Despite Our Faith
Robert Hunt, 54, is originally from New Zealand. As a young child, he gave his heart to Jesus, though at that point he did not know that God was going to eventually send him to the Philippines.
Hunt was working toward an engineering degree at university when God prodded him toward the mission field through a speaker at the University Students’ Christian Fellowship. The speaker challenged him to use his engineering skills in another country someday. By the time he met Margaret, the woman who was to become his wife, he had felt God’s calling to become a missionary, a calling shared by Margaret herself.
When they started looking into mission agencies, most organizations did not know how they could use Hunt’s engineering skills. One organization, however, Wycliffe New Zealand, was enthusiastic about Robert and Margaret's interest in missions, and invited them over to discuss possibilities. From there, the Hunts became interested in Bible translation.
“...it wasn’t because of our faith. It was despite it.”
In April of 1989, the Hunts finally arrived in the Philippines. After studying Tagalog (the national language) for seven months, they arrived in the Matigsalug language area.
However, despite all their preparations, translation was by no means easy.
“…I wanted to give up many times, and sort of did give up once or twice, and God kicked us back,” said Hunt. “We were taught … that people loved to hear the Bible in the language of their heart. We got to the first village and we found that the people hated themselves. They said, ‘Everyone laughs at our dark skin, laughs at our curly hair, laughs at our language; [they] say we babble like monkeys. We hate our language, we hate how we look, we hate how we talk. We’re not interested in the Bible in our language.’”
Hunt confessed his feelings of defeat at the time: “…we didn’t – to be quite honest – have the faith to see how it could happen. It just seemed totally impossible that they could ever want the Bible.”
Even so, Robert and Margaret knew that God had clearly led them to these Matigsalug people. Therefore, they persevered. The Hunts taught the people that God was the creator of the Matigsalug language and that “[t]here’s nothing more special about praying in English or Tagalog than in Matigsalug.” It took 12 to 15 years for the Matigsalug people to alter their attitude toward their own language and culture.
Another huge challenge was the seemingly unending to-do list. On top of the translation work itself, they invested their time and effort in a literacy program, Christian Matigsalug movies, music CDs, and hymn-writing workshops.
“All those things distract from the actual translation work, but they were the things that made the translation work successful, because without them we would have a Bible and nobody interested in [reading] it,” explained Hunt.
Based on these major obstacles, one can imagine how sweet and joyous it must have been for the Hunts and their co-workers, the McGriffs, when the Matigsalug New Testament translation was finally completed. The translation project was completed in 2009, typeset in 2010, and printed in 2011.
On Thursday, July 21st, 2011, hours before the dedication ceremony began, Hunt thought about the upcoming day’s events: “When you see them singing in their own language and see their dances and realize how much they hated it all before, you’ll know that God did an incredible miracle. And it wasn’t because of our faith. It was despite it.”
Photos by Tomoko Taguchi
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Tomoko Taguchi served as a Communication Intern in June-July 2011.