Friday, March 25, 2011
A friend of mine is a pastor in two Barangays of Bontoc, Mountain Province. The first, and his home, is in Bontoc where he ministers to students who board at his church as well as others from the community. The second place is in the village of Saclit, about 2 ½ hours away. Until he began making the trip to Saclit last year, no evangelical Christian pastor had been teaching the people there for a number of years.
The village of Saclit has a road going most of the way to it, but is high on a mountain and isolated from other places. Bontoc has the nearest hospital and public market. The nearest police station is in Sadanga, about an hour away. Fortunately, they do have electricity and springs higher in the mountain provide a source of running water.
The people of Saclit are farmers. They rely on the rice grown in terraces carved into the side of the mountain. Other main crops include peanuts and sugar cane. Chickens run free under and around the houses. This was my first visit to Saclit and I found it interesting how many pigs were free to roam. Most villages I have visited keep their pigs in pens, but here a pig in a pen was the exception.
As with other villages in the province, the Igorot people still cling to animistic practices. There is a high place with a large “grandfather tree” under which sacrifices of pigs, chickens, or carabao (water buffalo) are made for planting, harvest, and in observance of other rituals. But there is a faithful remnant of God’s children even here!
On the weekend of March 19 and 20, 2011, I was honored to accompany my friend, Pastor Steve, to the village of Saclit. As we approached the road going up to the village from the main road, the jeepney was blocked by road construction. Concrete had just been poured on the main road and the jeepney could not make the turn without destroying the newly poured road. As a result, we had to hike the rest of the way. It took us more than 1 ½ hours to hike from the main road to the village – even though we used the steep footpath which bypassed one of the long cutbacks of the serpentine dirt road up the side of the mountain.
Saturday evening, we met with people in the home of our hosts, Alex and Miguela. Because it is planting time in the village, it was late before people began to arrive. Our Bible study did not even begin until after 9 pm. The people of Saclit speak little English, so Pastor Steve translated as we talked through the story of redemption the Bible reveals. Then we listened to Matthew 27 and 28 using the Proclaimer. Though it was late and those gathered had worked hard all day, even the children listened attentively as the story of the crucifixion and resurrection were dramatized in Ilocano. At the end of each chapter, Pastor Steve and I asked questions to ensure people understood and internalized the story they just heard. Most were amazed that the people present at His crucifixion still did not believe.
Several commented that hearing the story on the Proclaimer greatly helped their understanding as opposed to someone reading to them. My experience is that people in this area have limited exposure to stories being read aloud with vivid expression. The illiteracy, poverty, and differences among the various dialects spoken here often make it so that when people are reading aloud it is not smooth and expressive but halting and flat.
Sunday morning, we packed up and headed to the church building located in the lower part of the village. On our way, we stopped to visit baby Lazaro. He is 6 months old and has respiratory issues that make every breath a conscious effort. My heart broke as I held his frail little body in my arms. Even his cry was weak and labored. We prayed for him before continuing on to the church building.
There is not a set time for the beginning of service for the church. About 9 am, Pastor Steve began singing hymns translated into Ilocano and people gathered. In all, about 25 men, women, and children attended. As this is a different group of people than those that had gathered the night before, Pastor Steve had suggested that we repeat the teaching we had already given.
Except for a couple of energetic boys about 2 years old, once again everyone listened intently as the Proclaimer played the stories of the crucifixion and resurrection. After talking about the story I asked if there was anyone who had not yet given their life to Christ and made Him their leader. It was nearly unanimous that people wanted to do so. Not knowing if I had been understood properly or if the hospitality of the people made them eager to please their guest, I asked Pastor Steve to explain that they did not need to do this if they had done so in the past. We also made it clear that if they made this commitment, then they could never again serve Lumawig or the other spirits, but Christ alone. None changed their mind. Almost the entire congregation gave their hearts to Christ after having the story of redemption taught to them and listening to the crucifixion and resurrection using the Proclaimer! Pastor Steve and I are overwhelmed at what the Holy Spirit did that morning!
After service, I was blessed as several people provided me with a bag of peanuts as a token of appreciation for my coming to their place. Although I never mentioned it, they knew that I had hiked up from the road and were thankful for my effort to reach them. I was repeatedly invited back and was asked to bring my family the next time.
That made me…