June 24, 1982. The plane circled the small village of Dibagat, before landing on a tiny airstrip in a remote area surrounded by jungle, hills, and a wide winding river. The pilot, Leonardo (Nard) Medina Pugyao, alighted from the plane and stretched – taking in the familiar scents and sounds of his home.
“Papa, me down.” Nard turned as a small boy about two held out his arms to him from the doorway of the plane. He lifted him down and then offered his hand to the young woman who appeared in the doorway behind the boy.
The sound of excited voices grew louder as a group of villagers called greetings to the three from the plane – it was Nard’s family. They began to unload the small cargo hold.
A woman about forty, with the same high cheekbones and forehead as Nard, picked up one of the boxes, put it on her head and turned to walk back to the village.
"Hey Manang (older sister)," Nard called, “Do you know what you’re carrying?"
"Yes Ading (younger brother), it is a box."
"Manang, those are New Testaments in our language."
She brought the box down and hugged it, "Are you serious?” she asked. “New Testaments in our language? You mean I'm going to have a copy of my very own? "
Nard’s heart was about to burst as he realized again the penetrating power of the Bible and what it means to read God’s Word in your heart language.
But this is only a part of the story. The really exciting part happened twenty-six years earlier when a tall white man, Richard Roe, walked into Nard’s village. It was 1956 and Nard was six years old. The man didn’t speak Isnag, and they did not speak English so the elders asked as best they could. “Why are you here?”
“I’ve come to learn your language.” The man said. “I’d like to write it down and give you God’s Word in your language.”
“Who is your God?” the elders asked.
“He’s the God who made heaven and earth,” Dick replied, pointing to the sky, the ground, and the surrounding area. “He’s the Creator of the whole universe. He created me and you, too.”
“Is He powerful?” the elders continued. “More powerful than the spirits who have controlled our lives from the beginning of time? Is He more powerful than our ancestors, the head-hunters?”
“Yes, He’s more powerful.” Dick told them.
The elders conferred, and then took Dick to a spare hut. Hopefully, they began to teach Dick their language. Maybe his God could free them from the spirits.
Nard was fascinated by this white man and talked with Dick often, his ability to pick up the Isnag language was phenomenal, and he in turn taught Nard English. He told Nard about God’s son named Jesus. He tried to explain the concept of God’s grace, but their lives revolved around the revenge killings of their headhunter ancestors. Grace just didn’t make sense.
When Nard was thirteen, Dick had to return to America to raise support to continue his work in the Philippines, but before he left, he translated the Gospel of Mark into Isnag, and gave Nard a copy.
Sitting on top of a ridge overlooking the river, Nard read the Mark in his heart language. It was as though he were there, seeing things as they happened. But the further Nard read, the more distressed he became. Deep in his heart, anger at God swelled. He shook his fist and shouted. “I hate You God, why did you let that happen to Your Son?” and he hurled the book down onto the rocks below and started walking home.
Suddenly God reached down into his heart. “Nard, don’t you understand?” Nard heard Him say. “That’s how much I love you. I gave my son to die in your place.” And for the first time, Nard understood grace. He understood how much God loved him.
“God, if You love me that much,” he prayed, “I want to give You my life, my heart – everything I have is Yours.” Nard turned and ran back to retrieve his Gospel of Mark. He brushed it off and sat down to see what happened next. It was an amazing moment when he read about the resurrection on the third day. Nobody from among the Isnag people had ever risen from the dead. The resurrection story changed Nard’s life and the rest, as they say, is history.
Nard and I became penfriends through a Christian Teen magazine (Young Ambassador) when we were both in High School. He in the Philippines, and I in Australia.
He graduated from Bukidnon Provincial High School in 1968, 10th out of 174 students. From here he attended University and Bible College in America and went on to work with Wycliffe Bible Translators where he met and married Sandy, an MK (Missionary Kid) they have two sons, Steven and Andrew.
Nard continued his studies and took a degree in aeronautical engineering. God had given Nard the dream of being a missionary pilot, flying missionaries into remote villages not unlike his own. He and Sandy continue to do this to today.
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