When a pastor is murdered, what happens to their family?
"Pastor, you will die today," the text message read.
Pastor Mocsin Hasim swiped it and proceeded with the wedding he was officiating over that day. He was accustomed to these messages; this wasn't his first death threat. He had been receiving warnings for months.
It was June 2006. Pastor Mocsin, 47, and his daughter Mercilyn, 22, were on their way home from the wedding, when they were ambushed and shot by Islamic extremists in Zamboanga del Norte, southern Philippines. Pastor Mocsin was shot 19 times, Mercilyn, five.
Both father and daughter were known for reaching out to Muslim communities, talking to them about Christianity, showing them films. This boldness ultimately led to their murder.
Following the tragic event, the rest of their family – wife Evelyn, two sons, Junjun and Junex, and daughter, Emelyn – were left to face the challenges coming their way and fend for themselves.
The 'left behind'
Emelyn, now 34, was 18-years-old when her father and sister were killed.
"When our churchmate told us my father and sister were dead, my mother fainted. And then their bodies were brought to our house. My mother hugged them, fainted again and fell to the ground," Emelyn told Christian anti-persecution charity Open Doors which has been supporting the family ever since.
"There were bullet holes in their bodies. I felt pain. I could not accept what happened."
Junjun, one of the pastor's sons, now 31, was 12-years-old at the time his father was killed.
"I was really shocked, I was no longer thinking straight," he says.
"I no longer knew what I was doing. I went wild and my friends were trying to calm me. I even damaged some of our belongings. I really felt angry. I wanted revenge for my father and sister.
"I got angry with God. I questioned him as to why those things happened to us."
In his anger, Junjun rebelled. He took his rage out on the world and decided not to follow in his father's footsteps and not to become a pastor. In his rebellion, Junjun started committing every felony possible. He fled his hometown, was led into crime by his friends, and was eventually imprisoned.
"I told myself: 'I won't serve God anymore. I will do what I want, and I will follow my friends.' Until my life was completely ruined. I was going nowhere – I did not have any direction," Junjun recalled.
"I left my mother. I didn't care if I was alone. I did not care if I died."
Junex, the youngest son, is now 18-years-old. He was too young to understand what really happened at the time. His mother told him about it when he turned 13. Junex said he was hurt and enraged because he had grown up without a father.
"I was very angry and so I assured myself that I would really avenge my father's death," he said.
"Sometimes, I get jealous of other families that are complete with mother and father. Sometimes I cry when I remember my father and sister. I cry secretly."
To heal emotionally, Junex was admitted to Timothy's Crib, a haven for children who are in difficult circumstances. Founded by a pastor and his wife, and supported by Open Doors, Timothy's Crib has housed abused, neglected, homeless children, orphans, former convicts and drug users.
At his mother's request, Junex stayed there for three years. At the Crib, he learnt how to do household chores and manage finances. Junex also became well equipped for ministering to other young people.
After being released from prison, Junjun joined his brother at Timothy's Crib. The Open Doors partners who ran the crib became Junjun's second parents. "I might still be doing what I was doing had it not been for Timothy's Crib," he said.
After his initial rejection of his vocation, Junjun eventually started studying theology at a Bible school with a desire to lead a church.
The pastor's wife, Evelyn, however, did not reconcile with God following her husband's and daughter's killing and distanced herself from the church. Tragically, she had a chronic kidney disease, and died of Covid-19 last April. Open Doors provided food and other practical support to the siblings while they remained in quarantine following their mother's death.
Emelyn, who says she still carries with her the dire picture of her dead father and sister, now teaches at a Sunday school in her community. Fifteen years on, she thinks their lives have been irreversibly damaged by the killing of her loved ones.
"I miss our bonding. We were very happy before. I miss those times when we would go to church together as family. We would lead the praise and worship, then my father would preach. Also, sometimes, we would join him in his ministries. That's what I miss about him."
Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians for over 60 years and works in over 60 countries. In 2020, it raised £42 million to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources. Open Doors UK & Ireland raised about £16 million.