by Phyllis Rappa
For the past 21 years, Phyllis Rappa has been working in Romblon, Philippines translating the New Testament into the Romblomanon language. This is her story of why she chose to work with this people group, the challenges she faced, and how the Word has changed the community.
The province of Romblon is made up of three main islands situated right in the centre of the Philippines with a population of about 200,000 people.
About half of these people speak the Romblomanon language. This language is unwritten and used in the daily interaction of the people. However, Tagalog, the national language, is used in communicating with outsiders and in official situations.
Someone asked what made me decide to choose Romblon. Translators were given the option to visit various projects before making a decision. I had visited several, going all way from Manila to Mindanao and also travelling on a small plane to a tiny island in the middle of the ocean where a translator was working alone. But I did not feel peace about working in any of these places.
Then I heard that the team in Romblon had decided to return to their home country for personal reasons and needed someone to replace them. I spent a week visiting them in Romblon and immediately felt peace and knew that God was leading me to that project. I informed my director about this decision and was then officially assigned to the Romblon project.
When I first arrived in Romblon, I lived on the main island called Romblon, Romblon, which is the provincial capital. My house had bamboo walls and the roof was made from a type of grass called cogon. There was no electricity or running water in my village, so I had to make do with a kerosene lamp and use water fetched from a well.
My first two years were focused on language learning – mostly practising with the children who lived in the neighbourhood. There was never a dull moment – I enjoyed my interactions with the many people I met because they helped to increase my language proficiency.
I also made cultural observations which I wrote in a journal. My purpose there was to learn the language so that I could begin to translate the New Testament into Romblomanon.
In order to begin translation, I had to produce a 1,000-word dictionary, write a description of the grammatical structure and also of the sound system. Then, a consultant came to the village to test me on my language proficiency. It was an answer to prayer when he said that I had passed this test with flying colours.
Having met all the requirements, I attended a translation workshop before I could begin translating. In 1998, I completed my first translation, the book of James. Portions of Genesis were published after that. This came in the form of a storybook on the life of Joseph (Genesis chapters 37-50).
After two years in Romblon, another team joined me. In 2012, together with the local pastors, we launched a Bible study of the book of Luke. We started the Bible study in the children’s church and the attendance grew from about 40 members to more than 100 members.
There have been many testimonies of lives transformed. For example, a lady shared that she used to be depressed and contemplated suicide. But when she started attending the Bible studies, she was encouraged and decided against taking her own life.
There have been many challenges during the course of the project. One incident was when a typhoon blew over the island. The strong winds completely stripped the branches from all the trees. A large branch flew at a high speed towards the front window of my house – but it miraculously dropped just inches from the window.
Another time, I was so ill that I could not eat or drink for five days. I had to travel for 12 hours by ferry back to Manila to get medical treatment and recover from this illness.
I want to thank the Lord for his grace and strength to overcome the various challenges during the course of this translation project. I am also very thankful for all the people who have prayed and supported me all this time. The fields are ripe for harvest in Romblon.
As of 2017, the 27 books of the Romblomanon NT have been revised and approved by the consultant. The revised introductions to each book and the main introduction will be approved soon. What is left is the editing of the glossary, some work on the technical details as well as the scheduling of the audio recording of the NT. The target date for the dedication will be in 2018.
The goal of our project is to see people’s lives transformed through the translated Scriptures and we have already seen it happening. The word had indeed has come to Romblon.