Resilience Amid Conflict

United Methodist refugee camp in the Philippines. Source: UM News

United Methodists throughout the Philippines are responding with compassion as conflict emerges between the Flippino government and Arakan barangay insurgents in North Cotabato. 

The region has seen more than 58 families displaced; 26 are members of Beho Omor United Methodist Church, a Lumad church. The Lumads are the largest indigenous ethnic group in the Philippines. 

According to Rev. Recto Baguio, a National in Mission from the Mindanao Central East district, refugees fled the ensuing violence seeking shelter at a local elementary school.

“The ordeal is to endure the cold night, especially the little children and the pregnant (women),” he said. “They sleep on the cold paved floor on used cardboard. They were not able to take with them … any bedding to sleep on. They are in need of food, sleeping mats, blankets, mosquito nets, medicines, cooking utensils (and) tarpaulin for makeshift tents.” 

Prior to the outbreak of hostilities, Beho Omor United Methodist Church experienced a series of revivals, confirmation classes, and held a charge conference. Currently, Rev. Baguio’s work includes assisting Lumad churches in developing plans and programs for preservation of values, tradition, beliefs and culture.  He also promotes better understanding in cross-cultural contexts among Lumads.

There have been a series of operations lately by the Filipino military due to the allegation that people in the Arakan community are supporters of the New People’s Army. United Methodists also have been accused of supporting the rebel group.

“On the second day, we were informed that a certain group of people (were) in the church teaching people, accusing that the group is composed of New People’s Army members. They are referring to us — church workers and laity members — who are members of the team of the witness committee,” he said.

As hostilities escalate, the local UMC Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Rodolfo A. Juan of the Davao Area, has urged people in the region to stay safe and avoid being caught in crossfires. Bishop Juan commented, “Our church is caught in the crossfire. The members of our congregation are displaced from their work and are in dire need of assistance.”

The Davao Episcopal Area office and the Mindanao Central East District have intervened to assist refugees providing rice, dried fish and beans to families, as well as clothing, but more help is needed.

Beho Omor United Methodist Church Pastor, Lydia Embog, said, “They were so happy when we got there in the evacuation area. We gave simple assistance to help them sustain for a few days.”

District Area Superintendent Rev. Miriam Joy Flauta said, “We gave relief to all evacuees, both Christians and Muslims,” in a show of compassion and unity for all refugees who desire a better life for their families.

In remarks given to news outlets, Baguio said the church should strive to be an instrument of peace. “Our faith is not confined in the four corners of the church; instead it does its prophetic ministry based on the United Methodist Social Principles.

“Let us continue to embody those Social Principles. That is what our founder John Wesley admonished us to do, for the world is our parish.”

Source: UM News