We climbed the small ladder into our friend’s house, sweaty and out of breath as usual. His house is situated on the slant of a hill that overlooks the mountains that surround the nearby river. Fog settled in over the slopes of mountain ridges already blanketed in the green of rainy season. The view is gorgeous from his village. We sat in his house, his wife diligently weaving her basket, dogs running in and out, corn or something boiling away in a pot hanging over the fire. As usual, he began to chat about this-and-that and we discussed random news as of late. Eventually he brought up the fact that his audio Bible wasn’t charging any longer (it has a solar panel). Disappointed at the technical failure, I told him we would see if we could get the stories “out” and put them somewhere else. (I was able to get the audio files onto a memory card he can use on his daughter’s phone). However, I figured now was a good time to ask about the stories, and see if he had actually listened in a while. I asked what his favorite story was and he said, “Oh I like the one about where God tells us to be good and not steal things”…..ok that’s kind of generic and I am not even sure there’s a story about that specifically in the New Testament…. So, I began to tell him the story about Peter walking on the water toward Jesus. To my great delight, he began finishing all my sentences and even managed to throw out the punch line, “Your faith is small”. Yay! He actually listened to the stories! We began a chat that was headed in a more spiritual direction.
He brings up his understanding of God. “People say we worship many gods, but we don’t, we worship True God and the ‘Rice God’.(Most Palawanos would assure me there are many other lesser gods of rain, thunder, water and so on- he says he only worships these two) You foreigners also worship two gods- the Father, and the Son Jesus, right?”
Hm, he hasn’t even gotten to the Holy Spirit… how to explain the Trinity…. I try for a minute or so to explain the three-fold nature of God, but realize this is something the Holy Spirit must reveal to us, so I leave it be for now. He interjects, “And really, we worship the same God as you do, you just call him something different. We call him Grandfather Ketungkulan (which means he just added one more god).You call him Jesus. They are the same. Grandfather Ketungkulan had a mother named Mary, died on a cross and rose again.” Hm, that’s curious. “We shouldn’t say the name of Jesus, or if we do, our stomachs will swell from a curse.”
Ok, this is familiar now. It is taboo for Palawanos to speak the name of their in-laws, the name of the dead, and probably a few other names as well. They believe it will cause you bodily harm if you show such disrespect as to speak their name. Now he is applying this to the name of Jesus. In some ways, this reminds me a little of the Jewish refusal to speak or even write the name of God (G-d) outside prayer and reading of the Torah for fear of blaspheming his name. (although I believe the Palawano motivation is different, it bears some resemblance…I don’t press this issue with him.)
Instead of refuting his claim and starting a “yes-it-is, no-it’s-not game” about his remark, I ask him about his ‘Rice God’. How is he the same, how is he different than the God-man we call Jesus? I bring it back to God’s character. If you say they are the same things, then the same things need to be true of one and the other, both in their history and their present character. Our friend still holds to his worship rituals of drunken trances to communicate in the spiritual realm, and calling on spirit beings, a far cry from the teachings and character of Jesus. Yet referring to “Grandfather” and Jesus, he reiterates that they both died and rose to life. I bring up the teachings of Jesus, which are unlike any other I have ever heard. Yes, he told us not to lie or steal, but he also told us to not only forgive our enemies but to love them, and do good to them, to die for them even. Our friend responds “Yes, Jesus says that we should forgive and so now, that is what we do.”
Now that is what they do.
Although I believe our friend is still combining his traditional beliefs with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, I believe he is closer now than ever to coming to faith in Jesus. Jesus told us to go “make disciples”. Disciples are students. Right now, he is a student of Jesus. He is listening to his words, (which God has promised will not return to Him void) and learning to do what Jesus said! There are a lot of “saved” people who have a hard time accepting Jesus’s teachings. Anyway, what I am trying to say is that for our friend, his understanding seems to be unfolding each time we meet with him. A year ago I doubt he would have ever said that he worships Jesus but just “calls him something else”. On the contrary, he would speak about “your God” or the “American’s God.”
Our conversation ends soon after this remark. He enjoys talking about spiritual matters, and he is grateful that we seem to respect him and want to know more about his culture. He feels very misunderstood by some of the foreigners he has spoken to in the past. Near the end of our conversation, he pays us perhaps the funniest and highest compliment that he can offer.
“We have the same spit.”
Ha! That’s an idiom I won’t soon forget. He is telling us we have the same thinking, that we understand one another. I really hope so. Yet, I hope even more that he will understand God Most High- Father, Son and Holy Spirit.