If you’ve been watching the news or reading the papers over the last couple of days, you’ve probably heard about the Australian man who was kidnapped in Western Mindanao in the Philippines. Warren Rodwell (left), 53, of Sydney lived in the seaside town of Ipil in Western Mindanao until he was taken by seven armed men. There is not much Christmas cheer in all of this if he is not released safe and well.
Now unless you’re an avid follower of international affairs, it may well be the first time you’ve heard of Mindanao. It’s another one of the frustrating features of our mainstream media, because this relatively unknown region is not only close to Australia but it’s also home to one of the longest running violent struggles in the world.
Sadly, while this story has only hit our news because an Australian is involved, kidnappings are relatively commonplace in Mindanao as the various insurgent groups seek to stake their claims. What’s driving it all is difficult to fully understand. Religion gets a lot of air time because it’s easier to talk about conflicts when you can identify two clear sides: Muslims on the one hand, Christians on the other. The reality is that religion itself is only a minor factor. Underneath this easy cover story, is a series of historical and contemporary grievances that are related to economics, politics, security and human rights.
Together it makes Western Mindanao a dangerous and difficult place to be. Yet this is the very place where comprehensive peacebuilding programs that seek to not only repair relationships but also to address underlying marginalisation are so very important. So it is here, only a few hours’ drive from the place where this man was kidnapped, that UnitingWorld’s partner, Peace Community Ambassadors, runs Young Ambassadors for Peace workshops and supports local indigenous communities on the journey toward an inclusive peace.
This work only happens because of the dedicated and courageous work of the local peacebuilding coordinator and a network of volunteers. Amongst their number is Young Ambassadors for Peace founder Joy Balazo (pictured), who recently returned to her home town to give this next phase of her life to ‘dirtying her hands’ in the work of building peace in Western Mindanao. For Joy and these faithful men and women, there are safer and more prosperous places they could choose to go to but their commitment is to stay in Mindanao to contribute to peace through their presence and efforts in the midst of violent conflict.
So when you see news updates about this Australian man’s situation, take a moment to think and pray for Joy Balazo and our local peacebuilding coordinators who take unavoidable risks every day to contribute the emergence of peace in Western Mindanao.
And if you want to put those prayers into action, consider giving a gift of peace this Christmas and supporting the work of these peacebuilders and other YAP coordinators in the Asia-Pacific region through the ‘Everything in Common’ gift catalogue. You can provide for the work of peacebuilder for a week for just $35 or choose other gifts of peace at the Everything in Common gift store.