When Heaven and Earth Collide
(Please listen to Caleb’s story by clicking the white play button at the top of this post. You can read the transcript of the story below.)
For the past 10 years, since 2008, I’ve been doing missions work. And the Lord has called me to different indigenous people and tribal areas, mostly in Southeast Asia and Pacific Islands. In 2013, I woke up from a dream one morning. I always carry this journal with me and I write in my journal a lot. So when I woke up from my dream this this one morning, I wrote it down, everything 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 this tribe 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, or prominent leader of the tribe, and 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, 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. I suddenly got a full download of everything about this instrument, what dimensions the instrument was, what material it was made out of, even like how it was tuned and how it was played. After that, I kind of zoomed back out. This tribal chief, he took the instrument and he put it on the table. He took two small sticks, and he began to play this instrument. As he played the whole tribe, started to dance and they started to worship. This kind of sound of worship just filled the place. It was as if heaven and earth just 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. 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.
The way that I usually respond to the Lord is, I feel like when God speaks to you, it’s an invitation. It’s an invitation to partner and walk with God. It’s not just God commanding you to do things or God just saying do this, do that. But 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. I really value that a lot. 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 called the Tinananon. And I couldn’t, I couldn’t find anywhere about this tribe. I tried to look at different books and look on online. I contacted different organizations like Wycliffe Bible Translators, and Summer Institute of Linguistics to see if they knew anything about this tribe. But everywhere where I searched, I could not find that word. Tinananon I tried the different spellings. I tried different ways of saying it and 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. And as an instrument maker, I was like, I’m gonna, I’m gonna make this thing. I felt like I could do it. Even though I was not really familiar with working with metal and wood and putting them together. I was not familiar with that. But I was up for the challenge. I got into my shop, and I just kept breaking this thing. I kept breaking things and snapping things. I could not figure out this one process. I got really frustrated. 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. I felt like I had done my part. I wasn’t getting anywhere. So I just kind of gave it up.
Some time had passed. 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. I was on a Jeepney, which is like a public transportation. There was this man that was sitting like, on the other side of me. I could tell this guy was staring at me. I was like, what’s this guy doing? Every time that I would look at him, he would like look away, you know. Finally I was like, I’ll just start talking to him. I know the the national language of the Philippines, which is Tagalog. So I started to talk to him in Tagalog. As I was talking to him, it turns out that he’s a believer! So we’re chatting and then the right middle, right in the middle of our conversation, I heard the Lord speak to me. It wasn’t an audible voice or anything. It was just felt. I felt the voice of God, if that makes sense. The Lord said, “I want you to ask that man about the Tinananon. And, inside, I was like, No, I’m not going to ask this man about the Tinananon and like I’ve gone there, you know, I’ve already tried to do all my research and everything. But the Lord said, “Ask this man about the Tinananon.” I was like, All right. So I built up the courage. And I said, “Sir, I said, “Do you happen to know Tinananon?” As soon as I said that word “Tinananon,” his eyes got really big. And 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?” I was blown away! I was kind of speechless. And he was like, “How do you know about my people?” So I was like, “Tell me everything you know about your tribe. Tell me about your tribe.” So he starts telling me all about it. Basically, it’s this tribal group that’s up in one kind of deep mountainous region of Mindanao, which is that same island. This area is a really dangerous place. No one from outside goes to this place. If you ask anyone, anyone from the Philippines, about this place, they’re like, Oh, that’s you don’t go there. This tribe is located in this, these mountains. He said that this tribe is somewhere between 70 and 100,000 people. So it’s a very large tribe. They’re sort of scattered in different pockets throughout the mountains. 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. I had my journal with me. So I pulled out my journal, and I showed it to him. You know, this was the journal that I wrote six months before about that dream. I wrote the word “Tinananon” and, you know, he, he’s reading my journal entry. He’s just shaking his head, and he has tears coming down his face.
