When we first went to the Philippines and went to Aparri, in the first week, we met two Itawes ministers who wanted us to do a Bible translation for the Itawes people. Although they were relatives, Mr. Rosendo Montilla being Felipe Catolos’ uncle, neither of them knew the other had come to see us in Aparri. The younger man, Felipe, was in college there at the seminary, taking 20 units. He took us to Piat, where he said the people spoke “pure” Itawes, and they needed a Bible translation. He wanted us to come so badly that he said anything he could to get us to come to the Itawes region. Rosendo Montilla agreed that pure Itawes was spoken there. Eventually, this played a part in our decision to return there, but at the time, all I could think of was the heat. So we looked toward Abra in our initial search for a language to translate.
After returning from Abra, and settling in Piat, we found only a few Itawes-speaking Churches of Christ, and they were small and weak. They depended on their ministers for the Word of God because they did not yet have the Bible in their own language. We saw this as a real need for the Scriptures. We asked the Lord for them to develop a desire for a closer walk with God and to know Him more personally. They truly did need to know the Lord, and how could they know Him if they didn’t have His Word in their heart language? Our two Itawes friends realized this.
The two ministers themselves were in need in several ways: financial, personal direction, and spiritual strength and knowledge. Before we came to the Philippines, our sponsoring mission in Aparri was giving them a small amount of financial help each month. The mission did not have the personnel or the time to give them personal direction. However, because we were now living in the Itawes area, and were specifically interested in the Itawes, we felt we could give more personal help, and provide more financial support, too, as it wouldn’t be a great burden for our STEP mission to assume this responsibility.
We knew the amount of personal help they needed was considerable in order for them to be able to guide their churches in real growth. For us to give them that kind of help would mean a diversion from and consequent delay in fulfilling our basic task of Bible translation. So, we asked our prayer partners to pray that God would give us wisdom in deciding whether or not the actual benefit to the Itawes churches justified the amount of our time it would take from our primary task. As we thought about it, these people needed the Word of God, but they also needed our example and teaching in order that they might grow and mature in their spiritual lives. The prayer partners did pray about it, and we decided to help the men in whatever way we could.
After that, because we realized we needed men who were trained, whenever we had an opportunity to send a young dedicated man to the seminary, we did. That way, he could be trained in the Word of God and learn how to teach and minister to the people in a better way. We undertook the job of sending them there even when they had families, which meant we sent the families, too. We did this because they desperately needed that training, and we needed the trained leadership for the people. We could not do it ourselves.
Rosendo Montilla was in his late sixties, but was not well grounded in the Scriptures when we met him. He had been a pastor in another church that was quite ritualistic and used the Bible minimally. He had been converted to the Church of Christ by a preacher from the Ilocano area. He especially needed commitment to Christ in order for him to be a more acceptable personal witness and example to his churches. Over the following years, we saw this come to pass, but it all took time. He became a good influence on the younger ministers and brethren in the churches.
One month, we got together with the two men to hear their reports on what they had been doing. Mr. Montilla had been preaching in a different location every Sunday of the month, so the believers in those places got little actual teaching. Felipe was in the same location each week, but the group there was still small and weak.
In April 1975, we decided to support them financially so they could have more freedom in their activities. By this time, Felipe had graduated from Aparri Bible Seminary and was going with Mr. Montilla to conduct evangelistic meetings in the Itawes barrios of Amulung, which also had Ilocano barrios. We had gotten a Gestetner 300 mimeograph machine in March, and one of the first things we did was to mimeograph invitations to people who lived around the churches where the men preached so they could invite them to special services. This helped in the attendance at their evangelistic meetings.
The two men had already translated over 40 hymns and choruses which were printed in an Itawes song book before this time. Chuck felt it needed to be revised, so Felipe came to work with us on that project in Piat. I helped Felipe select the most useable songs, and we arranged them in columns. Twenty-three songs filled two sheets on both sides. Chuck proofread the stencils, and we mimeographed enough copies so each family in their churches could take one home as a continuing witness. Everyone was delighted to have songs he could sing in his own dialect, especially the children. This was the forerunner of a hymnal we prepared and had printed after that, while we lived in Enrile.
