The Ata Manobo Tribe are located high up in the hills of Davao del Norte in the southern part of the Philippine archipelago. They are animists and believe in many gods. They practise a self-governing system and use a ‘slash and burn’ farming method as their way of living. In the past very low literacy rates meant the tribe struggled to trade their crops with the lowland community of traders and businessmen. They were dismayed to find their crops were buying them less and less; their inability to read and do simple maths meant they were being cheated.
Education was desperately needed. The community leaders of the Ata Manobo in the Upper Langilan region asked OMF missionaries to help them learn to read and write. In response, the missionary team, with help from TAP (Translators Association of the Philippines – the local branch of Wycliffe/SIL), performed a literacy assessment of the Ata Manobo people. The results were staggering, in most villages the literacy rate was zero per cent, hardly anyone could read or write. In-depth questioning revealed that only three Ata Manobo ladies had been to high school and could read and write.
The Indigenous Children’s Education Program (ICEP) was born. Three ICEP centres were started in three different Ata Manobo villages: Maguimon, Kapugi and Mansalinao. The three literate ladies taught basic maths, reading and writing, laying a good foundation for the students to build on when they entered government elementary schools. The students ranged, from 7 to 11 years old.
One of the subjects taught in the ICEP centres is Chronological Bible Teaching (CBT). Bible stories are told every morning, starting with creation and going through to salvation, along with Scripture memory verses. The children often retell the stories to their families and quote verses during Sunday worship.
When students like Loloy and Marlon have mastered basic reading, writing and maths, they graduate from the ICEP programme and move into the ICEP dormitory in Tagasan. For Loloy and Marlon this means trekking for two hours up and down the winding jungle path, crossing rivers and living in the dorm with other students from Maguimon and Mansalinao villages. Although this also entails separation from their family, they want to stay so that they can attain higher education, eat three square meals a day and continue learning about God and about becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. The dormitory is being cared for by Ata Manobo Dorm Parents, Dulio & Norma Mankinumpas who have been serving the Lord for many years. Dulio is a trained Church Planting worker while Norma was one of the three teachers in the ICEP informal school, which eventually closed down after Philippine Education System changes.
The ICEP Dormitory is in Tagasan, part of the compound that the Ata Manobo community offered to the OMF team. We praise God for providing this parcel of land to us as a means to disciple Ata Manobo children and to share the gospel with their families and clans. Discipleship is facilitated through Bible teaching, morning devotion, prayer meetings, and daily activities like cooking meals, washing laundry, creation care, games and even hygiene.
Oreno & Naning from Kapugi village heard Bible stories when Loloy, their son, came home and repeated the stories he heard in school. As a result of what they heard, they came to trust Jesus as their Lord and Saviour and were baptised two years ago. Loloy’s older brother Bobong has also become a Christian through hearing Loloy’s stories and both young men now dream of becoming pastors. Similarly, Romulo & Idunan heard the gospel from the stories their son Marlon retold at home. They eventually signed up to be trained in the Bible School run by the team.
In April 2013, we conducted the Multiplying Effective Evangelists and Disciplers (MEED) training with the students in the dorm as well as with the youth leaders of the Manobo Churches. It is amazing how they responded to the challenge of sharing the gospel even with their community leaders.
In March of this year, we had a parenting seminar for the parents of our students in the dormitory. It was very encouraging to hear the testimony of the parents who came to know Jesus through the ICEP ministry and through their children who are in the programme. Education is not only a means to uplift the economic standard of people, it is an essential tool to establish indigenous Biblical churches, reaching out to their own people group and beyond.
Missionary to the Ata Manobo Tribe
First published in OMF (UK)’s Billions magazine, 2016.