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Bible Translation

A Complete Bible for the Next Generation: The Isnag Celebration

Oct 10, 2023  |  Melissa Paredes
More than 30 people were baptized after the full Isnag Bible was dedicated
More than 30 people were baptized after the full Isnag Bible was dedicated.

There are more than 7,300 known languages around the world today that are spoken or signed by more than 7 billion people. Of these languages, more than 700 have the complete Bible — and the Isnag community of the northern Philippines is now counted among that number!


It’s been a long journey to complete the full Bible for the Isnag people. Bible translation first began in the late 1950s when Dick Roe, a Wycliffe missionary, moved into the community to learn the language and begin the work. But on June 25, 2023, more than 66 years after the gospel first arrived in Dibagat, the full Isnag Bible was dedicated!


This wasn’t my first Bible celebration. I grew up in the Philippines and recall attending one as a young teenager. But coming back home as an adult and witnessing a celebration again was transformative. I spent much of the weekend connecting with people and hearing their stories — stories that will stay with me forever.


As I give you a glimpse into these stories, I invite you to join me in celebrating the personal impact of God’s hand at work in each of their lives.


NARD PUGYAO


Nard Pugyao was 7 years old when Dick Roe moved to his village, Dibagat. At the time of the dedication, my oldest son was also 7 years old. Seeing Nard’s story through that lens brought a significant weight to my heart. Nard has literally waited an entire lifetime for the full Bible in his language! Decades have passed, yet Nard has continued to not only trust that God will be faithful but has served as a key champion for prayer, funding and partnership between individuals, churches and communities around the world with his Isnag community.


If you have even a few minutes to sit with Nard, you’ll immediately notice that he radiates sheer joy. There is a sense of praise and adoration of the God he serves — a God who has shown up time and time again and proven His faithfulness, both to Nard personally and also to the Isnag community.



ENOL PAUL


Nard’s niece, Enol Paul, has always had access to at least portions of Scripture in Isnag. “In this area, we are the first one[s] to complete the Bible from Old and New Testament,” she shared. “I saw a lot of people excited to get the Bible. I hope that when they get the Bible, they read it with the kids, explain what it is and tell them how important that book is — not tearing it, but treating it as if it’s precious. That is a treasure for them.”


Enol continued by telling the story of a 69-year-old woman who had spent a life time hearing of Jesus in her own language, but it didn’t sink in fully until she had the whole Bible. “That’s how the Bible impacted her,” Enol shared. “Even though she goes to church every Sunday, she realized that the Word of God is really touching her.”


Enol’s life has also been transformed by God’s Word! Enol speaks four languages, but reading in Isnag makes a huge difference. Enol had read John 3:16 in English before, but something happened when she read it in Isnag: “When I read John 3:16 in my own language … I realized that this is what God did for me. He did this for me. He gave His only Son for me. How do I know that God gave His Son if it’s not translated into my language — the Isnag language?”



MARK PUGYAO


Mark Pugyao, Nard’s nephew, served as the translator for the Old Testament. Like Enol, Mark is a second generation Isnag believer and has faithfully served his people by translating God’s Word into Isnag.


I had the privilege of interviewing Mark and asking him to share his story, and to also share the impact of Scripture in Isnag. Mark is uniquely positioned in the community because he’s had access to the Isnag New Testament and used it as a helpful framework for translating the Old Testament.



But the journey is not done simply because the translation is done! “Now that the Bible is full in our heart language, we are praying that we are able to distribute the Bible to all Isnags. And not only to distribute, but to do evangelism, helping them to read the Bible in their own heart language.”


RUDY BARLAAN


Rudy Barlaan was the first Filipino Bible translator and has been living and working among the Isnag for more than 50 years. He has invested a lifetime into seeing God’s Word brought to this community. Today Rudy continues to serve as a translator and consultant.


When Rudy completed the New Testament, he thought his work was done. But then he was challenged to translate the Old Testament too — something that wasn’t typically done — and agreed wholeheartedly to do so. Rudy brought on Mark to translate while he served as a consultant on the project, and the two of them faithfully worked together to complete the full Bible translation into Isnag.



And so Rudy’s work continues. He has faithfully served the Lord for decades and intends to continue doing so for the rest of his life. “It’s a privilege to be appointed by God to do the translation into [Isnag],” Rudy shared. “The Lord worked everything out for the Isnags and especially for His name. Everything He does is for His own glory and for His name’s sake. We obey Him, and so His plan always gets carried out.”


Young Isnag children are prayed over as part of the dedication.
Young Isnag children are prayed over as part of the dedication.

GOD’S WORD FOR THE NEXT GENERATION


Nard, Rudy, Mark and Enol are just a handful of the stories of God’s transforming power. They represent the reality that behind every new language engaged, behind every Bible translation project started and behind every Scripture completed, lives are impacted for all eternity.


God’s plans have been carried out for the Isnag, and they will continue to be carried out as the next generation grows up with the full counsel of God’s Word in a language and format they clearly understand.


As the celebration wrapped up and Bibles were distributed, I watched from the sideline and was overwhelmed by the significance of the day and of God’s grace to His people:


— To Nard, now an old man, who has trusted that God will fulfill His promise to the Isnags and faithfully championed the work for decades.


— To Rudy, who has invested a lifetime in seeing these brothers and sisters in Christ understand the full story of Jesus through Scripture in Isnag.


— To Mark, who experienced the impact of Scripture access and faithfully worked to bring the Old Testament to his own people.


— And to Enol, who has experienced personal transformation and wants to encourage families to experience the same for themselves.


Many people gave their New Testament in exchange for the full Bible. The worn Bibles were well used, filled with notes and highlights over the years.
Many people gave their New Testament in exchange for the full Bible. The worn Bibles were well used, filled with notes and highlights over the years.

As Nard and Mark passed out the Bibles, I watched people from the older generation receive them. They, like Nard, have waited a lifetime for this long-anticipated gift. I watched the younger generation, who will never remember a day when God’s Word wasn’t in a language that will speak directly to their hearts, receive their copies of the Bible too.


This is why Bible translation matters: It provides people with an opportunity to understand just how much God loves them. It shows that they have value and worth and that God not only sees them, but knows them personally — even when they live in a small, remote village in the northern Philippines. May we never forget the treasure that God’s Word is in our own lives and the privilege it is to be a part of making His name known among the nations!

Seeing everyone celebrate at the Isnag dedication, Kelly Chesnut, director of spiritual content and development for Wycliffe USA, was reminded of the transforming power of God’s Word when it’s in your language. Watch the video to celebrate along with the Isnag people.

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