“At one point, it was easier to kill a person than a chicken,” said ‘Alejandro.’ Back then, he was a terrorist with a militant Islamic organisation in Mindanao. He’d bombed civilians, government soldiers, US Marines and the homes of Christians. He didn’t even know how many people he’d killed. “I was not afraid to kill anyone for the glory of Allah,” he said.
Alejandro was the only son in a strict Muslim family. He’d brought honour to his father by joining the Islamist rebels and was considered a worthy heir. But after several years of indiscriminate killing, Alejandro’s conscience began to bother him. He left the militant group and went into secular work, but he remained committed to his Muslim faith and to his family.
His work required that he travel around the island of Mindanao, and in 2009 he met a Christian who invited him to church. At first Alejandro turned down the invitation; he wasn’t interested in Christianity. But the Christian persisted, and after five invitations Alejandro finally agreed to visit the man’s church.
No more planting bombs
During the church service, Alejandro suddenly found himself crying and walking to the front of the church. “I was a tough military guy, an Islamic killer,” he said. “I never cried, never. That day, I decided to leave Islam and follow Jesus.”
Alejandro knew he could never set bombs in the name of Islam again. He told his father everything that had happened, all the while praying that he would understand. But when Alejandro’s father learned that he had become a Christian, he exploded and began beating him.
As the stronger, younger man, Alejandro was able to repel the attack. His father then grabbed a machete, pronounced a curse over his apostate son and told him he would kill him. Alejandro left the house and has not seen his parents since. He still talks by phone with his siblings, who tell him his devout Muslim parents remain deeply angry with him.
The same year Alejandro became a Christian, he decided he wanted to enter full-time ministry. He soon quit his job and enrolled in a Bible school (similar to a school VOM supports in Mindanao). The facilities are simple and students do their own cooking, building maintenance and cleaning. When VOM distributes literature or Bibles at Bible schools and secular schools, the students are highly grateful for the materials. At one distribution, a VOM worker saw students embracing and kissing the Bibles they received.
When Alejandro completed his four-year degree, his church denomination assigned him to a ministry location. They are assigned to ministry positions wherever the need exists, and some of the ministers that VOM encourages are assigned to remote areas. Alejandro’s assignment was a church that was once attended by 130 families. After years of pressure and Muslim attacks, however, the building was abandoned; it hadn’t been used for several years when Alejandro arrived.
Conflicts between government military forces and Islamic soldiers were common in the area where Alejandro was assigned. On some nights, he used earplugs to block the sound of gunfire and exploding grenades so he could sleep.
He risks his life everyday
At first, he was able to recruit only five families to help him revive the church. But this year, after months of hard work in the community, the church is starting to grow. Alejandro also takes evangelism trips to neighbouring villages each week, either walking or riding on a water buffalo. His life is at risk every day. Anyone who enters the area knows there is a possibility that he or she might be killed. But Alejandro says he is willing to be used by God, even if it means he has to die.
Last year, Alejandro attended a VOM-sponsored pastors’ conference, which brought together pastors from all over the Mindanao region for a time of refreshment and encouragement. Alejandro brought with him a former Muslim man whom he had led to Christ.
Now a fisher of men
After the last night of the conference, a VOM worker saw Alejandro sitting at a table in deep conversation with another conference attendee – the relative of a pastor who had been killed, along with his wife and children, by Muslim militants just a few months earlier. “I was struck by the evidence that God’s Spirit is able to reconcile a former Muslim murderer of Christians with one who has recently experienced the grief of family members’ deaths at the hands of Muslims,” said the VOM worker.