The Philippines, in South East Asia, is a country of many islands as we learnt recently when they were subject to a horrendous tropical storm which did a huge amount of damage in the north.
Three-quarters of the population, mainly in the north, is Christian. In the south of the country, in the area of Mindanao, the population is majority Muslim, having been converted by Arab traders in the 10th and 11th centuries, long before Christianity reached the rest of the country in the 15th century. This remained the situation until the middle of the last century.
Since then, as in many other areas of the world, militant Islamists groups in have been actively fighting to establish a separate Islamic area in the southern part of the Philippines where they intended to introduce sharia law, with fears that this would eventually pave the way for an Islamic sub-state.
In 2008, when an agreement between the government and the militant Islamic groups was signed, objections by Christians in the area was met by extreme violence resulting in the death of some 400 Christians and the displacement of around 750,000.
In November 2012, the then government signed a further agreement with the militants to create a semi-autonomous area to be called “Bangsamoro”. Following this local agreement there has been an increase in violence with the destruction of churches and even villages, with harassment of churchgoers and their pastors and more displacement of people.
In May 2017 the violence was stepped up with extremists affiliated to “Islamic State” taking over the town of Marawi on Mindanao with thousands fleeing and Christian hostages being used as slaves and human shields. This led to martial law being declared by the president and a military intervention to retake the town. This took more than four months. The situation appears to be ongoing with a fragile peace holding while negotiations continue.
● Give thanks to God for the church in the Philippines, and for the fortitude and bravery of those in the southern region of Bangsamoro.
● Pray that sharia law will not be forced on non-muslims in Bangsamoro.
● Pray for for the protection of converts from Islam who would be vulnerable under sharia law.
● Pray for peace and the healing of those traumatised by attacks by Islamic extremists.
● Give thanks that so far the government has been active in keeping peace and pray that they will continue to uphold the freedoms of all citizens.
● Pray for a change of heart in the attackers, and that they too will come to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.