Safety is a concern on Mindanao

Violence, threats make missionaries wary.

American missionaries in the southern Philippines are keeping a low profile because of violence against Christians and threats against U.S. citizens, U.S.-based ministries say.

...The U.S. Embassy in Manila has warned Americans to avoid areas of Mindanao and the Basilan islands, where the radical Islamic rebel group Abu Sayaaf is active. The group's members are trying to form an independent Muslim state and have threatened to shoot Americans or take them hostage, news reports say. U.S. missionaries with several denominations work in the region, a worker who spent six years there told Religion Today.

...Safety is a concern on Mindanao, said the American missionary, who did not want to be identified because he plans to return to the island. More than 120,000 people have died in a 30-year civil war carried out by Abu Sayaaf and other Muslim groups.

...Missionaries "depend totally on God's grace" for protection, the American worker said. "We are at work there because we believe God wants us to reach the people despite the risk to our safety." They take precautions, he said, by varying their daily routines and travel routes. "We seek to make ourselves hard targets rather than an easy ones."

...Missionaries should avoid public transportation and be careful about the routes they travel in light of recent violence, New Tribes Mission, a missionary-sending agency, told its workers. Other ministries said their workers are aware of the dangers and are taking proper precautions.

...The mostly Catholic population lives in fear of attacks by Muslim rebels, the missionary said. The rebels have carried out systematic attacks on Christian towns and churches and kidnapped Catholic and Protestant missionaries. More than 50 people died in a brutal attack on the Christian city of Ipil in 1995, he said.

...Abu Sayaaf beheaded two male Catholic schoolteachers last week after the Philippines' government rejected its demands to ask the U.S. government to release Arab terrorists jailed for the 1993 World Trade Center bombings, Reuters said. The rebels are holding 27 other hostages, mostly women and children, taken from a Basilan Catholic school on March 20, news reports said.

...Government troops attacked the rebel stronghold April 23, killing as many as 20 rebels, news reports said. The government has pledged to continue the assault until the rebels are dispersed, but Abu Sayaaf has promised to kill more male hostages and enslave the women and children if the government does not cease its attacks.

...Mindanao is the second-largest island in the Philippines. More than a third of the country's 70 million people live there, and it is a major source of food since an eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 destroyed most farmland on Luzon, the main island, the missionary said. Catholicism is the predominant religion, but many followers are syncretists, mixing ancient pagan beliefs with the Catholic faith.

...Muslims claim the area is traditionally Islamic and that Spain imposed Catholicism on the populace when it colonized the Philippines, the missionary said. Abu Sayaaf and other Muslim groups want to force Christians out and Islamicize the area, he said. Other Islamic groups are "somewhat nationalistic, but Abu Sayaaf claims that its only allegiance is to Islam."

Religion Today, April 25, 2000

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