This is a first for us! We are going to take a look back at the story that started our Unseen Story ministry journey. Caleb’s story is one we have told before in two parts, but condensed it even more so that it’s easily shareable. We’ve also added our commentary to the story – how it impacted us and what makes this story so unique for us. If you’ve only read the stories up to this point, we highly encourage you to click on the white play arrow above. This story highlights the power of God partnering with His children to impact the world! We pray this blesses you as much as it does us.
All right, my name is Caleb Byerly and since 2008, I’ve been doing missions work. The Lord has called me to different indigenous people and tribal areas, mostly in Southeast Asia and Pacific Islands. But in 2013, I woke up from a dream one morning – and I always carry this journal with me – I write in my journal a lot. So when I woke up from my dream this one morning, I wrote down everything that I saw in the dream.
In the dream, I was standing on top of this mountain. I was looking out across the mountain and I saw a tribe of people. I had never seen them before. So I asked them, “What tribe are you? What people are you?” They said, “We’re Tinananon tribe.” I had never heard that word “Tinananon.” I started, kind of watching the tribe, what they were doing. There was this one chief, he started coming up to the front, and he was carrying this musical instrument. I was very interested in this instrument when I saw it because it was shaped like a circle. It had 30 strings going all the way around the instrument, it was going from the outside to the middle of the instrument. The bottom of the instrument was shaped like a bowl. I’m actually an instrument maker, that’s my profession. It’s been my field of study. So in my dream it was almost like you put a pause, in the dream, and I zoomed in to this instrument. And I kind of suddenly got a full download of everything about this instrument, what dimensions the instrument was, and what material is made out of, even like how it was tuned and how it was played. And this tribal chief, he took the instrument and he put it on the table, and he took two small sticks and he began to play this instrument. And as he played the whole tribe started to dance and they started to worship. It was as if heaven and earth just kind of collided.
After that I woke up from the dream. I really believe that God speaks in dreams. He’s spoken to me many times through dreams and so I really value that. I took my journal and immediately started writing everything that I saw in this dream. I wrote that word Tinananon, although I had a hard time spelling it out, and also drew pictures of what I saw in the dream. I drew the bowl, I drew this wooden ring that goes around the bowl, the strings that go from the outside to the middle, that had wooden pegs, two sticks that you hold. I just drew everything that I saw and I drew the dimensions and the materials and all that kind of stuff, the information that I got.
I feel like when God speaks to you, it’s an invitation. It’s an invitation to partner and walk with God. It’s the Holy Spirit inviting you into some new journey that he’s calling you into, and it’s connected to you, it’s connected to your DNA and your calling, so I really value that a lot. And I really thought that this would be a really exciting thing to follow with the Lord. I started seeing if this word Tinananon was, if there was any kind of tribe or people group. But everywhere I searched, I could not find the word Tinananon. I tried the different spellings, I tried different ways of saying it, different ways of spelling it, but just couldn’t find anything there. So I kind of gave up on that. But I was still really interested in this instrument, even though I was not really familiar with working with metal and wood and putting them together. So I got into my shop and I kept breaking things and snapping things. I could not figure out this one process. I got really frustrated and I was like, I’m just gonna put this thing to the side. I just couldn’t figure it out. So I kind of gave up on the whole dream.
But some time had passed and I was down in another part of the Philippines, in an island called Mindanao, which is the southern part. This is where we do a lot of our ministry. So I was on a Jeepney, which is like public transportation and there was this man that was sitting like, on the other side of me, he kept just staring at me. Every time I would look at him, he would look away, you know. And finally, I was like, I’ll just start talking to him. I know the national language of the Philippines, which is Tagalog, Tagalog. And so anyway, we’re chatting and right in the middle of our conversation I heard the Lord speak to me, “I want you to ask that man about the Tinananon.” And I was like, inside, I was like, No! I’m not going to ask this man about the like I’ve, I’ve gone there. You know, I’ve already tried to do all my research and everything. But the Lord said, He said, “Ask this man about the Tinananon.”
So I built up the courage and I said, “Sir,” I said, “Do you happen to know Tinananon?” And as soon as I said that word “Tinananon” his eyes got really big. He leaned in, and he said, “Hey, that’s my people!” He said, “That’s my tribe. How do you know my people?” And I was like, “What are you talking about?” Like, I was blown away. I just, I was kind of speechless. He starts telling me all about it. And basically, it’s this tribal group that’s up in one kind of deep, mountainous region of Mindanao. This area’s a really dangerous place. No one from outside goes to this place. If you ask anyone from the Philippines about this place, they’re like, “Oh, that’s, you don’t go there.” And this tribe is located in these mountains.
