Reading, Bibles, and The Philippines


Davao City has no public libraries. I don’t know if the public schools have libraries or not.  I have been told by more than one Filipino that Filipinos do not typically like to read. While I do know several for whom that is not true, they are among those telling me that it’s not that common.

All the malls I have been to have a National Bookstore, and most of them also have a secondhand bookstore where the prices are generally shockingly low- under a dollar, often under.50.  My favourite of the used bookstores in our area is not the lowest prices. I like it because it is better organized than the others, has better airconditioning and more space between the shelves, which is probably why the prices are higher.

The climate is quite hard on books.     Without regular air conditioning, the books are going to get moldy, and before that the pages will feel soft, and they will tear easily.  If one is among the class who like to write in the margins, one may find one’s pencil easily pokes holes in the soft, slightly damp pages.  The cheaper glue in some books loosens and pages start to fall out.

Flooding is an issue in many homes as well- it’s a regular occurrence, so common that some families just plan for it and arrange house accordingly. One American family I knew who lived here a few decades had a two story house that flooded two or three times a year.  They kept only wooden  and plastic furniture in the ground floor, no beds or any upholstery they cared to keep around.  When the house flooded, they simply moved things out to the patio, hosed down the inside, swept it out, sprayed the furniture clean again and returned it.

The flooding is so much a way of life for some people it’s hard to imagine. We have a Bible study here once a week that begins at 5:30 in the morning. Several of the young men from our congregation come, riding bicycles and maybe two or three on motorcycles.  One morning one of the teens looked particularly tired, and they told me that at three o’clock his house flooded- only about 4 inches deep but his bed is a mattress on the floor so he was done sleeping for the night.  They were teasing him about it, nobody seemed very concerned about it- four inches would go back down in a just a few more hours, and that’s just how it is. You don’t rearrange your schedule over something like that.

But you also don’t keep a home library.  One of the ministries I work with in a very indirect fashion began by providing free Bibles translated into local dialects. A Korean missionary who was part of that effort- he’s not a translator, but works on the technical side, noticed that lack of reading in his  community, so he developed a program for putting a dramatized version of the NT on little solar powered MP3 players.  The dramatization is light- occasional background music, a few different voices when different people are speaking, reading quoted words with some inflection and so on.  They have been working to get native speakers of as many different dialects as possible to make the recordings so every indigenous group here can have an audio Bible in their own dialect.

The project requires many different specialties, from linguists to the sound people making the recordings, to people finding the native speakers and coordinating the recordings, and more.  People involved are from multiple nationalities, and the common working language they use is English, and that’s where my small, tiny contribution falls.  A couple of the Korean families working with the project here need help with English, so I volunteer to meet with them as often as they are free and just have English conversation together.  Their levels are different so we don’t meet at the same time- I meet with one couple once or twice a week when they are free, and in between times I work on transcribing an English television show so they can watch with English subtitles (one of them has the expertise to put those on the film itself).  Another family, new to the area, I was meeting with daily (all this up to the point I got sick, but we should begin again soon).  IT’s truly one of my favourite things about living here.  I get a few lessons on Korean language and culture in exchange, and they often feed me delicious Korean food, and they are truly just delightful, interesting, lovely people so that’s enjoyable as well.

We bought one of the devices for me for language practice- I listen to it while trying to follow along in an English Bible.  I get lost quite a bit, but I can understand enough to figure out where I should be eventually. We wanted to buy several for members of our congregation and to share with those in the mountain communities that are not as accessible (our church sends preachers out nearly ever week, by motorcycle, up in to the mountains to teach).   Currently, that is out of our budget.

We have been able to buy print Bibles for just a dollar or two each, printed in a dialect the mountain Christians can read.  The guys from our congregation deliver them by motorcycle, and in some places, on foot after they have motorcycled as far as they can go.  Those Bibles may be the only book in some of the little homes, hardly more than shanties and huts, where they are going, places without electricity or running water.


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  1. SEM
    Posted May 19, 2018 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    If someone wanted to contribute towards purchasing the Bibles or MP3 players, is there a safe and convenient (both for the recipient and giver) way to do that?

    • Headmistress
      Posted May 19, 2018 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

      It’s not terribly convenient. We have passed on donations made to us via paypal or through our sending organization (RCE) which is easy and convenient, but then it messes our taxes up a bit since we have to count that as income, and since they are here in the PI, it’s not tax deductable. They can only receive money via something like Western Union.

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