Ilaw reaches mountain tribe
TANAY, Rizal – Since it was launched in December 2002, the Ilaw sa Tahanan(Light to the Home) Bibles have been bringing light to homes and communities built by the government for poor families. PBS has since received reports of changed lives with the hope that communities will be transformed as well.
On July 31, 2004, the Ilaw sa Tahanan Bible, for the first time, penetrated a community of indigenous group – the Dumagats – in the mountains of Tanay, Rizal. This time, however, God’s Word will not only answer relational issues and poverty as the nomadic tribe of Dumagat also faces cultural discrimination, political harassment, and land disputes.
Who are the Dumagats?
The Dumagats are one of the major indigenous groups located in Southern Tagalog, particularly in the fertile Sierra Madre Ranges north of Quezon Province. This nomadic tribe, numbering at about 30,000, survives mainly by farming, kaingin (slash-and-burn agriculture), hunting, and fishing. They also rely on forest commodities and other natural bounties for survival.
The Dumagats were known to be a peace-loving and timid group. Their shy disposition had allowed them to maintain their culture, customs and traditional ways for many years. However, their lack of education made them vulnerable to outsiders who take advantage of them. There were those who attempted to acquire formal education, but due to extreme poverty, few Dumagats made it through elementary school.
In recent years, the Dumagats were forced to leave their communities when landlords started to claim big portions of land, which the Dumagats claim to be their ancestral land. Despite the government’s provision of settlement areas and laws to protect them through the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997, the Dumagats still found themselves in conflict with foreign capital investors (mostly logging companies), landholders and, sometimes, the government itself.
If there is one group in desperate need of God’s comfort and promise of hope and abundant life found in the Scriptures, it’s the Dumagats.
Making way for God’s Word
Getting the Word to the Dumagats is a question of how.
To reach the 23 Dumagat communities with God’s Word is a big challenge: for one, majority of the Dumagats cannot read. Only a few are able to read, and they are the ones who studied in elementary or had been in contact with mission groups.
Another challenge is encouraging them to read the Scriptures. According to mission volunteers, most Dumagats don’t respond well to outsiders. In fact, they would run away at the sight of people other than their kind. And those who have had contact with outsiders don’t even make eye contact when communicating with them.
But God loves the Dumagats, and he paved the way to make them understand His love. Bringing God’s Word to this group was made possible through the efforts of dedicated Christians.
The key to reaching the Dumagat tribe was Chieftain Marcial Resurrection, a respected leader in his group. Chief Marcial – a year old in the faith – was one of the first Dumagats to hear about God’s Word. Ministering to the Dumagats became easier with his help because people listen to him.
Watching from the sidelines while Chieftain Marcial shared his testimony was Mr. Dante Malonda, an elder of Christ to the Philippines (CTTP) Church. Mr. Malonda was the person who introduced Chieftain Marcial to God’s Word.
“I was an illegal logger,” confessed Mr. Malonda. He became friends with the Dumagats when he “frequented the mountains of Tanay because of my work as an illegal logger.” He and Chieftain Marcial – who is also his kumpare – would often spend time together drinking and gambling.
But one day, a neighbor came to him and shared about the Bible. It was an opportune time because Mr. Malonda was then having problems. He listened to his neighbor and later on started to study the Bible himself. “We didn’t have electricity, but I read the Bible at night with the aid of a kerosene lamp.” He realized his wrong doings and asked God for forgiveness. In his obedience to God’s Word, he stopped his illegal activities and vices.
Now, he is active in sharing God’s Word to the Dumagats, along with his good friend as well as brother in the faith, Chieftain Marcial.
Pastor Exequiel “Ike” Caringal of CTTP Church in Sampaloc, Tanay heard about the Dumagat tribe at school but soon completely forgot about them. His interest about the group came when Mr. Malonda, one of his church’s elders, came to him with the information that there are Dumagat communities in the area, and that one of the chieftains was his close personal friend. Pastor Ike invited Chieftain Marcial and asked questions about the Dumagats. He saw the opportunity to reach the Dumagats with God’s Word.
