Glorifying God in the Philippine Mountains
If you think of the Philippines as an island nation, you are right. But it is also a country of impressive mountains. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, preaching in the cities and lowland areas has been relatively easy and effective. However, the mountain regions are a different story.
THE glorious mountains of the country stand in stark contrast with the sandy beaches, the coral reefs, the fishing villages, and the bustling towns of the island plains. The mountains also stand as a challenging obstacle to preaching the “good news” of God’s Kingdom.—Matthew 24:14.
The Philippine Islands are located at a point where two tectonic plates collide. Buckling of the land in this area has created sharp mountain ridges on the larger islands. The more than 7,100 islands making up the Philippines are located on the western arc of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Hence, they are peppered with volcanoes, which also contribute to the formation of the mountainous landscape. Such rugged terrain has isolated the mountain people. Getting to them is difficult because relatively few roads are suitable for motor vehicles.
Despite these obstacles, Jehovah’s Witnesses realize the need for reaching “all sorts of men.” (1 Timothy 2:4) Thus, Witnesses in the Philippines have worked in harmony with the spirit of Isaiah 42:11, 12: “Let the inhabitants of the crag cry out in joy. From the top of the mountains let people cry aloud. Let them attribute to Jehovah glory, and in the islands let them tell forth even his praise.”
Concentrated efforts to witness to the people of the mountains started over 50 years ago. After World War II, missionaries helped give impetus to the work. Many local inhabitants embraced Bible truth and, in turn, helped spread this truth to villages far up in the mountains. This led to fine results. For example, in the Cordillera Central mountains of northern Luzon, there are over 6,000 publishers of the good news. Most of them are native peoples, including the Ibaloi, Ifugao, and Kalinga.
However, there are still hard-to-reach areas up in the mountains. The people living there have not been forgotten. How have some of them been reached, and what has been the response?
Genuine Faith Replaces Tradition
On the northern island of Luzon, the mountain areas of the province of Abra are inhabited by the Tinggians. This name may have originated from the ancient Malay word tinggi, which means “mountain.” Very appropriate indeed! The people also refer to themselves and their language as Itneg. They believe in a god called Kabunian, and daily life is greatly influenced by superstitions. For example, if a person planning to go somewhere sneezes, it is a bad omen. He must wait a couple of hours for the bad effect to wear off.
In 1572, the Spanish came with Catholicism, but they failed to teach genuine Christianity to the Tinggians. Those who did become Catholics hung on to their belief in Kabunian and followed native customs. Accurate knowledge about the Bible first reached these people in the 1930’s when Jehovah’s Witnesses began spreading the Kingdom message in those mountains. Many sincere Tinggians have since begun glorifying Jehovah “from the top of the mountains.”
For example, Lingbaoan was formerly a respected tribal head in the area. He was very involved in the Tinggian culture. “I faithfully followed the Tinggian traditions. If a person was killed, we performed a dance after the burial, and we played gongs. We also sacrificed animals. We believed in Kabunian, and I did not know the God of the Bible.” This was despite the fact that he was a nominal Catholic.
Ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to preach in that area. They met Lingbaoan and encouraged him to read the Bible. He recalls: “It was the Bible that convinced me that Jehovah is the true God.” A Witness then studied the Bible with him, and Lingbaoan made the decision to serve the true God. He left his former ways, including his position as tribal leader, a step that angered the local priest and Lingbaoan’s former associates. Lingbaoan, however, was determined to follow the truths he had found in the Bible. He now serves as a congregation elder.
Seven Days and Six Nights
Although some parts of Abra now quite regularly hear the good news, others are remote and only occasionally get a witness. Some time ago, an effort was made to reach one of these areas. A group of 35 Witnesses set out to preach in unassigned territory in Tineg, Abra, a place that had not been reached for 27 years.
This preaching expedition was carried out on foot, over a period of seven days. Imagine crossing hanging bridges and deep rivers and walking hours across mountain ridges while carrying your supplies—all to preach the good news to those who rarely hear it! Of the six nights during the trek, four were spent sleeping in the open mountain air.
