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God Is on the Move

God Is on the Move: The Journey to the Isnag Bible

Aug 2, 2023
Isnag children holding up their new Bibles

Throughout our lifetimes, we’re given countless opportunities to say “yes” to God. The first “yes” begins with His invitation to enter into relationship with Him. After that, God invites us throughout our faith journey to say “yes” over and over again.


The journey to the full Isnag Bible started with a “yes.” Among the Isnag community in the northern Philippines, many people have participated in God's call in unique ways over the years. The president of the Philippines and Cameron Townsend approved work to begin in 1953. A missionary moved into the community in 1956. And God was faithful to each person who obeyed His call.


A Long Time Coming


Nard Pugyao was 7 years old when a missionary, Dick Roe, moved into his village of Dibagat, Philippines. In the remote northern reaches of the country, Nard became a believer when he encountered Jesus through the Gospel of Mark in Isnag. From the moment that he said “yes” to God’s invitation for relationship, Nard has been on a journey of walking with the Lord and encouraging others around him to do the same.


Nard Pugyao holding up the full Isnag Bible
Nard Pugyao holds up the Isnag Bible, celebrating it's long-awaited arrival on June 25, 2023.

In 1971, Rudy Barlaan moved to Dibagat to do a year of language learning for a Bible translation consultation role with SIL Philippines. Rudy hadn’t planned on staying in Dibagat, but God had other plans. Rudy ultimately joined Dick in the translation work and in 1982, the New Testament was dedicated. In 2006, a revised New Testament, plus Genesis and Exodus, was dedicated. At the time, Old Testament translation wasn’t part of SIL Philippines strategy, so it seemed like the work was done. But God had other plans and brought in someone to help Rudy with the work: Mark Pugyao, Nard’s nephew.


Mark pastored the Dibagat Bible Church for a year when Rudy invited him to join in translating the Bible for his community. Mark ultimately said “yes,” and after completing school, translated the Old Testament while Rudy served as consultant.



A Resounding “Yes”


At the celebration, it was abundantly clear that not only had God been faithful to the Isnag, but His people had been faithful to Him too. Nard, Rudy and Mark have each invested their lives in seeing the Isnag people reached with the gospel in their own language. They have persevered — in Nard and Rudy’s case, for decades — and have invited others to join them along the way!


Isnag Bible dedication candlelight service.
Isnag Bible dedication candlelight service.

Virginia Beach Community Chapel (VBCC) has partnered with the Isnag for years. They’ve formed relationships with Nard, Rudy and Mark, and they’ve faithfully prayed for and given to this Kingdom work. The beautiful thing about this relationship is that not only does VBCC pray for the Isnag, but the Isnag pray for VBCC too! It’s a two-way relationship, where God has used both communities to encourage each other.


Robb Esperat, senior pastor of VBCC, shared that even the kids in their church are invested. “They may not know where the Philippines is, but they know about the Isnag people!” Even now these kids are being given the chance to invest in Great Commission activities and rejoice with the Isnag all the way from Virginia Beach!


Well-worn New Testaments are traded in for the new Isnag Bible
Well-worn New Testaments are traded in for the new Isnag Bible.

As the Bibles were being handed out at the celebration, 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. Looking around the room, you could see the joy and excitement across many faces at this priceless gift they’d just received.


34 Isnag believers were baptized in the river following the dedication ceremony
34 Isnag believers were baptized in the river following the dedication ceremony.

As the dedication ceremony wrapped up, 34 Isnag believers were baptized in the river, proclaiming their faith in Jesus Christ. This public “yes” is a testament to their community that God’s invitation is for all of us, no matter where we live or what language we speak.


The theme verse for the Isnag Bible dedication was Isaiah 40:8, “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever” (NLT). God has been faithful to the Isnag, and now they’re able to hold His complete Word in their hands — something that will stand forever. Nard has waited his whole life to read the full counsel of God’s Word in Isnag. Today we rejoice that that wait has ended, and praise God for this generation of children who won’t have to wait to encounter Jesus personally.

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Read the previous "God Is on the Move" article.

Read the next "God Is on the Move" article.

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