Tuesday, March 13, 2007

When we sincerely love our brethren…

(This was the article that I wrote for Project ISLAM that was published in the Academic issue of the Corps Magazine. I am hoping that by publishing this article in my blog many more can understand the power of genuine love)

What would it take to end the war between the Christians and Muslims?

This is a question that confronts many of us. In the Philippines alone, we have a long history of Muslim insurgency. We have had generations and generations of Christians and Muslims fighting each other, to the point that it has affected many of our countrymen, including the state of our country’s progress.

In one Muslim Community in Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte could lie the answer to this question.

Delabayan is a small Muslim community of about 300 families. In March 2000, this community became the stage of the country’s most recent war between the Armed Forces and the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

What began as the MILF’s show of force when they attacked Kauswagan town triggered a full- scale war, the biggest in our recent history. The place became an instant war zone that displaced the many civilians that occupied the place. This was also to become one of the biggest miracles that will happen between Filipino Christians and Muslims.

God’s Call

On 26 March 1999, Pastor Florentino de Jesus spoke to a group of people. He spoke about genuinely loving all Muslims.

In his sermon, he used the verse in Genesis 17:20 which said “…as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers…”

He challenged everyone – including then Major Johnny Macanas – in that gathering to show love to the Muslims.

As a young man, Major Macanas’ idea of Muslims was full of biases. Like most of us, he was told of stories that were full of hatred for the Muslims. He believed that they can not be trusted, that they destroy everything that this country stands for and, much worse, he believed that they should all go to hell.

He carried this bias even when he became a soldier. As a young lieutenant early in his military career, he always kept his distance from the Muslims, believing that they might do something bad to him. When he was assigned to Lanao del Sur in 1989, he isolated himself from the Muslims even if his unit was situated at the heart of a Muslim community.

In the six months that he was assigned with that unit, he was always suspicious of them –increasing his hatred more and more. At one point, he quarreled with a fellow Muslim officer simply because of his biases.

On this day, he was “convicted” when Pastor de Jesus challenged those who heard his message, thus: “Who are we to hate and curse the Muslim people who God had blessed and loved so much?”

As a devout Christian, these words reverberated inside his heart, and tears started to flow from his eyes. He felt a sense of guilt that, eventually, he realized that his biases were baseless and that he was cursing a people that God himself had blessed and loved.

At that moment, he prayed to God and said, “Lord, if you want to use my life to bless the Muslims, I am willing.” Thus the acronym ISLAM was born; it means “I Sincerely Love All Muslims.”

With Major Macanas’ change of perspective, there was a drastic change in the way he treated the Muslims. While before, he had wanted them all to go to hell, this time he felt a sense of compassion that he never felt before.

He wanted so badly to show to the Muslims that he genuinely loves them.

By June 1999, he became the Civil Military Officer (G7) of the 4th Infantry Division based in Cagayan de Oro City. In his position, he was able to visit many Muslim areas, further enhancing his appreciation for their culture, especially the religion of the people that he formerly cursed. But still he was longing for the perfect opportunity for him to show his new “bias” for the Muslims.

The war with the Muslims: The overflowing of genuine love.

In March 2000, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front attacked Kauswagan town in Lanao del Norte. When the Armed Forces conducted its offensives, the rebels retreated to the community of Delabayan, displacing everyone in that community as their home suddenly became a war zone.

Thus began the all-out war against the MILF.

Major Macanas, being the G7 (Staff function for Civil Military Operations), was immediately tasked to take care of the evacuees that were displaced. Even at this point, the biases of our culture became clear as the Christians and Muslims were separated for no apparent reason.

The Christians evacuated to Iligan City while the Muslims went to Marawi City. When then President Estrada ordered the release of one thousand sacks of rice for the evacuees, only ten percent of this rice reached the Muslims.

While the Muslims in Marawi were dying of hunger, the Christians in Iligan were celebrating the “punishment” of the Muslim people. Major Macanas, performing his official function, immediately dispatched the Division’s resources to save the Muslims. His first project was medicine distribution to the evacuation center in Marawi. As he was supervising this project, he wondered why the Muslims were not happy with what they were receiving, prompting him to ask one older woman in Visayan:

“Nganong dili man ka malipay sa among tabang? (Why are you not happy with the help we are extending?)

“Unsaon man namo ang tambal nga tulo naman mi kaadlaw way kaon? (What use will we have with the medicine when we have not eaten for three days?)

