MINDANAO, Philippines - The Philippines is a mostly Christian nation, but in the south, Muslim fundamentalists are trying to build an Islamic state.
Christians there face persecution and even death.
The island of Mindanao on the southernmost part of the Philippines is predominantly Muslim. The area's most remote parts are a haven to terrorist groups linked to al Qaeda that carry out attacks and kidnappings in the region.
Because of this, persecution against Christians is strong. This year, at least four house churches closed down after their pastors and lay leaders were killed by Muslim extremists.
Pastor Mario Acidre was one them. His wife, Mayang, was distraught over her husband's murder, which took place right in their home.
"My husband staggered into our bedroom and I was shocked because he was full of blood," she recalled. "I brought him to the hospital right away. He was operated on for eight bullet wounds, but did not survive."
Pastor Acidre was a former Muslim who converted to Christianity. He boldly shared the gospel to his Muslim relatives and neighbors.
Despite threats to his life, he was not afraid to hold Bible studies in his home, which he eventually converted into a house church.
Sharing the Gospel
Witnesses say that just a few hours before he was killed, Acidre agitated some Muslim vendors when he told them he did not believe in the amulets they were trying to sell him.
Pastor Edilberto Beira is the coordinator of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Churches of the Philippines in the Muslim region.
"I admire Pastor Mario's commitment to the Lord. He tried to share the gospel to the Muslim vendors," he said.
But Beira added that, "This incident triggered threats to other Muslims who converted to Christianity, and that is why the house churches closed down."
Ready to Face Death
Still, that didn't stop Mayang and other believers from going to church. They now worship at the only surviving Christian church in the city.
"My neighbors warned me that I should not go out, but I am not afraid because I know Issa, Jesus, is powerful, and He will not forsake me," Mayang said.
"When my husband was still alive, he always told me that we should always be ready to face death for the work of the Lord," she continued.
Pastor Beira said his heart is grieved to see pastors come and go in this critical area.
That's why he remains, serving faithfully for more than 30 years despite several threats to his life.
Even though church attendance has decreased by 70 percent, he still believes that the Church will still prevail even if the churches are driven underground.
"What we can only do is to make these people grow in the Lord. We have our prayer and fasting, Bible studies, training," Beira said.
"If ever we are out, we are still confident that the work of the Lord will go on," he added. "Because that's the promise of the Lord. He said, 'I will build my church. And the gates of hell will not prevail against it.' It includes the ministry among the Muslims."
*Original broadcast March 23, 2012.