened national stability.

Christian Aid Mission’s Steve Van Valkenburg reflects, “I think too that it’s [getting] the government of the Philippines to think more clearly about what they’re facing and what they need to be doing and what’s going to be involved with dealing with the more radical elements within Islam.”

(Photo courtesy of Voice of the Martyrs)

Ministry partners in the Philippines with Christian Aid Mission have been impacted by the violence. They will often send Filipino Christians as evangelists into Muslim-majority communities. But with the extremist attacks taking place, these local Christians now face extra scrutiny and could even become targets. Some of the workers have left; others are laying low or being protected by Muslim neighbors.

Van Valkenburg says it’s also affected their ministry partners’ ability to travel. “There are supposed to be some 12 people coming in to become new [evangelism] workers with Muslims, but because they have to go through that area [of Marawi] and in that area, they’re stranded now and they can’t get out to go to the training.”

According to local news outlets, nearly 200,000 people have been displaced due to the ongoing chaos in Mindanao. Van Valkenburg says they have Filipino ministry partners on the ground giving aid to the displaced families – many of whom are Muslim.

“One interesting timing aspect [is that] this is Ramadan, and they basically are trying to help people come off Ramadan fasting and often it’s like just apples…and clothing, rice, soap, those kinds of things, meeting medical needs. But it’s not really convenient for these people fasting for Ramadan and then having this happen.”

Some of the internally displaced people (IDPs) have family elsewhere in the Philippines they can go and stay with. Often, they’ll divide the household space with a curtain to provide privacy. But with several families in one house, it’s close quarters and they can’t always afford the extra mouths to food. Many families hosting IDP relatives have run out of money.

Wading through flooded farmland in the Philippines. (Photo courtesy of World Mission)

That’s where the local churches are coming in as the hands and feet of Christ with this aid. And now they’re seeing that Christians and churches even from farther regions of the Philippines have been sending support to help these churches around Mindanao in their outreach.

“Their long-term goal would be that when things settle down again, that the people of Marawi City know there are Christians there who they care for them and have shared with them the Gospel, and that they would have a new foothold within the city once things settle down.”

One thing is for sure: this societal upset isn’t going away anytime soon, which is why your prayers are vitally important.

“Pray for the Christians there to know how best to help…these people so they can emotionally deal with what they’re facing and then help them to come around to asking eternal questions.”

Christian Aid also needs your help to provide ongoing support. Van Valkenburg shares, “We sent funds when we first heard about it, but obviously, those funds have been used up and they can always use more funds for that.”

To give through Christian Aid, click here and find the donation option for the Philippines at the bottom of their web page.