Otew Evangelical Fellowship: A Church with Heart
Ruben Bulibol, a leader in the Otew congregation
Tucked in the mountainous Ifugao province of the Philippines, a small church participates in God’s mission and language preservation. Otew Evangelical Fellowship has no full-time staff or pastor, but it does have seventy church members who are dedicated to the Word and to each other.
Bible study is fundamental to the Otew community. Ruben Bulibol, a lay leader in the congregation, explains, “Our vision is to be more rooted in the Word itself.”
“Whatʼs true is not new, and whatʼs new is not true,” he adds, a twinkle in his eye. Ruben, a broad-shouldered man with an easy smile and iron streaks in his black hair, shares aphorisms as readily as he shares his strong belief in sola scriptura. He often invites speakers from other churches to share at Otew, with the stipulation that they teach from the Bible.
All of the church members take part in the ministry. Ruben says, “We have no full-time pastor, but we have plenty of pastors in this church. Everybody is a pastor. We take turns, saying to each other, ʻYou have to study, so you can speak next week.ʼ Everyone is motivated to study. We listen so we can feed each other. Everyone is involved.”
Even the youth are encouraged to lead. Every month, Otew has a youth Sunday for their younger members to share by planning Sunday School, preaching, teaching, and leading music. Furthermore, the church stewards a scholarship fund, which has enabled two students to graduate from Bible college, and currently supports another student, Eufemia Buccahi, elsewhere in the province. Eufemia, a slight, serious girl, dreams of becoming an evangelist after she finishes her studies. “My passion is to share the Gospel with people who donʼt know Him,” Eufemia says.
Rosa Bayninan by Ifugao rice terraces, a famous landmark in the community
Eufemiaʼs passion, evangelism, is a high value for the Otew church as a whole. The church stays strong in outreach because they feel the Word of God compels them to do so. Ruben acknowledges that there can be resistance to their efforts to reach their community, but that preparing for the challenge of evangelism boils down to one element: “Study,” Ruben emphasizes. “Study, study, study, study the Word of God.”
In addition to their Bible studies and outreach, the Otew parishioners have been involved in checking the Central Ifugao Bible translation. The Ifugao New Testament has been available for over thirty years, but the Old Testament in Central Ifugao has yet to be published. “The Old Testament in Ifugao will be a big help,” Ruben states.
“The Ifugao translation is very clear. It helps me to find the true meaning of the Scriptures. You can read the Ifugao Bible to people: they don't know Tagalog (a language of wider communication in the Philippines), they don't know English, they don't know Ilocano (a language of wider communication throughout the province). But they know Ifugao. We are very happy that now the Bible has been translated,” adds Rosa Bayninan, an Otew church member.
The believers look at the Ifugao Bible translation as a way of preserving the Ifugao language. “Someday in the future, the Bible may be the only book in Ifugao,” says Ruben, acknowledging that Ifugao, like many languages in the Philippines, is changing rapidly with the influence of other languages of wider communication.
“The Ifugao language will not be lost,” Pedro Bayanan, a patriarch in the community and former pagan priest, asserts firmly. He remembers that he was punished for using his own language when he was in school many years ago. At the time, lessons were conducted in English and Tagalog. Teachers taught the children to use those languages exclusively in school, often resorting to corporal discipline. Now, the Philippine Department of Education encourages mother- tongue literacy, so Ifugao children are being taught in Ifugao as well as in other languages.
“You canʼt reach our whole community if you donʼt use the Ifugao Bible,” Ruben affirms. “Often, the response to the English Bible translation is, ʻThatʼs the foreignerʼs Bible.ʼ But the Ifugao Bible is ours.”