Palawano Profile: Lini

We first met Lini in 1983. Our family had just moved into our new bamboo house among the Palawano tribe.

Donna and I were new missionaries in our mid 20’s. Elisa had just turned 4. Bethy was not quite 8 weeks old. We were embarking on the adventure of reaching the Palawanos. Who would our kids’ friends be? Would they even have friends? Who would our translation helpers be? So many unknowns…

Lini was 3 and a half years old back then. She came to our house with her mother, Iping. Lini was wearing a white t-shirt and cotton undies, sitting on the bench of the porch of the “big scary Americans’ house.” But she wasn’t scared. All the other kids thought we were like Martians or monsters. Lini sat there smiling at us. Then her eyes met Elisa’s, they instantly came to some kind of unspoken agreement: Let’s be best friends. Lini got up, walked into the house with Elisa and that was that.

Remember that Elisa did not speak Palawano. Lini did not speak English. Neither of them spoke Tagalog. But there was an instant bond.

In the years that followed, Lini spent nearly every day with Elisa… swimming in the river, splashing in rain puddles on the airstrip, playing in our house, eating snacks and drinking chocolate milk. The two girls developed their own language. Near as I can tell it was 40% English, 40% Palawano and 20% stuff they just made up! I wish I had recorded it. I seriously think there’d be a Master’s thesis in there.

But the point is, Elisa and Lini were best friends and she was like another daughter to us. She called us Maman and Minan (Uncle and Aunt). She was really special to us, and she was also extremely comfortable with us and in our home. Just like family.

Years passed and Donna and I learned the Palawano language and began to minister there. I was translating the New Testament and Lini’s father and her oldest brother Arturo were some of my translation helpers.

Eventually, Lini married. She didn’t marry a Palawano, but a Filipino boy from Mindoro whose family had moved to Palawan. She met Lito at the weekly trading market. They liked each other for years before getting married in the mid 90’s. Lini continued to show that out-of-the-box boldness… the willingness to accept things which were foreign. Few Palawano are like that.

Years later, in 2008, Lini began to work with us in the translation of the Palawano New Testament. Now Lini was nearly 30 years old, married with 3 adorable daughters, our Palawano upo (“grandchildren.”) This is something we never could have imagined back when she was a three year-old playing with Lego blocks on the floor of our house!

She’s extremely intelligent and has a good memory. We use her for recording the draft of the Scriptures, having her tell it back in natural Palawano. We also use her for testing the translation for comprehension… seeing how well it communicates the intended meaning.

Now it’s 2009. Donna and I have moved to the town of Puerto Princesa, working to complete the translation of the Palawano New Testament. We have various Palawano translation helpers come to Puerto to work with us, a week at a time. It’s easier for the men to make the trip. Some of the young mothers who used to help us cannot travel so far, so will have to use others who can travel. As we made the decision to move, we wondered if Lini would be able to continue working with us. She is a vital member of the translation team. We’d find her hard to replace.

Well, God used Lini’s boldness and her marriage to Lito. About the same time we moved to Puerto, Lini and Lito moved to the small town where his parents live. His brothers has left and Lito had to help with the family farm. This move meant that Lini lived closer to us. Unlike the others, she would not have to hike three hours through the hilly jungles just to reach the end of the road. She already lived right at the end of the road. Now she could jump on a bus and head up to Puerto the same day.

We still wondered if Lini would be willing to do even that. Provincial Palawan travel is no Grand Tour no matter where your starting point is. But no sooner had we told everyone of our move to town, than we got a text from Lini. “Maman and Minan, when do you want me to come to Puerto to work on translation? Just let me know.”

So Lini continues to be a part of our life… a part of the family, and a big help in the job of getting the translation done.

We never would have guessed what all God had planned 28 years ago when that little girl first climbed up on our porch and smiled…


About billdavisthoughts

From San Diego, CA. I've been a missionary and Bible translator in the Philippines for over 30 years and have travelled as a language learning consultant to 15 countries. I play piano and guitar. I write, read voraciously and love to work on word puzzles. Married for 35 years, we have two daughters and two grandchildren.
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