The Maganoy Episode (Part 1)

(Last week’s Jeremiah reflection provoked some memories).

Reflection: Psalm 121; Psalm 91.

Two years after our arrival in the Philippines on 9 December 1987, we immersed into our Maguindanaon acculturation programme at Labu-labu Village, in the Maganoy Municipality: an agricultural and lumbering community 50 km southeast of Cotabato City on Mindanao Island. Psalm 121 was ringing in our ears as we settled into our cozy two-storey attap home for the next two years – He will not let you stumble, the one who watches over you will not slumber. The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over you as you come and go. Being the only believers in the village, those words meant more than we ever could envisage then.

Three weeks into our stay, with the sun setting beautifully on the horizon at 6.30pm, gunfire and grenades punctured the calm. Their resonance was too close for comfort. Everyone in the village scattered indoors. I rushed upstairs and saw men chasing one another in an open field 100 meters behind our home. Our corner of the village was on the front line. I stood behind a thick wooden column watching nervously, and praying anxiously! As Donna and I hunkered downstairs a little later, with our front door locked, we recalled Psalm 121 and read Psalm 91 – Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. He alone is my refuge, my place of safety, he is my God, and I trust him. Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night. Our hearts were garrisoned by His peace. Without electricity and no one lighting their oil lamps indoors, the whole village was plunged into darkness. The skirmish outside lasted for an hour.

By nightfall, everyone living around us took advantage of the lull in the fighting and evacuated, fearing a repeat spill over of the violence into the village. The two rival insurgent groups were settling their political scores that resulted in seven fatalities and countless wounded. The old man of the family appointed to watch over us, knocked at our door and told us to leave as he said he could no longer protect us. At 8.30pm, leave to go where, I thought. We had just arrived! I asked him why he was staying behind. He said it would be inappropriate for him to leave as he is a Kagi (someone who had made a Meccan pilgrimage, and consequently is expected to be fearless), but he had sent his family away. We informed him that we had prayed and we would stay as God has promised to watch over us. He looked at us incredulously, and walked away mumbling to himself. Needless to say, we stayed awake all night.

The next morning, our attempts to send messages to reassure our colleagues in Cotabato City failed. The whole village and the market town of Maganoy were under a blockade by the opposing group. The national police force and army did not intervene. Travel along the highway that passed through the town was cut-off. Our corner of the village became a ‘ghost town,’ with only a few Kagis and ourselves, apart from the insurgents who had reorganized themselves in a different part of the village. We were not allowed to venture beyond the confines of our small enclave. As days passed, we began to ration our meager food supply, unable to do any daily marketing.

Within a week, different ones began filtering back to the village. We were so glad to see them again, and life soon normalized. By remaining behind, the villagers’ respect for us climbed a few notches, and the initial barrier as strangers in the community had been broken, and many new friends were made in the ensuing weeks and months.

The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
The Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.
The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever.

A memorable beginning with our Lord!

Five months later…..

Our Attap Home. This is the front view.
Our Attap Home. This is the front view.
A snapshot of a few of the villagers in our corner of Labu-labu. The local mosque is in the background (left).
A snapshot of a few of the villagers in our corner of Labu-labu. The local mosque is in the background (left).

Credit: Zheluo Cai