Freedom to Worship: World Christian Gathering on Indigenous People

More than five hundred representatives of indigenous tribes
from twenty-three countries attended the WCGIP. 

The World Christian Gathering on Indigenous People (WCGIP) in Davao City, Philippines 11-17 September 2006 was a cross-pollination of cultures and more. Indigenous people regained their freedom to worship the creator. Drawing more than five hundred representatives of indigenous tribes from twenty-three countries, the gathering became a venue for indigenous peoples worldwide to express themselves freely, using dance and music to show their faith in Jesus Christ. Many lives were touched as a result.

“We are no longer ashamed of who we are,” said Rudy Mande, a Matigsalug church leader. His tribe is considered to be the lowliest in southern Philippines. The young man is also a teacher and runs a children’s school in his village. He led his students in a performance at the gathering. The experience gave Mande more resolve to teach his people to be proud of their God-given culture. Norlita Colili, a Pala’wan woman also from the Philippines, felt the same way. She said the gathering gave her a desire to revive her dying culture for God’s glory. “God impressed to me that by his help, I will organize the few believers in my tribe. We will start using our music, art and other traditions as an offering to God and use it in reaching out to other tribes for Christ.”

Reporter Harry Balais observed, “The gathering was a new learning process for me. History books have not reflected the indigenous people’s side of the story.” He said it gave him an opportunity to know about the Blackfoot, Cree, Navajo, Lakota, Sioux and Mi'kmaq people of North America. “They deserve much, much more. They are the first nation people, after all.”

The impact of the gathering in Davao City reached as far as the Arctic region. Diana Brønlund, a Greenlandic woman, was excited about the doors that opened for her at the event. She and another woman danced, chanted and played their native drums. These drums are not allowed in many churches in their region. “I am so thankful [for the] new connections and friendships. It was an unforgettable and rich experience and I really enjoyed it; the weather was a little warm, but we survived.”

Monte Ohia, chair and co-founder of WCGIP, is convinced that the impact of the gathering will be felt strongly not only in the Philippines, but also in other parts of the world. “The fires are already burning and things are getting hot, and it will undoubtedly become hotter as time goes on,” he remarked.

Ohia also believes that protocol played an important role in the success of the gathering in Davao City. “I feel that in God's heart we did everything right,” he said. “We opened with protocol—a traditional indigenous welcome, a march through the city and a civil reception. God is a God of protocol because it is all about honoring the authorities and people of the land—the host nation—and bringing people closer together. It also gave the different nations opportunities to bring their gifts, to speak their languages of greeting and to display the array of regalia the Lord has blessed the nations with.”

Pio Gabad Arce chairs the Sixth World Christian Gathering on Indigenous People in the Philippines. He is part of the leadership team of Tribal Mission Foundation International, a Filipino Christian mission agency bringing transformational development to indigenous tribes. He and his wife helped pioneer Simbahang Kristianong Lumad, an indigenous people church among the Matigsalug tribes in Southern Philippines.