Ian Torres is a Filipino house painter. When ISIS invaded the city, he and 2 other Christians hid in a basement. Outside they heard the militants shouting, “Allahu akbar’ and asking neighbors about their religion. “We could only hear them”, Torres said. “If they could not answer questions about Quran verses, gunfire immediately followed.” After 2 weeks of hiding in the basement and having almost no food to eat, Ian Torres and his companions slipped away during the night, climbing over dead bodies in the street, then swimming the Agos River under sniper fire before eventually escaping the besieged city.
So far, about 300 militants, 70 soldiers, and dozens of civilians have been killed in the battle for control of Marawi. The commander of U.S. Pacific forces, Admiral Harry Harris, told congressional leaders that Marawi is a wake-up call that ISIS is seeking to expand their Islamic State to Asia. The fighting has forced about 300,000 Filipinos from their homes. Those remaining are being held as hostages. Young women and girls are forced into sex slavery for the militants. Portions of Marawi city are in ruins. Philippine President Duturte has declared martial law – military rule, over the area.
Why the city of Marawi? When I lived in Mindanao in the early 1980’s, we traveled extensively throughout the island. But we never traveled near Marawi. Even then, the city was controlled by Muslims and generally unsafe for Christians. Today the city, more than anywhere else in the Philippines, offers ISIS the greatest chance of finding sympathizers. During raids, the Philippine military has uncovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribe money for locals who will join and fight with ISIS. The fact that fighting continues shows the resources and determination ISIS has in establishing an Asian stronghold.
But there are many Christians living in the surrounding cities where Marawi refugees are fleeing to. Now is our time to pray that these Christians will let their light shine brightly so those living in darkness can find their way to a new life of inward peace and joy through Jesus Christ. The intensity of pain and suffering that the people of Marawi are experiencing now are unimaginable. As we pray for an end to the conflict, we also pray for a new beginning in God’s kingdom for those who will call on the name of the Lord.