Tribe Rises "From Fear to Faith"

A tribe of spirit worshipers in the Philippines has traveled a long road in 20 years -- from fear to faith.

...The 30,000 Higaunon people in 1981 lived in fear of evil spirits that brought sickness, disaster, and condemnation to a hellish afterlife. Now there is a growing Christian community of several hundred people in 13 churches in 10 villages, Sanford, Fla.-based New Tribes Mission (see link #1 below) reported.

..."It is wonderful to see what the Lord has done there - it's an incredible story," the ministry's Oli Jacobsen told Religion Today. He was the field chairman in the Philippines in 1981 and helped select the Higaunon tribe for a missionary visit.

...The Higaunon of Mindanao island feared spirits they believed inhabited rocks and trees. The spirits, they believed, had to be appeased to ward off sickness and disaster, according to New Tribes. The tribe feared death most of all and relied on special spirits to tell them what rituals to perform and laws to observe to avoid going to a terrible place after they died.

...They also worshiped ancestral spirits that were said to protect the village from natural disasters and bring good crops. Shamans, who claimed to hear the spirits, controlled the people, telling them what they had done to deserve punishment and how to atone for their transgressions, according to New Tribes.

...Rituals sometimes involved child sacrifice. A baby born with the umbilical cord wrapped around its neck was considered a bad omen and had to be buried immediately to ward off sickness, Imbos Asihagan told New Tribes. "We didn't like doing this because often we hear the baby screaming for a long time under the ground," she said.

...Many people fled in fear when New Tribes missionaries Ron and Michelle Jennings first visited Baligiyan, a Higaunon village in the mountains of central Mindanao. "Our parents had told us that white people were demons in disguise who would befriend us and later on cook us all in a great big pot and eat us," said Naytiwagas, a tribal elder.

...The village shaman, Salvador, played a role in convincing the people to let the missionaries stay. Years earlier he had a vision "from the good spirits" that a man would come from far away bringing a book that would "show the way of life," New Tribes reported. Salvador believed the Jenningses were a fulfillment of that message and encouraged them to stay.

...The Jenningses lived with the Higaunon, learned the language, and got to know the people. "Their children played with our children and we became fond of them as if they were our own," an elder said. They suffered the same trials as the villagers, such as sickness and the threat of attacks by rebel groups, he said. "They didn't gain anything by being with us except a lot of problems. But they stayed and we wondered why."

...After two years they began holding semiweekly Bible classes. The Jenningses taught the tribes the biblical accounts of the creation of the world, Adam and Eve, and the origin of sin. When they heard about Satan and how he holds out empty promises to people "we knew this was describing our spirits because that is exactly what they are like," an elder said.

...The tribe embraced the message of Christ and believed in His death to save people from sin and hell, New Tribes said. "We were so happy. All we could talk about was what Jesus had done for us and how we now saw the truth so clearly," Naha Tinaghanaw said. Three missionary families have since joined the Jenningses to train the Higaunon Christians to grow in the their new faith.

...Christians in Baligiyan started taking the gospel message to other Higaunon villages. One man, Mosing, loved to go to the villages to teach about Christ, and many people were becoming Christians through his ministry, New Tribes said. Communist rebels, fearful of the growing church, warned him to stop but he refused and was murdered in 1985, the ministry said.

...The church continues to grow and deliver more people from spirit worship. Giving up cultural practices and values is difficult, "but that is the way it is in any culture," Jacobsen said. "It's no different in the United States. Just because someone gets saved doesn't mean they stop being materialistic overnight."


Religion Today - December 6, 2000

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