When Henry answered the door on 23 May 2017, he didn’t expect to be kidnapped by the Islamic State.
Henry* was working as a carpenter in Marawi, in the Philippines, when he heard a knock at his door. He left his tools in the sawdust and went downstairs. When he opened the door, Henry thought the armed men were police.
“Who are you?” Henry asked.
“Your killers,” they said.
The men were members of an extremist group, pledging their allegiance to the Islamic State. That day Henry was kidnapped, and the city of Marawi was attacked. Bombs rained down on the city, homes and public buildings turned to rubbles, and black Islamic State flags were hoisted high. Thousands of people were forced to flee.
“They blindfolded me and pushed me into the van,” Henry said. “They had the van maneuver in circles, in zigzags, going round and round… It took almost an hour.”
“At the back of my head, I knew they were trying to confuse me,” he continued. “By the time the van stopped, they pushed me off of the vehicle and put me in a room, locked by a creaky metal door that rolls up. When they took the blindfold off, I glanced at my surroundings and already there were so many people there. Hostages, like me.”
Henry saw men and women scattered across the room – around 18 hostages, as far as he remembered. Sometimes they could hear planes fly over and drop bombs. Henry was also held captive with Father Chito Suganob – a Catholic priest whose abduction made headlines. He said in captivity the priest’s presence brought them comfort. But it wasn’t long before the priest was taken elsewhere.
Praying for Their Captors
“I was taken hostage for eight days,” said Henry. “There were 300 armed men in that building. Every second that the clock ticked, we prayed to the Lord.”
“All of us prayed. We prayed for our captors. For our relatives. For our siblings…We encouraged one another.”
Henry was confronted with unspeakable violence every single day.
“At that time, I was not at ease, I saw a lot of things. In front of me, people were beheaded… But despite what I saw, I pushed my emotions away. I knew I would keep thinking about it. In the end, it would drive me mad. I had to take control over my thoughts.”
“You know that feeling when you’re sleeping and in the middle of the night you just wake up, think of what you’ve witnessed, and are instantly filled with disgust? This is how it’s been for me since.”
There were many things Henry wasn’t sure of when he was taken captive. But there was one thing he was sure of.
“The Lord is powerful over all,” he said. “The Lord did not abandon me.”
Preparing for Death
One day Henry heard his captors talking. Two people had been murdered that morning, and he overheard they say that by noon, Henry and his fellow prisoners would be next.
“I told my fellow prisoners that we should pray to God and ask Him to strengthen our faith because that day would be our last.”
There were 300 armed men in the vicinity. His hands were bound by a rope that was two inches thick. But he still had feet, and he could run. And maybe, just maybe, he had a chance to live.
“The hostage next to me must have been thinking the same thing. He reached for the roll-up door and to our surprise, it wasn’t locked.”
The door would have been too noisy to open. It would surely alert the guards standing outside. But then the airstrikes began.
“Bombs started flying everywhere,” Henry said. “We knew that if we ever lifted that creaky door up at that time, no one would notice, so that’s what we did.”
The guards stood outside, taking cover. Henry and the others had only one chance. They had to run past the guard.
“While we were running, I prayed that whoever will be left among us captives would dedicate their lives to God.”
Henry began his death-defying sprint and heard gunshots. He ran for his life, without looking back.
Most of the hostages survived. When they were far enough, they needed to free their hands.
“The ropes that were used to tie our hands were about 18 inches long and two inches thick. Luckily, we found rocks that we could use to break our binds.” Henry said.
They came to a river and jumped in. Henry and the other survivors floated for more than an hour until the military found them. It was 3am and Henry and his friends were held, questioned (they could have been Islamic State fighters too), and finally let go.
Henry was alive and free.
“I can’t explain my joy in seeing my family. The Lord gave me another opportunity – he gave me, my children, and my wife a new chance to know Him more.”
On 27 October the Marawi siege was over.
When asked how friends could pray for him, Henry almost brushed the question aside.
“Please pray not only for me but also for others, especially those who lost loved ones in the war,” he said.
He asked for prayer for women who had been held captive with him. Many were sexually assaulted by the extremists. When they were rescued and returned home, many of their husbands wouldn’t take them back.
“It shouldn’t be that way,” Henry said. “What happened to those women wasn’t their fault. They are also victims like me. Please pray for them.”
Your help makes a difference. Open Doors were able to provide Henry with tools for carpentry to help with the rehabilitation of his livelihood.
“Thank you, thank you. You are blessings from the Lord,” Henry said.
- Pray for those who lost family members during the Marawi siege. Pray they can forgive and find healing.
- Pray for the women who were held captive and assaulted. Pray their husbands accept them and discover God’s love and redemption.
- Pray for those who are enticed to join the Islamic State, that they come to know Jesus and His plan for their life.
*Name changed for security purposes