Another use for the mimeograph machine was thought up by our two ministers. They felt we should start putting out a newsletter in Itawes, so we did this. They contributed articles to this paper which was then taken to the churches. It was called Ya Nawag, (in English, The Light.) From time to time, we went with one of the ministers to an evangelistic meeting or some other occasion to which he was going in the area of Amulung or Piat. One of these times, we went to a barrio of a small town near Piat named Faire where Felipe served as the minister. We went on the night before Christmas, and that night we stayed up in the home of one of the members while they read and sang a song or chant in a neighboring language called Ibanag about the life of Jesus Christ. It went on and on for hours like a saga, telling of the history of Jesus’ birth and much that accompanied it. Apparently, everyone understood what was being sung, as from time to time, they all took part. If they got sleepy, they just stopped singing and went to sleep for a while, right where they were, but the rest went on with the music. We ourselves got so sleepy we ended up sleeping while it was going on, too.
The next night the church had a program that was held on an outside stage. The members and neighbors all came to watch, and the children and others participated in telling the story of the birth of Christ. Chuck was given a part on the program to pray at the end of the service. It was a lovely presentation, though very simple, and everyone appreciated it very much.
Although this was the church that Felipe ministered to, he couldn’t go every Sunday or else he got there at different times due to public transportation, which was undependable. When he got there, he would go around to all the houses of the members to let them know he was there so they would come to the meeting. Remember they went according to Filipino time, so their church didn’t have a regular starting time.
These were generally poor people, and most of the houses were made of nipa grass, and they were quite small, often times being built on stilts. Their animals sometimes lived under the house. They had no screens on the windows, so the mosquitoes were quite bad. People there had a lot of malaria until the government came and sprayed all the water holes in town to kill the anopheles or malaria-carrying mosquitoes. They did this routinely. The very nature of the nipa hut meant there were other creatures, bugs and little lizards, which lived in the thatch of the roofs and walls. We were thankful we lived in the nearby Centro of Piat, where the houses were more like stateside homes. Those houses had lizards, too, but they were considered good to have around because they ate spiders and insects.
Faire was a town, and this barrio was typical of many of the barrios of the time, most people being farmers and depending on the weather for their crops to grow. They did have schools, though, and at least 85% of the Itawes were literate. This was important to the success of our Bible translation work. We were thankful that we didn’t have to teach the people how to read. The towns also had municipal buildings and various government services, which contributed to the ongoing of their lives. We were very thankful to be in an area where all of this was available.
Felipe lived in Palayag, Amulung. Palayag is a barrio across the Cagayan River from the main part of Amulung. Mr. Montilla lived in Estefania, Amulung, which was just a few barrios away from the Centro of Amulung on the same side of the Cagayan River as the Centro. To get to Palayag from Estefania, you have to take a jeep to the point at the river where you get off the jeep and get a canoe called ‘banca,’ which takes you across the river to the other side. You then walk to Palayag from there, taking a trail that goes alongside the river. It’s quite a long way when you aren’t used to it. One day Rosendo was holding an evangelistic meeting there at a little church building built on the property of Felipe’s family, and we went there with him and enjoyed the service he held that night.
Another day, we went there by public transportation from Piat to attend another evangelistic meeting. That required our going by bus to Tuguegarao first, an hour’s trip, and then getting a jeepney that took us by bridge to the other side of the Cagayan River, directly to Palayag, which took another hour or more. That night at the meeting, there were three young men who played the guitar and sang in a trio. The one playing the guitar was the song leader for the evening service, and they used the new song books, so the song service was spectacular. These young men were really good at singing the songs with much vim and vigor. The congregation joined, singing lustily, obviously enjoying the service greatly. These boys were brothers from another barrio of Amulung who obviously loved the Lord and loved to sing. All three of these boys, the Tallud Brothers, ended up going to Aparri Bible Seminary and ultimately becoming ministers of the gospel in the Itawes region.
For several years, the eldest, Domingo, became a missionary to southern Mindanao working with missionaries down there. He ultimately came back to work in a church he helped start earlier in Tuguegarao, which is the largest of the Churches of Christ there. The second, Eddie, currently preaches in three different churches, and works with Carl Stevens at his airplane hangar in Tuguegarao, besides being the minister who holds the Itawes VBS Clinic for our Itawes, Ibanag, Malaweg and Agta churches of the area. Dominador, the third brother, is the minister at Enrile where we used to go when we lived in Enrile in the Philippines. Little did we realize that night how things would come to pass in the future for those young men. The youngest of them would even be the translator of a few of the historical books of the Old Testament as well as one of four translation assistants helping us in the revision of the whole Itawes Bible.