The war with terrorists in Marawi from May 23 to October 23 has been one of the biggest challenges that our country has faced recently. Hundreds of Maute fighters died and many of our soldiers sacrificed their lives to secure peace in our country. But amid the grimness of the five-month siege are stories of hope and heroism. In November, IGSL President Dr. Tom Roxas and Ret. Col. Dr. Mike Morales, Director of Military Life, IGSL’s ministry to men and women in uniform, visited a remote island base to conduct post-combat debriefing to around 20 Marines. The following is a touching narrative account from Dr. Morales.
It Takes a Community to Build a Leader
Alvin (not his real name) grew up in a remote village in Mindanao where he was single-handedly raised by his father. His mother died when he was just two years old. As the son of a tenant farmer, Alvin experienced hard work from a very young age. Despite challenging circumstances, he did well in school and graduated salutatorian of his high school class.
Becoming and Growing as a Follower of Jesus
While traveling to the city for the first time to attend university, Alvin met a missionary who invited him to church. As he was warmly welcomed and had nowhere else to go, he stayed there for the next two years while he studied. He helped the janitor and earned money by doing odd jobs for church members. It was within that caring Christian community that he first heard the Gospel and began his journey as a follower of Christ.
Alvin took and passed the entrance exam for the Philippine Military Academy. Friends chipped in so he could travel to another city for the physical exam. Providentially, he got a seat on a military plane for the trip to Manila. In PMA, Alvin was discipled at the PMA Christian Fellowship where he continued to grow spiritually. He joined an elite combat unit after graduating.
Tested in Marawi
When ISIS-inspired terrorists attacked Marawi, Alvin’s unit was the first to be deployed. Our troops suffered heavy casualties, including Alvin’s unit which was often within a few meters from the enemy. Alvin’s leadership was put to the test. He could not show any hesitation or exhaustion to keep his soldiers’ morale high.
Drawing strength from Scriptures, he constantly encouraged his troops. He told them not to fear because God, whom they served, was in control. Each night, alone in the dark inside a burnt-out building, Alvin would cry out to God and read his Bible with tears streaming down his cheeks. God heard Alvin’s prayer (and ours). After five months of combat, Marawi was liberated and Alvin’s unit returned home.
Life and Leadership that Point to Jesus
Recently, Dr. Roxas and I visited with Alvin in his base to do post-trauma debriefing for his unit. The stories that the soldiers shared with us oozed with respect and gratitude for their leader who went through hell with them, led them in combat, accomplished the mission, and brought them home safely. At the center of the base stands a marker with the prayer that was often on their lips in Marawi: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Ps 23:4).
Alvin’s story is one of sacrifice, heroism, character and competence, and above all of our faithful God. But Alvin’s story could not have been told if not for the missionary and the many others who mentored him afterwards. When we share the Gospel with someone, disciple a person, or do a kindness for someone who may never pay us back, we never know what story we are becoming a part of.