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A Beacon of Light - Into the Mist by Panika

In the words of Hudson Taylor, there are three stages to every great work of God; first, it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done. Missions, a testament to this truth, would be unattainable were it not for Christ's commissioning, promising not just trials but that His omnipresence and might would go with us.

This tale began in May 2023, when an idea sparked within a humble church in Iligan City, Philippines. The mission was daunting - venturing into a misty village known for its spiritual barrenness and the presence of the New People’s Army, an age-old rebel group of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Yet, the church embraced God's plan for a local tribal mission; a testament to His miracles and transforming power.

The seed was first planted in September 2022, when Pioneers inAsia visited for a missions conference. The prayer for local missions intensified, refocused, and unbeknownst to them, the mission to the Lumads was born. It was only in 2023 that they realised that this mission was the answer to their prayers. This tiny local church became a small beacon of light, piercing through the mist.

Ben and Biini's Journey: A Tapestry of Hope and Sorrow

In life's intricate patchwork, Ben and Biini's threads intertwine sorrow with hope. They are Lumads with six children and another on the way. They were known in the community for being Muslims and how one of their sons was killed due to “rido.” Rido is a classic family feud rooted in Mindanao, Philippines. Ben & Biini’s path, scarred by their second son's tragic demise, underscores the complexities of forgiveness and the spectre of revenge haunting their eldest.

Amidst the chaos, a beacon of hope emerged. Their children, drawn to weekly Bible studies since June 2023, found comfort and camaraderie there. The remaining eldest male, once aloof, now leans into the spiritual dialogue, his curiosity kindled.

When asked about the tragic event, the eldest son shared the wound's freshness; his parents are trapped in a cycle of grief, helplessness, and anger, unable to move past last year's sorrow. He wrestles with thoughts of revenge, yet clings to the hope that time may dull his vengeful desires.

Biini, the family's pillar, recently started attending the gatherings, her presence a silent testament to the healing underway. In a heartfelt moment, she shared a tender exchange with Deirdrè, her youngest child—a four-year-old curly-haired dreamer. When asked about her Saturday early morning routine - an early cold bath on this foggy 900-metre elevation of a mountain, Deirdré's response was simple yet profound: "Moadto ko kang Pastor" (“I'm going to see, Pastor”).

Deirdré's once puzzling speech has blossomed into clarity—a transformation her mother attributes to our classes' nurturing environment. This change reflects the family's openness to their children's participation in Bible study—a significant step for Ben and Biini, Lumads and Muslims.

Janna, their 10-year-old daughter, has embraced the scriptures fervently, her faith budding with each memorized verse. When asked about her spiritual journey, her response was heartfelt: "Pasalamat ko sa Ginoo nga naka-anhi ko diri, kaapil ko diri; nga nakaila ko sa Ginoo." (“I'm grateful to God for being part of this, for coming here; for knowing the Lord”).

Understanding the Lumads: A Tale of Resilience and Hope

The Lumads, indigenous to Bukidnon, Misamis Oriental and Lanao Area, are guardians of a rich cultural heritage. Their unique language, customs, and spiritual beliefs, rooted in nature's deities, paint a vibrant mosaic of life where their animistic religion and earthly realms merge.

Nestled in the heart of the mountains, Rogongon, a barangay (the smallest Philippine administrative unit and native Filipino term for a village, district, or ward), in Iligan City, is a testament to this rich drapery. Despite its proximity to the city, myths and legends deter many from venturing into this land, preserving its mysterious reputation yet hindering its progress.

The chieftain's support for the mission work marked the beginning of a new chapter. The team established a place of worship in this district; a one-hour uphill ride from the centre of the southern city of the Philippines; amidst the endless greenery and the ever-present fog.

The machete-bearing locals practise ‘swidden’ or slash-and-burn agriculture (which has long since been banned), attending to their corn planting or abaca hag-ot (preparing the fibrous material). However, beneath this rich cultural composite lies unmistakable poverty.

Most of the population’s children cease schooling once they reach the 6th grade, due to a lack of funds for supplies and food. Many adults only completed the first or second grade. Teens often marry early, adding to the poverty cycle. In times of sickness, they bear with it, relying on plants and herbs passed on to them from tradition, with minimal help and supplies. The nearest health centre, ill-equipped for emergencies, is a 30-minute ride away. In emergencies, they travel to the city by motorcycle, their only mode of transportation, or on foot, hitchhiking whenever they can.

Amidst these hardships, they cope, their resilience shining through the prevalent

poverty and alcoholism. The local church effort comprises a typical weekly meeting with Bible study, singing and lessons for all ages. The church prepares a brunch consisting of hot chocolate and bread, as well as a hearty and nutritious lunch for all who attend.

About Panika: A Lumad’s Journey of Faith and Compassion

(Names have been withheld, including the author’s, to protect the identities of the persons and the ongoing work in the place.)

Panika, a term for the Lumad headdress in Higaonon, symbolises the championing of their cultural heritage. In this context, Panika, the author, identifies with the Lumads, standing as one with them, yet delivering the message of salvation.

John 1:14 beautifully encapsulates this mission: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

In this mission work, cultural sensitivity is key. Compassionate care is also integral, mirroring the divine strategy of God who became flesh and dwelt among men, dwelling among those He is redeeming.

What to pray for?

1. An increase in love, compassionate care and wisdom for the church team towards the tribal people.

2. Continued safekeeping, health, and protection, especially during travels on zigzagging roads, amidst occasional landslides, and potential alerts from authorities due to rebel groups.

3. Provision: Weekly meal sharing with the Lumads, serving meals for over 40 people, and providing “pabaon” or money for the kids’ weekly school needs. Some adults are also compensated for their help with gathering firewood, and fixing, and maintaining the area.

4. Most importantly, for conversion and deliverance from their age-old beliefs, idolatry and unbelief - the sin that frees them from the clutches of the enemy that blind them to the glory of the Gospel of Christ Jesus; for eventual discipleship to commence, thus fulfilling Jesus Christ’s Great Commission as stated in Matt 28:18-20.

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