‘The people who walk backwards into the future.’
An interview with Mark Chapman, a missionary who tells of using Genesis to reach an animist people.
Russell Grigg: Mark, please tell us about the Tigwa people.
Mark Chapman: They are a tribe of about 10,000 animists who are part of the Manobo people group, living in the mountains on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines. They plant corn, sweet potato, rice, and a few other vegetables, and they hunt in the jungle for wild pigs and small animals. For hunting, they use traps, spears, bows and arrows, and home-made guns. They make the latter from lengths of waterpipe, with match-heads for gunpowder, and bits of lead from old batteries for bullets, all held in with cotton wool.
Mark and Susan Chapman with their children Ruth (left) and Hannah (right) worked through OMF International among the Tigwa tribe in the Philippines.
What does it mean when you say they are animists?
Animism is the belief that animals, plants, and inanimate objects are inhabited by spirits. The Tigwas’ lives are ruled by fear of evil spirits (demons). Demons are often mentioned in the Bible, mainly in the Gospels, as causing some physical and mental disorders, possessing human beings, and opposing the work of God. We have seen examples of these things during our time among the Tigwa people. They worship the spirits of rocks, trees, and rivers, and so have direct contact with the spirit world.
They also consult witch doctors (shamans), especially before planting their fields, and after calamities such as sickness, which they attribute to the spirits. They then go to the shaman to find out how they may have offended the spirits and what to do to appease them.
Why do you call them ‘the people who walk backwards into the future’?
As animists, they are constantly looking back into their history to their origins to see where they came from and how they fit into the world in which they live. This is very important to animistic people. The way they behave today is very much dependent on what they believe happened in their past. They also want to ensure that what they do now will not offend the spirits of their ancestors or the demons that are part of their daily life.
What do they believe about their origins?
They believe that long, long ago, the Creator Spirit or Supreme Being brought all things into existence. Their own myths and legends are interwoven into this, but there are remnants of the Genesis account. We would expect this of course because, like all people, they are descendants of Adam and Eve, through Noah and the dispersion at Babel. They believe that there was a time when God the Creator was in communication with people on earth, but then something went wrong; there was some sort of conflict, and they are aware that God the Creator is now far removed from their everyday life.
The world of the Tigwa is far different from that of Western countries. Images like these reveal a way of life typical for this region. Above: A favoured mode of transport is the water buffalo, seen here crossing a swollen river.
Missionaries and other aid workers try to negotiate a hazardous, muddy track by 4WD.
Felling trees provides a source of timber for their simple but adequate houses like the one below.
What is their worldview about themselves?
In their worldview, they live in the mountains; above them is the sky dome, which they believe is the realm of the evil spirits; outside the sky dome is the place where they believe their myths and legends occurred; and above all this is God the Creator. They believe that, when they die, they all go to a happy hunting ground, where they will forever be running round shooting an unlimited supply of wild animals.
How do you go about evangelizing them?
For reaching animistic tribes like the Tigwa, Genesis is the key book. Their origin beliefs have been corrupted, but from Genesis we can tell them the true history of their tribe. We can say to them, ‘Your ancestors had the true story, but it has been lost. However, here it is: this is what really happened.’ We then tell them the biblical account of the creation of Adam and Eve, and the biblical account of the Fall—when the fellowship between their ancestors and God the Creator was lost. We tell them about the coming of evil into the world, and we go on to explain where Satan and the evil spirits fit into the picture.
How do you get from Genesis to the Gospel?
We embark on chronological biblical teaching for up to a year of pre-evangelism. We show the whole picture—the whole biblical worldview—using the promise of the coming of the Saviour, Jesus Christ, in Genesis 3:15, to demonstrate God’s solution to the problem of how we can be restored to communication and fellowship with Him.
Do they want to get right with God?
The attraction of the Gospel is that it offers them freedom from the oppression of evil spirits, who control every part of their lives and keep them in poverty and under bondage. The spirits dictate their diet, where and when they hunt, and they demand animal sacrifices. The Tigwa have been under this domination by the spirit world for thousands of years. So freedom in Christ is a radical thing, especially when they see that Christ has power over the spirits.
How do you counter the influence of the spirits?
Their doctrines have come to them in the past from demons via their ancestors. The shamans, who are often tribal chiefs, have to know all the legends and history of their people group. They must also know the names of all the spirits and have intimate contact with them. Because of this, we spend a lot of time teaching on the spiritual deception that is involved in their culture. For example, they would be a lot healthier if they were free from their dietary restrictions. The spirits forbid pregnant women to eat a range of fruit and vegetables that would promote good health. Our aim is to expose this deception and then present the truth. We teach the believers to memorize appropriate verses of Scripture, and to quote these to see the power of God at work against the demons.
Have you encountered opposition from the spirits?
Yes, many times. For example, one man believed and was baptized. That night a powerful demonic spirit came and attacked his wife physically, trying to strangle her. The husband prayed and the spirit left. The wife believed when she saw that Jesus was more powerful than the demon. Westerners struggle with the idea of the spirit world interacting with the physical, but the Tigwa don’t separate the physical from the spiritual like we do in the West—to them it’s all one. We have to minister and teach at the level of the spiritual realm, with particular reference to their origins, as already mentioned, because that is where they’re at.
What response have you had to using this approach?
Through God’s grace, we saw people set free from their bondage to the spirits, when they came to know the truth in Jesus. Although we were not the first missionaries ever to go there, we were the first to actually live in their village and teach along these lines. The first believers were baptized in January 1998, and since then there have been four lots of baptisms, and there is now a church of about 30 believers.
What are your future plans?
We are returning later this year. We will be further researching their origin stories to find other remnants from the true Genesis accounts, e.g. the Flood and the dispersion at Babel, and we will then use these as a bridge to the truth of the Word of God. One of the keys to reaching animistic people like the Tigwa is to show them their true link with the past and why they are where they are; then to go on and show them that they can know God the Creator through Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who is both God and man, and who came to earth and died and rose again for them. In short, our goal is to present the truth because, if they know the truth, the truth will set them free.
Mark, thank you very much.