Some Filipino Christians are crossing centuries’ old barriers to show love to their Muslim neighbours.
“Have you ever heard the ‘still, small voice of the Holy Spirit’?” Joshua* asked Peter*. Joshua was the Filipino pastor of the church that Peter, an OMF worker from Canada, regularly attended in the southern Philippines.
“Yes,” Peter answered while wondering why Joshua had posed the question.
After a pause, Joshua explained that while buying fish in the market that day, he sensed the Spirit clearly telling him that he and his wife were to move to the Muslim community where Peter currently lived. Peter was about to return to Canada for awhile and had been – along with Joshua – praying about who might replace him and his wife in the area.
Peter was stunned by Joshua’s announcement. For one, Joshua seemed to have a bright future ahead as a pastor of his Filipino church. Secondly, there was a history of suspicion, fear and indifference among many Filipino churches toward their Muslim neighbors. Peter himself had seen this in the reaction to his own decision to live in a Muslim village. Most of the members eventually warmed to the idea, but now what would they think if their pastor followed suit?
Sometimes, it is hardest for churches to cross cultures among those who live in closest proximity to them. As Peter says, “Although the church members were used to Muslim communities nearby, the idea of intentionally moving into a community was very foreign and somewhat fearful for many.”
Indeed, the church struggled with Joshua’s decision for several weeks. In the end, the church’s board agreed to allow Joshua and his family to take Peter’s place in the village, which was 5 kilometers away, while still pastoring the church on the weekend.
Joshua’s move happened 25 years ago. Peter noticed that his Muslim friends responded differently to Joshua than they did to Peter. As a foreigner, Peter was able to get away with more language mistakes and cultural faux pas, but Joshua, as a native Filipino, saw doors opened that Peter had not.
Eventually, Peter moved on to other roles within OMF. Joshua moved, too, but is still working with the same Muslim people he has lived and served among for more than two decades. Other Filipino Christians have joined Joshua and his wife in living among this Muslim people group.
They seek to serve their communities in tangible ways. The area of the southern Philippines where they live has been known for revenge killings, war between government and rebel groups, and poverty for the past several decades. The people they serve are poor, subsistent farmers and fishermen.
In light of the many physical needs, Joshua is trying to help. He and his co-workers run a nursery school for small children in the area. They help sponsor older youth to be able to go to school and finish their education. They provide health awareness and education, along with a regular medical clinic. In doing all of the above, Joshua and his team are showing the love of Jesus in real, felt actions.
They also try to encourage their fellow Christians to be more involved in loving the Muslim peoples around them. Joshua longs for more local churches in the area – and the Philippines overall – to catch the vision of being a blessing to Muslims nearby. “There is a need for churches, especially those near Muslim communities, to overcome fear,” Joshua says.
Still, it has been encouraging to see Peter’s and then Joshua’s vision for this people group attract other believers to be involved. A quarter century after Joshua’s bold move, the “still, small voice” of the Holy Spirit continues to speak, changing the hearts of Filipino Christians to reach out in love to those around them, no matter their background or differences. The result is that after more than two decades of work, the persistent prayers, faithful service and genuine love for the people is making an impact on the Muslim peoples they serve.
*Some names have been changed.