He said, “Remember earlier on the bus, I kept looking at you.” I was like, “Yeah, what was that all about?” He said, “I kept looking at you, and the reason why is because I’ve seen you before.” He said, “I’ve seen you before. 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. He is a Tinananon man that was born in the Tinananon tribe. And then he, as a young man, left the tribe and he went to the city, a big city called Davao. He grew up there basically in the city where he came to know Jesus when he was there in the city. Then God called him back to the tribe. God called him back to the Tinananon. When God called him back, he had this dream. In the dream, he had gone back to the Tinananon tribe. Then 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 God putting us together. He ended up staying with us for two or three days. We ended up praying together and worshiping and I had a lot of my team members with me, who are also tribal leaders. We all worshipped together and prayed together for a few days. He invited me to his tribe. I said, “Yeah, I would love to go to your tribe. But I need to ask my wife first.” 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, was 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. And so I went back home and talked with Gladys. We felt like the Lord’s hand was on it. And if the Lord showed this, up to this point, then He would continue to be with us. So I decided 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, 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. 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. And I was like, this is it. I remember being, I was just really excited about it. And I remember buying a plane ticket that day for the next day to go down there. I took this instrument with me, 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. The mountainous range is just so steep and undeveloped, mountainous range. So just like that was just a rain, big storm that came in the day before. So it was really muddy, 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. I was holding this musical instrument above my head trying to balance.
There was a hanging bridge, which consisted of like two ropes and some wood planks. And, and just as we got across the bridge, we were going up a hill, really steep hill, and the little motorbike, it was a piece. It was very old, it had rubber strap strapped around everything. So everything was held together with a rubber strap. Well, it popped out of gear, and it went into neutral. It’s three of us on a motorbike it’s pretty heavy, it’s pretty heavy weight on a motorbike. And we’re going up hill and it pops into neutral. So next thing you know, we’re going backwards, back towards the cliff. We hit this stone, or rock or something and just all of us went flying. Thank the Lord, we landed in this like smooth, green patch of grass, just almost like fluffy. Yeah. And we were like, Oh my goodness, like just feet away from the cliff, the drop-off cliff.
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 he 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 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 went across. By the time we got to his house it was you know, 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. He opened the door and there was the chief of the Tinananon tribe. I’m sure he was like, what’s this white foreigner, and these two other guys with him doing? But I basically said, “You know. we are, I am coming to your tribe for the first time.” I said, “Before I go to different parts of your tribe, I just wanted to give this as a gift to you.” And so I just handed the instrument to him. He didn’t know what it was like, he took it because it was covered. It was covered by this kind of veil blanket thing. We put it on the table, and we took the blanket off of it. When we took it off, he saw this instrument and he started staring at 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?” I just said, “Well, I just kind of made it.” And he was like, “No, No, I’m serious. Where did you get this instrument from?” I said, “Really, I just, you know, had some ideas. I just put them together. I made it.” I was trying to be, kind of beat around the bush. But he asked me he said, “I’m serious. Tell me where did you get this instrument from?”
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.
I said, “Well, if you really want to know. Last year, I had this dream. In the dream I heard the name of your tribe, the Tinananon, for the first time. I’d never heard that word before. I also saw this musical instrument in the dream. I felt like my God has given this dream to me. Because after that I met this man, Manigos, who is from your tribe, and he helped me lead me to your house today. I was able to make this instrument. I just felt like I wanted to give this instrument to you today.”
After that he was like kind of shaking his head, he kept looking at the instrument, asking questions about it. Some of the other chiefs that that walked into the room, they saw this instrument and they kept walking up to it. And they were pointing at it and they were saying “Salimbaa.”
They kept saying this word “Salimbaa.” And 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. Finally, the chief said, “I need to show you something.” So he took me out of their house and they went down this like 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. They worship inside this place. But it’s also sort of a storehouse of all their kind of ancient articles of their tribes. They have pottery work, they have metalwork they have weaving, all these different things that are tangible evidence that their tribe has been living and existing for hundreds of years. I walked in there. I was, I was amazed by this place, I was like, wow. 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 was, there are different musical instruments that worship their different gods. They have like the God of the tree, the God of the stone, 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. Instead of praying and worshiping directly to God, they pray and worship to these different angels, that the angels would be the ones to connect them to God. And so it’s a little bit different, but it’s not completely like that they don’t believe in many different gods you know, they believe in the one true God. So anyway, they have these different instruments that worship different angels. So, they had all these instruments there. 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 war, there was their most valuable musical instrument that worshiped the God of all gods. During this tribal war, that instrument was taken away from them. They started, like lamenting, and 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. And 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. I was like blown away, I was like, “Oh my goodness!” after that they gathered, just a small gathering of tribal chiefs, tribal leaders, they got them all together. They were like, “This is it. This is the Salimbaa.” And everyone knew what it was when they heard it. And when they saw it.
