Philippines (MNN) — Members of a literacy class held among the Palawano tribe in
recently graduated, proudly reading books to a crowd and wearing T-shirts
proclaiming "I can read and write!"
"Now we won't feel so shy in front of the lowlanders,"
said Birnabi. "We can write our names
and read like them so they won't be able to take advantage of us."
Although the students declared that they were too shy too
speak in public, most of them did.
"I want to let out a big yell because I'm learning to
read," said Dulok, even though he didn't reach the standard set to receive his
certificate. "But I'm too shy in front
of all of these people that have come to watch. But I am so excited that I am
going to be able to read God's Word."
"I will be able to read God's Word. That's what I
want!" his son Bisinti added.
Literacy class is only one of many important steps toward
planting a church in an unreached culture. It was not without its challenges; many students persevered through the
planting season and the floods of the rainy season. Also, In Palawano culture, speaking any words
or syllables that sound like your own name or the names of your in-laws is
"Try drilling a syllable chart on the board, or having
people read a story with a taboo name in it and either silence, embarrassed
laughter or minor chaos results," New Tribes Missions missionary Elise
Long had written at the beginning of the class.
"Oh, I can't read that name out loud," Midita had
said. "It sounds too much like the name
of my grandfather. It would be taboo, and my stomach would swell up and
Before long, however, Midita was reading aloud in the evenings to her husband,
children, nieces, nephews, and even her mother-in-law! Her six-year-old was even practicing the
syllable drills with her.
Being literate and having their own written language is a
wonderful source of pride for the Palawanos.
"It was so cool to see these guys who are utterly
looked down upon by the lowlanders be so excited to learn to read and write,
young and old," wrote missionary Sarah Asman, when she visited the
missionary team in the tribe. "They
know the day is coming when they will be able to read God's Story for
The Palawanos follow animistic beliefs, and live in fear of
the spirits. This fear often deprives
them of food by keeping them from hunting or planting.
Over 80 million people live in the Philippines,
and 50 of the tribes are still unreached by the Gospel. At the current rate of ministry growth, the
Gospel will not reach all of the tribes for another 100 years. New Tribes Missions is asking the Lord for at
least 25 new missionary families per year in order to reach every tribe in the
next 10 years.