If you're like I was until recently, you probably couldn't locate Mindanao (pronounced min-duh-NOW) on a map. It's the predominant island of the southern Philippines, where far from the headlines in the West, Christians are being killed and brutalized by Muslims.
This is a new twist on a conflict that goes back centuries. Arab traders and missionaries brought Islam to the animistic peoples of Mindanao as early as the 14th century, a fact which greatly dismayed the Spanish when they colonized the Philippines in the 16th century. They named the inhabitants "Moros" after the Moors that they had only recently ejected from Spain after their own centuries-long struggle. Ever since Spanish colonization, the Moros of Mindanao have fought continually and violently to establish their independence from all foreign, imperialist occupiers—Spain (1565-1898), the United States (1898-1941), and Japan (1941-1945). Since then, they have campaigned against the government of the Republic of the Philippines.
In recent years the Muslim independence movement, particularly a violent faction called the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), has adopted the ideology of jihadist Islam from elsewhere in the world. That political theology identifies not only the government of the Philippines as the enemy, but Christians in general, including civilians, women, children, and the elderly. That makes parts of Mindanao extremely dangerous since Christians compose 63% of the population, and all of them are potential targets of MILF.
But the believers that are most under threat are those living in or near the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the only part of the Philippines with a semi-independent government subordinate to the national government. The region was created as part of a lengthy initiative by the Filipino government to come to terms with Muslim separatists. Most recently those separatists have demanded additional territory to accrue to the ARMM. The government agreed, but the to-be-annexed provinces protested, and the Supreme Court of the Philippines suspended the agreement. Meanwhile, forces of the government and MILF repeatedly violate cease-fires, leaving many dead and displaced. And at times, whole villages of Christians in the war zone in the borderlands between government- and MILF-controlled areas endure ambush and slaughter at the hands of MILF guerillas.
There are Moros who peacefully advocate expansion of ARMM as part of a final, legal, peaceful settlement to resolve what they believe to be their legitimate grievances against a corrupt and unfair government. But then there are violent jihadists in MILF who, like their counterparts around the world, cannot be appeased or satisfied. No concession is ever enough. They have no capacity to govern a territory in a constructive, sustainable way among the family of nations. All they know how to do is take over areas and destroy all the freedom and justice within them while looking for the next place to conquer. Their ultimate objective is to make everyone like themselves.
And so the radical resistance of the suffering Christians in Mindanao is to be themselves—to continue to confess and worship Jesus Christ no matter what. Nothing is more essential or strikes more at the heart of jihadists than that stubborn unwillingness to yield their faith and identity in Christ. And while they stand firm in who they are, they remain connected to those who hate them. There are churches who bless MILF detachments with prayer and pastors who humbly and gently share the gospel with guerillas. And there are many who have died and even more who have lost all they have.
Consider taking some time to pray for our brothers and sisters in Mindanao. Watch testimonies of these brave believers standing for Christ in this violent land. Consider donating to a group like Voice of the Martyrs that provides encouragement, replacement belongings, and refugee camps for Christians displaced by the fighting. And pray also for lasting peace for both Christians and Muslims in that war-torn place.