ILIGAN CITY, Philippines -- In the southern Philippines, a Muslim-turned-pastor is educating children of Muslim rebels in hope of bringing a stop to the cycle of violence in their society.
Brenda Kalaw still lives with the pain of losing both parents. She and her siblings were orphaned after their father was killed and their mother abandoned them four years ago.
"I can still remember how difficult it was for me and my brothers," she recalled. "We did not know where to get help. If not for the people here who helped us, we would not be able to survive and go to school."
Kalaw and her siblings are among the many victims of the long-standing cycle of violent family feuds among Muslim tribes in the troubled island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines. Just three months ago, a strong political rivalry between two clans backed up by private armies, led to the gruesome mass killing of 57 people, 34 of which were journalists.
Political analysts say government indifference to violence between Muslims fosters vigilante justice. As they grow older, orphaned children retaliate against their parents' murderers.
Such was the experience of former Muslim Bienvenido Mansumayan. He hated the Christians who killed his relatives. That changed when a friend told him about Jesus.
"The heart that was so hard became softened," he said. "In the very beginning, my clan cannot accept me because I stay away from Islam."
But God blessed Mansumayan. After he earned a doctorate in divinity and Christian education, his family learned to respect him because of his example. By faith, he and his wife established the Shekinah Hope Foundation Academy to provide free education to orphans and children of the Muslim indigenous tribes.
It is a very unique and special school, because the students are orphans, victims of massacres, and the children of Muslim rebels who are behind violent acts. They may have a difficult past, but they are given a chance to a good education for them to have a brighter future.
"My best contribution is to educate the children of the rebel relatives that I have," Mansumayan explained. "We let the parents come on Sunday. We can share with them the faith and share the goodness of the Lord."
Kalaw and her brothers live in the school compound together with ten other orphans.
"We are happy here," she said. "Even if my mother abandoned me, I know the Lord will take care of me, because Jesus Christ is my saviour. I want to be a teacher, so I can go back to my hometown and teach the word of God to my family, because they have never heard about God. I want them to know that God is real."
And while he is unlikely to win a Nobel prize, Mansumayan is doing his small, but significant part to help bring peace to Mindanao - one orphaned child at a time.
*Originally published February 12, 2010.