At that instant, Major Macanas felt this heavy burden which prompted him to go to one area and cried out to God. While praying, it was as if God spoke to him, thus: “I allow this war to happen to create a desperate need for the Muslims.”

At that point, he realized that this was God’s Golden Opportunity. With the division not having any resources to address the concern of the hungry Muslims, he sought the help of the different Bible-believing Christians in Cagayan de Oro City, dubbing it as Project ISLAM.

This was not easy for him. Almost all of the churches he went to did not want to extend their help. But he continued because, as he would say, he was heeding a command from God. The first big break came when Pastor Alex Eduave of the Pentecostal Church of God heard of his initiative.

Pastor Eduave was the last person anyone could expect to help the Muslims. His brother, who was a soldier, was brutally mutilated by Muslims who even plucked out his eyes. But his faith was more powerful and he sensed the same burden that Major Macanas felt.

In May 2000, the two finally met and, immediately, Pastor Eduave mobilized his church to gather support for the Muslim evacuees in Marawi. In a week’s time, after their initial meeting, two Army trucks were heading towards Marawi City, full of Christians willing to help the Muslims. They gave food, medicine and even conducted parlor games for the children to make them forget the trauma of war.

In that activity, the Muslims were as amazed as the helping Christians for they, too, believed that all Christians are out to kill them.

When Pastor Eduave handed a measly two kilos of rice to one older man, he said, “Bapa (lolo in Maranaw) pasensya na kayo at ito lang ang nakayanan namin.”

The old man replied, “Pastor wala mi nagtan-aw sa kagamay sa inyong gihatag, ang nakit-an namo ay ang kadako sa inyong kasing kasing.” (Pastor, we do not look at how small your gift is, what we see is how big your heart is.)

That brought tears to Pastor Eduave who realized the amazing power that genuine love can do.

When an imam was interviewed by the media, he did not have anything to say other than simply “unbelievable.”

The children who participated in the parlor games almost forgot that they were victims of war. They had big smiles on their faces as they had fun playing with the Christian groups that were there.

When the group left that day, the children were crying, they were holding on to their new- found friends and it was as if they never wanted the Christians to go.

As soon as they got back to Cagayan de Oro City, they started to tell the miracles that happened in Marawi City that day. They started to talk in different churches, gaining more and more support from other Christian groups.

In the succeeding months, there were more trips to Marawi that were of the same nature.

They preached no Christianity; they simply showed the Muslims genuine love.

Rebuilding Delabayan

When Camp Abu Bakar, MILF’s stronghold, was finally captured in September 2000, it also ended the war – prompting the evacuees to go back to their land and start a new life.

On the same month, 30 families led by Sultan Kamlon Moner went back to Delabayan. They did not know how to rebuild their lives. They simply said that if they were to die of hunger, it would be better that it happened in their homeland.

General Roy Cimatu, who was then the Division commander, gave specific instructions to Major Macanas to rebuild Delabayan. He said that when he graduated as a young lieutenant in 1970, he was immediately sent to fight the war with the Muslims.

Now that he was a general, it was still the same war that he was fighting.

On the first Friday that the group of Sultan Moner arrived in Delabayan, they gathered together and prayed to Allah to help them. They prayed for food and other immediate needs for them to survive and begin their new life.

The next day, the Christians came bringing with them the things that they prayed for. The Muslims expected their rich relatives to help them but instead it was their “enemies” who came and brought their exact need.

This happened several times that finally Sultan Moner and the other Muslims realized that the Muslims and the Christians must have the same God who answered their prayers.

Major Macanas realized that they can not go on just giving the Muslims food forever. Something must be done for them to start life anew,thus the immediate need for houses.

This was a huge undertaking that he felt he can not do. He prayed hard to gain wisdom in this undertaking but still it was clear that God was telling him to build houses for the Muslims of Delabayan.

Then, God spoke to Major Macanas again in the form of a small card he saw which said: Attempt great things for God, expect great things from God.

This was his confirmation and, although hard, he knew God was behind him. With almost no money to begin, Project ISLAM conducted fund-raising drives just to raise money to start the building of houses. The group was so hard up that they even went as far as planting camote and selling it just to find money. That was how they built their first house and, after that, support from all over poured in.

The word about Project ISLAM was like a brushfire that captured Christians from all over the world. Unbelievably, money was being sent even as far as the United States and people were coming from everywhere to help build the houses for the Muslims.

