This week I witnessed considerable suffering; the taking of a human life. Whilst I have witnessed human grieving and loss before, I have never seen the ramifications of a massacre; the sad and brutal tone that settles on a community after such a gruesome fatality. It was during this very somber time that I began to ask God where he was, why he felt so absent and why he had allowed such violence to occur. I wondered what his plan or intention possibly was amongst such a tragedy.
Several days ago I arrived in Manila to continue working on a writing project with a Christian school that provides education for the urban poor. I was met at the airport by my dear friends Noemi and Christine. After we arrived at King Solomon Christian School International Noemi and I began to share and laugh with one another. Although Noemi and I had only met several months ago when I was first in Manila, we developed a genuine and deep friendship; the kind of friendship where conversation is never dull or difficult and laughing is frequent and loud. I was so joyous to be in the company of my precious friend once again.
After spending half the night talking with my Filipino friends, I awoke early the next morning to find an empty room. After glancing at my watch, I realised that something had gone terribly wrong. My friend was missing from her bed and it was only 4 am. The empty room pulsated with uneasiness. After I wandered around the guest quarters for several minutes trying to figure out what it was that made me feel so troubled, two young women entered the sitting room to inform me that a terrible incident had taken place during the night. At that moment I felt my heart literally stop. My thoughts went wild; terrible scenarios began to fill my head. I felt as if I was going to be physically sick. What had happened to my friend and why was she missing?
Unfortunately my fears were soon realized. A scenario far worse than I could ever have imagined had taken place during the night, changing Noemi and her family forever.
Darkness and Despair
In Laguna, a province approximately one hour's drive from Manila, Noemi's family had been savagely attacked by a psychologically unstable employee. Noemi's family operated a call centre out of their home and often worked late into the night. Her sister, Loida, and cousin, Nathaniel, had been working at their computers, when a man they knew and trusted entered the house wielding a bolo knife. At first Nathaniel thought the male employee must have been joking when he struck Loida with the large knife. It was his second night in the call centre, and the absurd scene seemed completely unreal. However once blood began to seep from Loida's head, Nathaniel instantly realized that something horrific had indeed begun.
Although Loida and Nathaniel pleaded with the man, trying to deter him from using the weapon against them, he ignored their pleas before brutally attacking them both. The large knife struck Loida over fifty times; he struck her face and her body over and over again. Her body was broken, each slash ripping and tearing at her flesh. Although she tried to flee from him and his vicious blows he pursued her relentlessly.
Throughout this onslaught, Nathaniel tried to save Loida by confronting the armed man. During this altercation Nathaniel received numerous blows to his head and body, particularly his left hand which was severely slashed by the knife's sharp blade.
During the attack Loida cried for her mother's comfort and protection, but her mother, Yolly, was helplessly barricaded behind a bedroom door. Nathaniel had concealed Yolly in a nearby room to protect her from the man, before defenselessly confronting the man himself. Nathaniel had also notified a nearby neighbor who later contacted the police.
After a considerable period of time passed by, the man was eventually shot by police and apprehended. Loida and Nathaniel were then rushed to hospital, both terribly wounded.
Sadly Noemi's sister died shortly after she arrived at the hospital. Her body had been rendered unrecognizable; each cruel blow disfigured a woman beloved for her compassion, generosity and joyous spirit.
Nathaniel, however, thankfully survived the brutal attack; though he still has many physical and emotional scars that need time to heal. As an aspiring surgeon Nathaniel and his family truly believe that his survival was nothing short of miraculous; God saved Nathaniel so that he may also save lives one day when he becomes a certified doctor. Although I'm sure Nathaniel will at times question why God allowed such a thing to happen in his life and why he was allowed to live when another was sadly taken, I do know that he is an amazing young man who trusts in God's wisdom and purpose despite his circumstances.
A spiritual battle
When a horrendous crime such as this is committed it is hard to see God's purpose, intention or even his greater plan. When I first witnessed this community's pain and suffering following the murder of their beloved friend, I was angry with God. I asked God him why he did not save Loida and why he had allowed Nathaniel to witness such evil. I wanted answers; we all did.
Thankfully God does not begrudge me or anyone else for asking these questions; questions that doubt his power, wisdom and strength. Rather God uses times such as these to enlighten us and to strengthen our faith in him. It is often when we feel great sorrow or disillusionment that we really unearth the greatness and love of our Lord.
In the days immediately following Loidas's death, I began to see that whilst many people here were unsure as to what God's purpose was during this time, they were neither angry nor bitter with him. Although the Christian community here in Manila has been suffering from many medical problems, financial constraints and other obstacles they have remained spiritually strong and devout. I now know that God has used this time of pain and sorrow to truly enlighten and strengthen the community here.
Warriors For Christ
Through Loida's passing and Nathaniel's assault, God has awakened the church here in Tatalon to the spiritual battle currently raging around them; a war between Christians and the dark forces of this world. Through this tragedy God has revealed the need for Christians to spiritually arm themselves against Satan and the evil of this world. He has exposed the need for Christians to be strong and vigilant during this battleâ€"to be warriors for Christ.
If you are a devoted and faithful Christian, then you are a very real threat to Satan. Although God has already won the battle against Satan, as we all know from Revelations, this does not need that Christians are immune from pain and suffering whilst we inhabit this earthy realm.
Satan will constantly try to disable us because of our devotion to Christ; the stronger we are in our faith the more we threaten him and diminish his influence. Consequently as Christians we need to be prepared, we need to be vigilant and most importantly we need to be strong in the Lord and trust in his mighty power despite our circumstances.
Even though Satan tried to break Nathaniel and his family, both physically and spiritually, he did not prevail. Rather Satan's attempt backfired. Through attacking this community Satan awakened the church here in Manila to the spiritual battle currently taking place within this world. Satan did not disable or weaken them. Instead he made himself more vulnerable to an army of Christian warriors. Warriors who will create change and spread the gospel throughout this world.
In Ephesians 6: 10-12 it says "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms".
Are you too prepared to be a warrior for Christ?
Strengthening me amidst the spiritual battle
Several days after the funeral I was able to secure a one hour time slot in the church's prayer room. The prayer room had been immediately set up following the tragedy and had been running 24 hours a day for several consecutive days.
During my time in prayer I began to write an apology to God; a letter expressing how sorry I felt for accusing him of abandoning and punishing the community here in Manila. As I sat there in the darkness I asked God to forgive me for not trusting his judgement and wisdom.
I asked him to forgive me for accusing Him of not protecting a community that is so devoted and faithful to him. And finally I asked Him to forgive me for questioning his love and devotion.
Alison Barkley lives in Newcastle and is a post graduate student at Macleay College in Sydney in book editing and publishing.
Alison Barkley's archive of articles may be viewed at: www.pressserviceinternational.org/alison-barkley.html