The story that’s been passed down through the generations goes like this: The Salimbaa is shaped like a bowl, it’s a golden bowl that has strings stretching from the outside to the middle and the strings all come to the middle and they meet in the middle. They say that the Salimbaa instrument connects heaven and earth. They said that, in the last time, in the last days, God is going to be coming down from heaven, and he’s going to call all the righteous people to him.
He said that when God comes down from heaven, God is going to be riding on the inside of the Salimbaa, as if the Salimbaa was an aircraft that connects heaven and earth. And so anyway, he told us all of this. 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. And at the same time, he had a headpiece of a chief. 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. I we ended up staying with them for I think it was two or three days. We just talked with the chief. His name is Datu Lipatuan Suhat. As we were spending time with them. I was learning more about their history and their tribe and what it’s like, and I felt like the Lord said, “Ask him how we can partner with them?” Or how, how can I help the chief or his family? And how can I help the tribe? But part of me was like, No, I don’t want to ask that. Because if I asked that, then, he knows that I’m from the United States, like he could ask anything. He could say, yeah, you know, build a highway, you know, or help us, you know, help us, you know, give us a million dollars, or whatever, you know, so part of me was very reluctant. But I finally it was just like Datoo, which means chief, I said, “How can, how can we, how can I help you? How can my family help you?” And after that, he said, “Well, if you can help us with one thing, I want you to help us with this. 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 an had a meeting with the the big time leaders of Wycliffe Bible Translators and it was so funny. I told them all about the Tinananon tribe. I told them everything that happened. 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 the Tinananon tribe. Like we, we’ve done all the research, but we can’t find anything about the Tinananon. I was like, “Yeah, you’re probably not going to find it in the book. Like you’re going to have to go out there to the mountains and and see them yourself.” And I’m so thankful for Wycliffe, and all of the Bible organizations like Translators Association in 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, and all 50 chiefs, in January of 2015, agreed that they wanted to have the Bible translated into their language. That’s what started the translation. Translation is a very big process; it takes a long time. It’s not an easy task. We’ve actually had a whole lot of challenges throughout the past few years of really getting it started and flowing well.
That’s a big prayer thing that we need to be praying for. But since then, oh, man, it’s just amazing. The open doors that the chiefs have given us for this for this tribe. I do consider this people an unreached people group. They’re very challenging. It’s a very challenging place to go. But it’s a wide open door, a tribe that is hungry, and willing to do whatever for Jesus. It’s a big, big, wide open mission field. And so we’re excited, we have a whole lot of great stuff ahead of us. It is really hard to, to articulate how I felt in the moment. Mostly because I felt like the Lord had arranged everything. So clearly, in such a perfect way of organizing everything, just perfect timing. It was such an amazing series of events that took place that I couldn’t take any kind of claim for it. The best way I guess I could explain is like I was I was right there in the middle of the journey with God. I felt like he was there in the moment. I was like, Yeah, yeah, this is him. This is him, this is what he did. That’s the best way I can explain it, I think.
Obviously, I was sort of speechless, and my friend Ansulao who was with me also, it was like, oh, my goodness, like, all of this just unfolded, you know. And it was, it was just kind of mind blowing. We didn’t really know what to say. We’re sitting there in the middle of the Paluvaran, the house of prayer. The chief of the tribe is praying to God and thanking God for that the Salimbaa was brought back. And just declaring to God that we’re now going to worship him with this instrument and with this sound, and then they’re gifting me with this headpiece of a chief, you know, so it was humbling. It was exciting. I knew that there was a big journey ahead of us. So in a lot of ways it’s almost scary to think, because there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of responsibility in my hands now.