Romblon – a peaceful island of crystal clear water, white sandy beaches and balmy tropical climate – what an idyllic place! But when Phyllis Rappa first visited the island, what motivated her to decide to live and work there was not the beauty of the place, but the needs of the people. Specifically, they needed to hear the word of God in their own language, a language which speaks to their hearts. She said, “I immediately felt peace and knew that God was leading me to that project.”
The Romblomanon people number about 106,000, living mainly on the several islands which comprise the province of Romblon in central Philippines. Although most claim to be Christian, traditional animism and witchcraft still influence the lives and practices of the people.
30 years of service
Phyllis worked as a secretary in Wycliffe Singapore before she joined Wycliffe as a member in 1987. After she completed her linguistics and other training, she left for the Philippines in 1990. She was assigned to the Romblomanon project in 1993, and remained with that project for nearly 25 years. Of course, she did not work alone – she was joined in 1995 by Rence and Pauline Law from Hong Kong, and worked alongside local translators on the team.
Her first house had bamboo walls and a grass roof, with no running water or electricity! She used kerosene lamps and well water. Later she had a small house built near the beach which she shared with a local helper. Always fond of children, she spent most of the first two years learning language and culture by spending time with the village children and writing down her cultural observations in a notebook. She prepared a 1000-word dictionary, and studied the grammar and sound system of the Romblomanon language.
Translation work is long and slow, and there are always many interruptions from village events, help requested by the villagers, personal health issues, etc. The team persevered and the New Testament was finally completed in 2017. During that time, in 2007, Phyllis had to return to Singapore for cancer treatment, only returning to the Philippines in 2009. Years later, cancer recurred, and she returned to Singapore in February 2016, passing away in September 2017. During that last period in Singapore, Phyllis continued to work on the translation when she was able.
A grand celebration
The Romblomanon New Testament was published in 2019, and the team organised a Bible dedication and grand celebration on 27 April 2019. It was a moving experience for many of Phyllis’s supporters. One of her long-time supporters said how she appreciated being able to see where Phyllis had lived and worked, and even eat at her favourite restaurant. Her nephew commented that the completed New Testament was a wonderful legacy of his aunt’s life.
The Word became flesh
Phyllis’s was an incarnational ministry. She gave up the comforts of Singapore to live among the Romblomanon people, share their experiences, play with their children, and show them God’s love. She went there knowing full well that others before her had experienced sickness and spiritual warfare, and she chose to return even after her first bout of cancer. Her aim was to help them experience the truth of John 1:14:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Please continue to pray for the Romblomanon people as they hear God’s word in their heart language. May their lives be transformed by this Word!
Wycliffe Singapore supports work among minority groups in a number of countries to bring them God’s word in their heart languages. If you would like to find out how you can be involved in this work, please contact us.