The village warning bells rang out in the early hours of the morning. Everyone knew what that meant. Evacuate immediately.
“What I saw on that day makes it difficult for me to sleep now,” said Pastor Buni. In 2008, a mob of militant rebels attacked his village on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. The memories of that attack have haunted him since, and he wept as he told Voice of the Martyrs staff what happened.
As soon as Pastor Buni heard the bells, he made a call on his mobile to arrange for boats to come and pick up his congregation from the emergency assembly point at the beach, according to the evacuation plan. Fortunately, most of the believers in the village evacuated as soon as they heard the warning and were able to escape to the beach.
Some didn’t make it that far, and found a place to hide in the bushes. “We were so afraid at that time.”
A Vicious Attack
At 4am, about 300 armed militants attacked the village. The attack was well-planned, and took the villagers by surprise. They sprayed homes with machine gun fire and ran through the village setting cars and houses on fire. There were Muslims living in the village community, however, the militants did not target any of their homes. Only the homes of Christians were attacked and destroyed. Pastor Buni said they called the local police, but with only 11 officers against 300 militants, the police were unwilling to intervene.
The militants took 84 villagers hostage, among them was the children’s teacher at Pastor Buni’s church. “My Sunday school teacher had been taken hostage by the rebels, but he managed to escape and ran back to his house in the village only to find that his house was all shot up,” Pastor Buni said.
Afraid that his wife and children had been killed, the teacher ran inside the house. Muslim militants were inside and they butchered him. “Later when the event was over, I went to his house and found his dead body. The sight of his body caused me not to be able to eat for a week and I found it difficult to sleep for a long time,” Pastor Buni said.
Twelve Christians were killed in the attack. A witness who was hiding in the village said they saw one of the militants impale a baby on his bayonet.
VOM staff asked Pastor Buni’s wife how this horrifying incident had affected her. “I cried out to the Lord saying, ‘How could this be happening?’” she said. “I cried for the victims, but especially for the children who died that day … All I could do was pray.”
On the beach at the evacuation point, the Christians who had escaped could hear gunfire and screaming coming from the direction of their village. They hid among the rocks for five hours until the boats came and ferried them to the safety of another island. The villagers who were taken hostage were later released by the militants.
Pastor Buni’s Ministry Continues
Pastor Buni did not let the attack deter him from returning to the village to continue his ministry sharing the Gospel with Muslims. Many of the Christians returned with him, rebuilding their homes and continuing the 24/7 surveillance to protect their properties, livestock and families. There have been several sporadic attacks since, but none with the brutality and severity of the 2008 attack.
Pastor Buni said several Muslims have received Christ as Lord and want to come to church, but their lives are in danger if they do so. “They want to come to our church, but according to my Muslim friend, if they come … their leaders would get angry with them and kill them and me also. They would kill me because I am the reason why they come to church and why they left their religion, their tradition, and now serve Jesus Christ.”
Pastor Buni calls them “secret believers”. He tells them, “If you believe He is still alive and inside your heart and you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour, then that’s the most important thing.”
Pastor Buni encourages his congregation to trust in the Lord at all times. “They are so strong at this time because they have had many experiences already with the Lord. He’s protecting them … they are still strong because they feel that God is good in their lives.”