He said that this tribe is somewhere between 70 and 100,000 people. So it’s a very large tribe and they’re sort of scattered in different pockets throughout the mountains. And so I was like, “Hey, look, I don’t know where you’re going today, or what you’re doing, but I want to show you something.” And so he stopped at the place that I was staying at, which is one of our homes there, and I had my journal with me. So I pulled out my journal. I showed it to him. He’s reading my journal entry and he’s just shaking his head and he’s, tears are coming down his face. He said, “Remember earlier on the bus, I kept looking at you?” And I was like, “Yeah, what was that all about?” He was like, “I kept looking at you and the reason why is because I’ve seen you before.” He said, “I’ve seen you before, and I just realized where I saw you. I also saw you in a dream.”
Let me tell you a little bit about his life before I tell you the dream. Basically, he is a Tinananon man that was born in a Tinananon tribe. Then he, as a young man, left the tribe and he went to the city, a big city, called Davao. And he grew up there, basically in the city, where he came to know Jesus and then God called him back to the tribe. When God called him back, he had this dream. He saw me in his dream, and I came and joined him. He and I began to minister and bring the good news of Jesus to his people. And so that was his dream. Then we were like, “Oh, this is, this is just, this is just, God just put us together.”
He invited me to his tribe and I said, “Yeah, I would love to go to your tribe, but I need to ask my wife first. I need to talk to my wife.” By the way, my wife was eight months pregnant at that time. Just to go to this tribal area, which is a very dangerous place, right before our first child was born, is a big decision that we had to make. I told this man – his name was Manigos – I told him, just give me some time. I want to get back home. I want to talk to my wife.
So I went back home and I talked with Gladys. We felt like the Lord’s hand was on it. And if the Lord showed us up to this point, then He would continue to be with us. So I decided that I was going to go, but I wanted to get back in the shop and try to make this instrument again. I really got focused, and I asked the Holy Spirit to help me. The Lord gave me wisdom and gave me insight on the process of what to do. I say, with the help of the Holy Spirit and my wife, we were able to get it. I finally made this instrument.
I thought it was a pretty cool instrument. It sounded cool. I remember putting the strings on for the first time. I tuned it up the way that I heard it in the dream and I got the two little sticks and I started to play it. It was that same sound, the same sound that I heard in the dream. I was like, “It’s it! This is it.” And I remember being real, I mean, I was just really excited about it. And I remember buying a plane ticket that day for the next day to go down there.
So I took this instrument with me and flew down there. I met one of my best friends who’s a tribal guy. He’s kind of like my right hand man; his name is Ansulao. And so Ansulao and I, we met Manigos right at the border of the mountain range. It was three of us, all three of us, we got on this one little motorbike. It was like 120 CC, little little motorcycle, motorbike. And the mountainous range is just so steep and undeveloped, mountainous range. There was just a rain, a big storm that came in the day before. So it was really muddy. It was very hard to get through there and then while we were on this motorbike, another storm came. I was trying to hold this instrument and I couldn’t hold it to my left or my right, so I had to put it above my head. And so imagine just like three people on a little motorcycle, little motorbike.
As we were coming into the tribal group, the Tinananon area, just as we were coming in there, I heard the Lord say again, “Caleb, I want you to take the instrument to the chief.” I was like, Okay, where’s the chief’s house? And so we started asking, like, where the chief’s house was and Manigos didn’t know. So he started asking around. And it turns out that the chief’s house was three and a half hours on the other side of the mountain. So it was already afternoon by that time. I can’t remember exactly when, but we got back on the motorbike and went across and by the time we got to his house it was late afternoon, almost evening. We just had mud all over our bodies. We came up to the house and knocked on his house. It was just a small little wooden house and he opened the door and there was the chief of the Tinananon tribe.
