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Bible Translation, Global Church

From Virginia to the Philippines: A Bible Translation Partnership

Read about one church’s relationship with the Isnag people.
Apr 5, 2024
Treasures in the Dark

The Isnag community in the northern Philippines celebrated something many had dreamed about for decades: They held the full Bible, translated into their language, in their hands. It was a journey more than 60 years in the making — and one that the people of Virginia Beach Community Chapel (VBCC) have had the privilege to take with them!

The journey started in 1953 when the president of the Philippines and Cameron Townsend, founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators, approved work to begin. Three years later, a Wycliffe Bible translator named Dick Roe moved into the remote mountain village of Dibagat.

Nard Pugyao was just 7 years old when Dick arrived in his village. He watched Dick learn the Isnag language and begin his work. Eventually, it was this work that changed Nard’s life completely; Nard became a believer when he encountered Jesus through the Gospel of Mark in his language. He later went on to work in Bible translation himself as a missionary pilot, and he was instrumental in networking to bring Scripture to his community, even flying in the printed copies of the New Testament!

In addition to Nard, God brought Dr. Rudy Barlaan, a translator and consultant, to Dibagat in 1971. He ultimately joined Dick in the translation work, leading to the dedication of the New Testament in 1982. At the time, Old Testament translation wasn’t part of the overall strategy, so it seemed like the work was done. But God had other plans and brought in someone to help Rudy: Mark Pugyao, Nard’s nephew, who pastored a local church. The books of the Old Testament began to take shape in Isnag.

Through it all, the VBCC congregation has been faithfully praying for and giving to Rudy, Nard and Mark’s work among the Isnag — since the 1970s! God has grown the relationship between the Virginia Beach and Dibagat communities over decades of partnership, and it has blessed and encouraged both. Just as the VBCC pray for the Isnag, the Isnag pray for VBCC, and they’ve had the opportunity to spend time together and serve one another as well.

“Our love for the Isnag has grown through long-term, personal relationships,” VBCC lead pastor Robb Esperat shared. “The church in Dibagat is not a project we invest in but a sister church we are privileged to serve and grow with. One of our older saints visited Dibagat and told Nard, ‘I want to die here one day.’ Another member of our congregation married Enol, Nard's niece, and they now serve together in Manila! We are family in the truest sense of the word, and our life as a congregation is richer and fuller as a result.”

In the words of Pastor Robb: “They may not all know where the Philippines is, but they know about the Isnag people!”

Isnag Bibles and New Testaments on display
Well-worn Isnag New Testaments and the new, complete Bible.

In the summer of 2023, Pastor Robb had the opportunity to travel with his son and the former missions pastor to the Philippines for the full Bible dedication, while the rest of the congregation rejoiced with the Isnag people from Virginia Beach. 

At the dedication, as the Bibles were being handed out, people could swap out their New Testaments for the full Bible. Copies of well-worn Scripture filled with notes and highlights were replaced with beautiful, fresh pages. Joy and excitement shone on their faces as they received this priceless gift. 

All had invested their hearts, resources and prayers into seeing the Isnag people encounter the gospel in their own language.

“Jesus’ heart delights in the forward movement of His gospel,” Pastor Robb said. “Our congregation has been so blessed by the opportunity to participate in that movement and, through it, to taste His joy.”

Isnag baptism
Pastor Robb helped baptize 34 Isnag people in the river!

After the dedication ceremony wrapped up, Pastor Robb had the honor of helping to baptize 34 Isnag believers in the river as they proclaimed their faith in Jesus Christ. It was a beautiful and powerful testament to how God is moving in and through His global Church.

As Pastor Robb reflected on what he experienced on the trip, he was reminded of the life-changing impact of this work. “With Bible translation at the tip of the spear, the Lord has also brought evangelization, literacy and education, infrastructure development like clean water and solar power, and so much more.”

He concluded: “Truly, the village and its surrounding areas have been transformed. I saw with fresh eyes how the ‘finish line’ of Bible translation is the ‘starting line’ of discipling the nations. God’s Word never returns void; it always produces a crop and is a sure investment of our time and resources.”

Learn how your church can be connected to the global body of Christ in meaningful ways.

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