Pastor Ike and his partners have already set plans in motion, raising funds and implementing initial programs such as the relief operation done in February 2004. However, Pastor Ike realized that, for their plans to take root, a regular Bible study and follow-up must also be implemented.
But the problem was, Barangay Sampaloc was too far (travel includes a two-hour trek up and down the mountains and crossing rivers) from Barangay Laiban where the Dumagats are settled. If a church were to be established for the Dumagats, the question was, who will go for them?
Pastor James Sarenas, a Wesleyan minister studying at the Alliance Biblical Seminary, was prepared to have his community immersion course when he and Pastor Ike met. After accepting the challenge of setting up work in Barangay Laiban, Pastor James found himself in a very challenging but fruitful tribal mission. Every week, Pastor James, along with dedicated CCTP youth, travel from his home in Cainta, Rizal to Sampaloc (about two hour-ride) and hike for two hours to Barangay Laiban, to conduct Bible studies among Dumagat families. These sessions are, of course, attended by Chieftain Marcial, a strong advocate of God’s Word. Sometimes, Pastor James and his team find themselves staying overnight to be able to minister to families. During these sessions, Pastor James noticed the lack of Bibles and the need for the Dumagats to learn to read.
The Bible Society program
For months now, PBS has been distributing the Ilaw sa Tahanan Bibles to relocated families with new homes provided by the government’s National Housing Authority. Since 2002, PBS has distributed free Bibles to nearly 30,000 families in 38 communities.
Seeing the need of the Dumagat families for their own copy of the Bible, PBS and CTTP worked together to bring the Scriptures to the Dumagat settlement in Tanay. Bible Society representatives led by PBS Board Member Mr. Dante Lanorio and Communications Manager Juliet Jimeno brought 34 boxes of Ilaw sa Tahanan Bibles and copies of the Joseph portion (printed through Opportunity 21 funds) to the distribution activity. The distribution took place on July 31, 2004, with the helpful assistance of members of CTTP, most of whom have been with Pastor James to mission trips in Barangay Laiban.
The team, aboard a jeepney with wheels the size of a truck’s, traversed down a narrow slippery road and crossed five streams under the heat of the morning sun. The long, bumpy ride was rewarded with the tribe’s warm welcome, led by Chieftain Marcial. And before the program – held in an old dilapidated building that was the barangay hall – started heavy rains poured. But such was the Dumagats’ – men, women and children – eagerness to have their own Bible that they trooped to the barangay hall, heavy rains notwithstanding.
By mid-afternoon, about 80 grateful families received a copy of the Ilaw sa Tahanan. (A second Bible distribution was conducted in the area during the medical mission arranged by the Center in August). Chieftain Marcial encouraged his people to endeavor to study it as he himself enjoyed the blessings of God’s Word.
Knowing that most of the Dumagats cannot read, CTTP will embark on a literacy program that would teach them how to read while learning more about God’s Word and its practical applications through the Ilaw sa Tahanan Bible features. Pastors Ike and James also hope to establish a bigger learning center in Barangay Laiban for Dumagat children.
Appeal to pray
People like the Dumagats and countless other families who have received a copy of Ilaw sa Tahanan Bibles are not promised a prosperous life when they read God’s Word. When we think about it: what can a measly paperbound book do to improve their lives? For those who have yet to discover the blessings in God’s Word, it may mean nothing. But for us who know and understand, the Ilaw sa Tahanan Bibles represent God’s promise of comfort despite uncomfortable circumstances, of peace in the midst of a violence-infested communities, of contentment and joy in times of hardship, of hope in seemingly hopeless situations. They now have these things and more within their grasp.
But the challenge does not stop after the last copy is given. It is just the beginning. The real challenge lies in making them understand that God’s Word is for them. And this is the work of every church and individual who are left to care for them: the pastors, priests, the laity, and mission volunteers. Please pray for wisdom and enablement that through them, and our support and prayers, people like the Dumagats will live the life God promised in his Word.