I basically said, “I am coming to your tribe for the first time. Before I go to different parts of your tribe, I just wanted to give this as a gift to you.” And so we put it on the table and we took the blanket off of it. We were just kind of talking with the chief, but he kept looking at this instrument over and over again. He kept asking me, “Where did you get this instrument from?” And I just said, “Well, I just had some ideas. I just put them together and I made it.” I was trying to be, kind of beat around the bush. But he was, he asked me, he said, “I’m serious. Tell me, where did you get this instrument from?” And I said, “Well, if you really want to know, last year I had this dream and in the dream I heard the name of your tribe, Tinananon for the first time. I had never heard that word before. I also saw this musical instrument in the dream. After that, I met this man, Maginos, who is from your tribe, and he helped lead me to your house today. I was able to make this instrument and I just felt like I wanted to give this instrument to you today.”
After that, there were some of the other chiefs that walked into the room. They saw this instrument and they kept walking up to it and they were pointing at it. They were saying, “Salimbaa. Salimbaa.” By the way, they have their own native tongue. They have their own language, their own dialects and I don’t totally understand their language. So I was pretty lost about what they were talking about. Then finally, the chief said, “I need to show you something.” So he took me out of their house and they went down this small pathway, not very far over to this little house. They call the house Paluvaran, which means house of prayer in their language. This is the place where they worship. But it’s also sort of a storehouse of all their kind of ancient articles of their tribes. They have pottery work, they have metal work, they have weaving, all these different things that are tangible evidence that their tribe has been living and existing for hundreds of years. And then they had all these musical instruments on the side of the wall. And I was like, “Oh, this is incredible.”
So they started to tell me that there are different musical instruments that worship their different gods. And they have like the god of the tree, the god of the stone, the god of the river. And they’re not necessarily gods, but they believe that the one true God, or the Creator, has sent down angels to guard these different things, like the angel of the river, the angel of the stone. So anyway, they have these different instruments that worship, that get different angels, and then there was this one spot that was just kind of blank in the wall. They said that somewhere between 100 and 150 years ago, there was a tribal war. During this tribal war, that instrument was taken away from them. They created a song from that time, and the song goes something like this: “The instrument was taken away from us. Therefore, God is going to redeem it back to us one day.” So it was a prophecy. They said, “The instrument that was taken away from us is called the Salimbaa. This instrument is the instrument that worships the God of all gods.” They said, “Today, you brought the Salimbaa to us.”
After that, they like gathered, just a small gathering of tribal chiefs, tribal leaders, they got them all together. Everyone knew what it was when they heard it, and when they saw it. And then they start praying to Manama, which is God, our God, and he starts praying to God and they dedicate this instrument back to God. At the same time, he had a head piece of a chief and he put the headpiece of a chief on my shoulder, which is a sign of honor. He said, “We now consider you a chief of the Tinananon tribe.” He said, “Whatever you believe God is calling us or leading us into, we’re going to follow you.”
I mean, all of this obviously was like a big shock to me. I was very humbled by this. So we ended up staying with them for, I think it was two or three days. I was learning more about their history and their tribe and what it’s like. As we were spending time, I felt like the Lord said, “Ask him how we can partner with them, or how can I help the tribe?” But part of me was like, No, I don’t want to ask that, because if I ask that, then he knows that I’m from the United States. He could ask anything. He could say, Yeah, you know, build a highway, or give us a million dollars or whatever. So part of me was very reluctant. But finally, it was just like, “Datoo,” which means Chief; I said, “How can we, how can I help you? How can my family help you?” After that, he said, “Well, if you can help us with one thing, I want you to help us translate the Bible into our language.” I was just so amazed by this, out of all the things that he could have asked for, that’s what he asked for, the Word of God in their language! So thankfully, the Lord worked it out.
It was about, a little bit later, about six months later, I had a meeting with the big, big time leaders of Wycliffe Bible translators and I told them all about the Tinananon tribe and everything. I told him everything that happened, and when I told one of them, I can’t remember which organization it was, but they said, “Well, we’re looking through the books right now and we can’t find anything about theTinananon tribe.” And I was like, “Yeah, you’re probably not going to find it in the book. You’re gonna have to go out there to the mountains and find, see them yourself.”
I’m so thankful for Wickliffe and all of the Bible organizations like the Translators Association of the Philippines, because they got out there. They went out there with me to the mountains and they met all the 50 chiefs of the Tinananon tribe, and they had a meeting with them. All 50 chiefs in January of 2015 agreed that they wanted to have the Bible translated into their language.
(For more details of this incredible adventure, please check out the original story – When Heaven and Earth Collide – Parts One and Two.)