How do you tackle a task as big as translating the Old Testament, verse by verse, until it is complete? Ernst Diggelmann from Switzerland was part of one extraordinary year during which three related projects brought together a group of people who each contributed a different skill. None of them could have achieved anything as substantial on his or her own, but together they became a strong team in God’s hands.
The story of how the Eastern and Western Tawbuid people of the Philippines came to Christ is, like all gospel stories, a powerful one. For centuries, the Tawbuid, a remote tribe on the island of Central Mindoro, had a prophecy that foretold a day when foreigners would tell the tribe about the Creator of the natural world and the way to true spiritual life.
The prophecy was filled in the 1960s when OMF missionaries Russell and Barbara Reed brought the gospel to the Tawbuid. Although the work was not easy and spiritual fruit did not come as quickly as one might expect, thousands of Eastern and Western Tawbuid have placed their faith in Jesus in the decades since the Reeds’ arrival.
In the same time frame, translation of the New Testament into Eastern Tawbuid and Western Tawbuid (different dialects) was begun. It was finished in the late 1990s. While this was great news, the Old Testament remained unavailable in the Tawbuid languages. Below is OMF worker Ernst Diggelmann’s first-hand account of how that is changing.
A new challenge
While traveling along a dusty road in the Philippines in January 2000 after the dedication of the Western Tawbuid New Testament in the Mangyan village of Balani, I asked the translator’s wife, “What do you think about translating the Old Testament into the Eastern Tawbuid language?”
“That won’t be possible,” she replied. “We need to go home next year for our sons’ schooling. I’m so sorry.”
Over nine years passed when I received an email from the translator, Derek Daniel, about Sulian, his translation helper for the New Testament into Eastern Tawbuid: “Sulian wrote a few months ago asking if it was true that we were going to start work on an Old Testament translation even though I had never mentioned it before. We could possibly come and do some training on translation principles and give ideas about how it might be done. Even then I’m not sure how it could work. What do you think? Pray that the way forward would be clear.” Soon after, in September 2009, in a hospital room in Lipa I ran into a missionary from another organization. We had known each other for many years and had discussed translation work several times. Within a few days of this interaction, he put me into contact with Kermit Titrud, a translator with the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). Kermit had much experience in different translation projects, most of them complex.
A few months later, during a training week for Mangyan church leaders, we met with representatives from each language group and asked them about their willingness to work on an Old Testament translation for their language. The Eastern and Western Tawbuid leaders showed a high level of interest. The Hanunoo wanted to consult with the other church leaders first. Kermit made a commitment to assist us in the planned translation projects.
God began to raise up other co-workers for this project as well. For example, for more than ten years, Buen had been a member of the Mangyan ministry team. She was involved in the setting up of a Christian education department and in the training of Sunday school teachers. She felt her job was now done and she was looking for guidance from the Lord as to where her future ministry should be. We invited her to become the coordinator for the translation project. After some months of praying, she joyfully accepted the invitation.
As of February 2010, four weeks before the start of our first translation training workshop, the account for the Mangyan Translation project was still empty. Gifts from overseas normally take up to six weeks before they are credited to our work account. It seemed impossible that the needed funds would arrive in time. As a team, we already discussed emergency measures to avoid the cancellation of the workshop.
On February 6 I attended the board meeting of a Christian organization in Manila. To my extreme surprise, during the meeting the chairman asked me if I knew of any OMF projects that were in need of support? Such an inquiry had never happened to me. “Sure, we need 50,000 Pesos for our translation project next month,” I replied. After the meeting, I had the promise of 100,000 Pesos to be used for the Old Testament translation for the Mangyan. The following week in another meeting even more money was donated to our project. When I returned to Mindoro, I knew that we would have the needed project funds for more than two years of Old Testament translation, as well as enough money for the construction and setting up of a small translation office. None of these people offering funds to us knew of our desperate situation. During our more than 30 years of service in OMF, we had never received such unexpected ministry gifts during board meetings.
The following month, March 2010, four Western Tawbuid and five Eastern Tawbuid came to the Mangyan Tribal Churches Association center in Calapan for translation training. The training included translating the first 20 chapters of the Old Testament into the Eastern and Western Tawbuid languages. Kermit trained and motivated them for a difficult job that might last up to 10 years.
After the training, the Mangyan translators returned to their home villages. At their own initiative, though, they trained some fellow Tawbuid Christians and met regularly for translation work. This was becoming a truly communal project! Lenie Demegillo, who had assisted Kermit on several translation projects before this, joined us from Mindanao to team up with Buen for up to ten years. She first had to learn the Tawbuid language herself, which involved going to live in Safa village for a while. These people showed immense dedication. The Hanunoo leaders decided to join the translation project after all and a team of six translators prepared to join the others in November.
In August 2010, Buen and Lenie led a second translation workshop with thirteen Mangyan translators. Derek Daniel, together with his son Tim, a theological student, joined us from London for three weeks of checking the draft translation. Kermit was on home leave in the U.S., but kept in frequent touch via Skype calls.
A third translation workshop was held in November 2010. This time there were 18 Mangyan translators including six Hanunoo for the first time. The commitment of these tribal men is amazing—and of others back in their home villages who help by doing some of the work in the translators’ fields when they are working on the translation.
If somebody had told me in August 2009 that one year later more than 100 chapters of the Old Testament would be translated into the two Tawbuid dialects, I would have considered this a joke.
God proved to me that when we are willing to wait for his timing, he will be the one who removes every obstacle that might hinder the work. It was God who spoke to different people in different places all over the world to have a part in a ministry that will make the word of God speak to the Mangyan in their own language. The task is still huge. We have just made a good beginning. Our prayer is that the whole Bible will be printed in Western Tawbuid, Eastern Tawbuid and Hanunoo by 2020. We are weak but God is strong!
An update from John Richards, OMF Mangyan Team Leader:
We are grateful for the significant progress that has been made in these three Old Testament Translations. At a recent translation workshop in September 2019, we discussed possible completion dates. These are projected to be December 2020 for Occidental Tawbuid, February 2021 for Hanunoo and July 2022 for Oriental Tawbuid. We hope to have complete Bibles translated by these dates. This includes the new translations of the Old Testament and revisions to existing New Testament translations to have up to date translations of the complete Bibles in these languages. Further translation workshops are planned for spring and summer 2020. Please pray for these and the ongoing translation work.
Will you pray for Partnership in The Task Unfinished?
- Perseverance for all working on this project, particularly for the Mangyan translators.
- There is much detailed work to be done by the language consultants, we pray for them to have alertness in this task.
- Pray for the translation checking with local communities taking place in the coming months to assess readability and understanding of key terms used.
- Practical considerations such as typesetting and printing for when the Bibles will be published.
- That these translations will help to further strengthen the churches and God’s Word will be clearer to the Mangyan.