Courage to follow, courage to lead
“Yes, I’m going to accept Christ,” Pugong said for many years, “but not yet. I’m still afraid of what the spirits will do to me.”
As the foremost priest in the traditional religion of his Central Ifugao village, Pugong understood the power of the spirits. His area of the Philippines was renowned for its allegiance to spirit worship, and when Scripture translation began there in the 1960s, he witnessed intense spiritual opposition.
But Pugong also understood the power of Christ. He’d seen his nine children and many of his neighbors become believers, especially after the New Testament was published in 1980, and he’d experienced God’s patient love over the years. His children never gave up on him, nor did the church, nor did his SIL friend, Anne West. In fact, he remembers Anne from years back as the neighbor who would not sleep at night until she knew he was safely home from performing his priestly duties, which included drinking large quantities of a traditional fermented brew.
Pugong burning his traditional altar
Finally last September Pugong found the courage to commit his fears to Christ. When a church choir came to his home to sing for him, he announced, “I’m ready to accept Christ.” “Oh, wait until a pastor comes!” they said. “No, I don’t need a pastor. I can pray now.” And he did.
Four months later, squatting in a low drum of water, Pugong was baptized; and his altar, rice god and other religious paraphernalia were all burned. At his invitation, his fellow priests were present. “I truly have become a follower of Christ,” he told them, “and you must do the same.” “It was a grand day,” writes Anne.
Pugong joins a body of 4500 Central Ifugao believers—15% of the population—who worship with speakers of several other languages in more than 100 congregations. His son-in-law, besides being a pastor, is also a member of the Central Ifugao translation team.
In January, Anne updated her partnership team saying, “This is my last Bagabag Christmas [at the SIL Center, which is closing soon]. We’ve long anticipated completing much of our work here. Now local believers are carrying the torch.” The Ifugao mother tongue translation team is a wonderful example of what we are working toward in Vision 2025. With vision and courage, they are taking the leadership in translating their Old Testament and revising their New Testament. They are also helping their neighbors, the Ayangan Ifugao, with their translation. When they complete a book in the Central Ifugao dialect, they share it with the Ayangan, who adapt it to fit their own dialect. Frequently they work face to face with the Ayangans during consultant checks. Anne serves as consultant for both translations.
All over the northern Philippines, this strategy is working: Local believers are carrying the torch, finishing their own translations and aiding others. Two national organizations provide leadership —the Translators Association of the Philippines (TAP) and the Northern Philippines Mother Tongue Translators Association (NPMTTA). In fact national leadership has progressed to the point that the Bagabag Center, home to many SIL workers over the years, is due to close in July 2010. This is a point of prayer for the few SIL personnel still serving in the area, as it will require significant adjustments in their lives, but it marks a huge milestone of progress as well.
We are participating in the greatest acceleration of the pace of Bible translation ever witnessed by the Church. Mother Tongue Translators like these Ifugao people are one reason. Consultants like Anne are another reason. And you, who support this work in myriad ways around the world, provide more reasons. Working together, and depending on God, we will see this great work completed! By God’s grace this will lead to transformed lives for many thousands of people like Pugong.
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