Now, Project ISLAM has built more than 300 houses for our Muslim brethren. Other infrastructure projects also came like Youth Centers, Livelihood Projects and even their own Water Reservoir.

Delabayan now has the biggest water reservoir in Lanao del Norte and it boasts of providing water directly to their homes.

Muslims and Christians united… at last!

With the many projects that went on, the people of Delabayan still were suspicious that the Christians simply were trying to convert them to their faith.

The leaders of Project ISLAM also observed this and they prayed hard to resolve this gap. It was through this that the leaders decided to build a mosque for the Muslims.

The decision was not received well by many of the Christian groups who supported the project. Some considered this as a betrayal of their faith. But Major Macanas and all the other leaders remained firm in their decision.

As a result, those who did not agree left the group. Now with fewer people, it became harder to raise the necessary funds, but still they persisted, heeding the same feeling that they had when they first started the project.

Another group provided the seed money for the construction of the structure and, from there, everything just came into place until finally, it was finished.

That was the clinching point that finally broke down the barrier of suspicion between the Muslims and the Christians. The Muslims were finally convinced that the Christians were not helping them for any ulterior motives. The Christians sincerely loved them.

Now, the mosque in Delabayan is the only one in the country and maybe in the world constructed by Christians.

When Camiguin was struck by flash floods in 2001, it was the Muslims from Delabayan who immediately took action and extended help to the Christian victims.

It became clear that love begets love. The people of Delabayan, with very little resources to spare, gave their own malongs so that they can at least show their love to the Christian victims.

Just recently, a soldier got wounded and strayed near the area of Delabayan. If this happened before the all-out war, the soldier would have been killed by the Muslims themselves. This time around though, a miracle happened. The farmer who saw this wounded soldier brought him to Delabayan and the community nursed him back to good health.

When the officers of the 4th Division learned of this, they were simply amazed, for this has never happened before. For those who took part in Project ISLAM, they knew that it was the fruit of showing genuine love to their brethren.

These are only some events that have never happened in recent history: Christians and Muslims showing each other genuine love.

Project ISLAM today

Today, Project ISLAM continues to help the people of Delabayan in improving their lives and sowing love. They have started to send the youth of Delabayan to college to further help in the building of this community.

These scholars will become the pioneers in providing the knowledge that will make the community self sufficient and independent.

Delabayan now is very progressive. Soon, it will become a town separate from Kauswagan.

There have been many suggestions of doing the same project in other Muslim areas but the leadership still is not ready to leave Delabayan. They believe that God still has another miracle to do.

The miracle in Delabayan is the perfect illustration of the power of love. It has created an impact so great that it did not only improve the lives of people but it opened eyes to a possible solution to the conflict between Christians and Muslims.

Muslims from Delabayan now call themselves “born-again Muslims,” a new term that evolved as a result of the amazing events that unfolded in the former war zone.

Muslims and Christians alike in the place now believe that they are people of the same God and that the key to the long-standing conflict between their religions is genuine love for each other.

Note: Johnny Macanas is now a lieutenant colonel assigned to the PMA. He continues to espouse the doctrine of sincerely loving the Muslims. This story was the result of the writer’s interview with LTC Macanas. Project ISLAM Foundation may be reached at 2nd Floor, Kissmet Barbershop, Capistrano-Divisoria Sts, Cagayan de Oro City; with telephone nos. (88) 2315522 and (8822) 740010.


ian said...

I am happy to share as well that with the combined efforts of Muslims and Christians in the area, Camp Abu Bakr is now the site of more than 170 Gawad Kalinga homes, providing shelter for war refugees. This April, we'll celebrate the second anniversary of the HOPE (Highway of Peace) Caravan- where GK volunteers all over the country troop to Camp Abu Bakr to relive and celebrate the creation of peaceful communities in once war-torn locales.

God is indeed great.

richard boyce said...

We were on holiday from Australia and introduced by Baguio Pastors Rexy and Leo Montenegro to Col Johnny Macanas, who showed us the ISLAM video.
We could see God's anointing on ISLAM, and were led to give to the ministry.
We are returning to Philippines in July 2009 and hope to visit ISLAM in Mindanao to see for ourselves.
In the meantime we will try to encourage christians in Australia to support ISLAM, which may be difficult in view of our history in Iraq and Afganistan.
But we have a great God!
Anna and Richard Boyce