Lydia* is a literacy teacher from the Sama tribe in the southern Philippines. But she teaches about Jesus, too - and is helping to restore value and dignity to members of her tribe.
The Sama tribe are considered the lowest and least of the 13 Muslim tribes in the southern Philippines. Other tribes will discriminate against Samas, denying them employment and access to communal resources. Sometimes Sama communities will even be raided by other tribes and Samas will be killed – this is partly to steal their resources, such as their boats, but also as a show of strength, to keep the Samas in their place.
But for a Sama person to then decide to leave Islam and follow Jesus is seen as a huge betrayal of their identity, so that even other members of their tribe reject them. They will be socially ostracised, mocked and excluded. Christian converts like Lydia become outcasts among outcasts.
She says, "Often in our community, we would hear people mock us by saying, 'Hallelujah, hallelujah!' or calling us, 'Bisaya!' [a derogatory term for Christians] When I teach literacy, I would often hear people saying that I’m not a real teacher because I haven’t finished my studies. There was also a time when I heard someone say, 'Don’t let your children study there. The teacher will teach them to say, "Hallelujah!"' I don’t mind this. I don’t mind their words, even though their words hurt. I just take it to God in prayer and continue to teach."
'I AM ENCOURAGED TO CONTINUE TEACHING'
Lydia had to stop her own education after grade 6 because her family couldn’t afford to keep sending her; she is one of nine brothers and sisters. She says, "I would have wanted to continue my studies but we had no more financial resources."
But thanks to literacy training provided by Open Doors, she now has more confidence in her role as a teacher.
"I learned how to make a lesson plan, how to handle the students and how to be more determined in teaching. The children I teach – the children of those who attend our house church – when they start attending formal elementary school, they perform well. And when I see the children gaining honours or special character awards, even if I’m tired, as long as I hear their stories – some of them are in the 9th grade now – I am encouraged to continue teaching."
Literacy classes give the community a sense of dignity and open doors to better job opportunities. They are also a means for Lydia to teach Christian values and stories from the Bible.
"The children always share with their parents whatever they learn here. And the parents also see the changes in their children’s behaviour. When parents see that the children studying here learn and thrive and they see that we don’t only teach the Bible, but we also teach them to read the alphabet, they are confident to bring their children here. Sometimes the parents even see us praying. They see how the children are being taught."
Lydia is truly thankful for those who made it possible for her to receive further education in the form of literacy training, leaders training, and persecution preparedness training. She says, "I am extremely grateful to those who are praying and supporting this training. I wouldn’t be who I am without these trainings. I only reached grade 6 in school, and I wouldn’t have known what to do with my life if not for those trainings. Without those trainings, I wouldn’t have experienced other people calling me 'ma’am'; now I have respect. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
"The Lord I know will bless you 100-fold with everything you are doing for Him."
GROWING A CHURCH
Lydia has also taken part in lay leaders' training to support her as she ministers alongside her husband, Matt*, the pastor.
"In the lay leaders' training, I also learned how to handle a house church as a leader, especially in my role as a pastor's wife. If I hadn’t been able to join the training, I might have been limited in what I could do. I am so, so thankful. God is using our supporters mightily to enable us to attend the training."
Despite the pressure that believers in their community are under, Lydia and Matt are seeing their church grow.
"We have one young man from church who was forced by his older brother to stop going to church. His brother threatened: 'If you don’t stop going to church, I’ll cut off your foot!'
Because he lives near our house, he would always come to us when he had problems. We encouraged him, we prayed for him. Now he has been able to lead one of his aunts to Christ. He didn’t give up."
Open Doors provided support to help build the church where the believers meet together, but the church is now self-sustaining, and they are able to maintain the building themselves.
Lydia says, "I'm very happy that I stayed. God proved to be faithful in the vision that he gave me… There was a Christian worker who encouraged me and my husband and said, 'You never know how Jesus will work in your community. You might not see it right now, but your neighbours might all become followers of Jesus Christ.' And that is becoming a reality now."
'COVERED BY YOUR PRAYERS'
She wants to encourage her sisters around the world, particularly those who face similar challenges and fears. She says, "It's hard to be a Christian and a pastor’s wife, there are many challenges that we face. But it’s very important that we obey the Lord’s voice in everything and let Him make the decisions for us. In everything that you'll do, if it's for your husband, if it's for your children, depend on the Lord in everything. Whenever you have conflicts in the family, always know that God is there, and it's very important for you to be in a team with your husband."
Lydia asks us to pray for her family, her church and her community. She says, "My husband and I can carry on in the ministry because we are covered by your prayers.
"Please pray for our livelihood. Many times the members of the church would come to us and ask us for help. Please pray that the Lord will provide for us that we can also help others with the ministry. For my family, I pray that we’ll be a household of faith, that we’ll be firm in Him whatever happens.
"I pray for the church that they’ll help us in the ministry, and that God will use them mightily in His own way. I believe that God’s power doesn’t just flow in us but extends to the members of the church. I pray for them that they’ll see Jesus in them and they will use God’s victory in living their lives."
*Names have been changed for security reasons
STAND WITH YOUR PERSECUTED SISTERS
Thanks to your prayers and support, Lydia is seen, known and valued.
But there are millions of persecuted Christian women around the world whose suffering is invisible, doubly vulnerable to persecution because they are Christian, and because they are women.
Open Doors’ vision is that every woman who is persecuted for her faith and gender is seen, valued and empowered to reach her God-given potential. That’s why we’ve launched the new See. Change. campaign, to restore the hope, dignity and identity of women who pay twice the price for following Jesus.
Will you see these women – and change their reality?