Although the hardy Witnesses making up the expedition carried some food, they could not carry enough for the entire trip. This was not a problem, however, because people were more than happy to exchange food for Bible-based publications. The Witnesses received plenty of farm produce, fish, and deer meat. Although there were some inconveniences, the group said: “These sacrifices were compensated for by the overflowing joy we experienced.”
During the seven days, these ministers witnessed in ten villages, placing 60 books, 186 magazines, 50 brochures, and many tracts. They demonstrated Bible studies to 74 groups of people. In the town of Tineg, at the request of the local officials and some prominent citizens, a congregation meeting was held with 78 present. Most attending were teachers and policemen. Hopefully, many more Tinggians will yet join those ‘crying out’ and praising Jehovah from the mountaintops.
Something Better Than Gold
Farther south in the Philippines are some islands where the Spanish found gold. This gave rise to the name Mindoro, a contraction of the Spanish mina de oro, or “gold mine.” However, something better than gold is now being found in those islands—people who want to serve the true God, Jehovah.
About 125,000 indigenous people called Mangyans reside in the remote forest interior of Mindoro. They live a simple life, mostly keep to themselves, and have their own language. Most are animists and polytheists, and they believe in various spirits in nature.
Occasionally, when they lack food or other supplies, individual Mangyans come down to the coastal areas to look for work. This was the case with Pailing, who is from a subgroup of Mangyans called Batangan. He grew up among his people back in the mountain forests, and he subscribed to Batangan beliefs and practices. The common clothing was a simple loin cloth. To ensure a good crop, Batangan tradition required that worshipers kill a chicken, letting the blood drip into water while they prayed.
Pailing no longer follows those traditions. Why not? When he went to the lowlands, he found work with families of Jehovah’s Witnesses. One of these families took advantage of this situation to introduce Bible truth to Pailing. He responded well and really appreciated learning about Jehovah’s purpose for man and the earth. They arranged for him to go to elementary school, as well as study the Bible. Pailing was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses at the age of 24. At the age of 30, he was in his second year of high school, and he made the school his preaching territory. Now they call him Rolando (a lowland name).
If you meet Rolando, you will find a well-dressed smiling minister who is serving as a full-time preacher and as a ministerial servant in one of the congregations on Mindoro. Rolando recently went back to the mountains, not to join with the Batangans in their traditions, but to share with them life-giving truths from the Bible.
Eager to Get a Kingdom Hall
The province of Bukidnon—meaning “People of the Mountains” in Cebuano—is located on the southern island of Mindanao. This is an area of mountains, canyons, river valleys, and plateaus. The fertile land supports crops of pineapples, corn, coffee, rice, and bananas. The highland tribes of Talaandig and Higaonon live there. These people too need to learn about Jehovah. Recently, near the town of Talakag, this opportunity opened up in a very interesting way.
Witnesses going up to the highlands found a cool climate but a warm welcome. The local people professed to believe in the almighty God, the Father, but they did not know his name. Since they spend most of their time in the forest, this was the first time they met Jehovah’s Witnesses. God’s name was introduced to them, as well as his wonderful purpose in connection with the Kingdom. The people were delighted, so it was decided that further visits should be made to their village.
Several visits ensued. As a result, the locals offered a site for a “house” of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Witnesses gladly accepted the offer. The site was on the top of the highest hill in the area, overlooking the road. The building was constructed of wood, bamboo, and palm leaves. The project was completed in three months and ten days. The sign “Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses” was prominent in front of the building. Think about it, a Kingdom Hall erected before a congregation was formed!
Since then, a congregation elder who is a full-time minister moved there, as did a ministerial servant. Along with Witnesses from neighboring areas, they worked toward the goal of forming a congregation. This became a reality in August of 1998. A small congregation is now making full use of this Kingdom Hall, helping mountain people to learn the Bible’s truths.
Truly, Jehovah has mightily used his willing servants in the Philippines to spread the Kingdom truth even in hard-to-reach mountains. We are reminded of Isaiah 52:7, which says: “How comely upon the mountains are the feet of the one bringing good news.”
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Globe: Mountain High Maps® Copyright © 1997 Digital Wisdom, Inc.
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Preaching in the mountains involves hiking for hours across rugged terrain
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Baptism in a mountain stream