Critical Review of “And the Word Came with Power”

Posted: May 31, 2012 in Book Review, Church Planting, Healing, Missions, Serving others, translation
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Shetler, Joanne. And the Word Came With Power. Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1992. 164 pp.

In 1962, Joanne Shetler went to live with the Balangao people in the northern Philippines. For the next twenty years she ate their food, learned their customs, walked their trails, joined them in their joy and heartache – all to bring them the Word of God in their language. In order to do so, she first had to learn their language, create an alphabet for it to be written, and translate God’s Word into that language. At times, she worked alone, and in addition, would provide medical assistance, teach literacy and teach God’s Word, share the good news, and counsel those who had heard and responded. At the time of publication, Joanne was in charge of the Anthropology Department for Wycliffe Bible Translators in the Philippines. Patricia Purvis, a literacy specialist and writer for the Summer Institute of Linguistics, helped Joanne write her story.

Joanne gives a first-person account of the process, struggles and victories involved in bringing the written Word of God to a people who have never before had access to His Word in their language.

The first chapter relates a helicopter crash, where Joanne was badly injured while on her way to bring building supplies for a hospital. The doctor in charge of the hospital was killed in the crash, and Joanne was trapped in the burning aircraft. As she describes it, it was the worst pain she had ever known. However, her beloved Balangao people began to pray desperately for her survival, finally bringing an answer to her prayer to God that the Balangao would begin to pray with intensity. As the Balangao walked by her bed, she could hear them pleading, “God, don’t let her die. The Book’s not done yet.”

That first story is a great introduction to Joanne’s life and work. She describes her early life, growing up on a farm in California, and her teenage decision to be a missionary, followed by her college years at BIOLA, and her decision – very logical, as she puts it – to be a Bible translator. She gives just enough background for her readers to know a little about her before she gets to the heart of her story – the Balangao.

From her arrival, with her partner Anne, in early 1962, Joanne is singularly focused on her task of giving the Balangao God’s Word in their heart language. She freely describes some of the errors along the way, the cultural missteps and periods of doubt and disbelief. She shows her fear when she confronts the worship of evil spirits, but along the way, she learns the power of God, especially through His Word.

She is adopted by Canao, the village spokesman. In time, he asks both Joanne and Anne to call him “Ama,” or “father.” The ladies discover Tekla, the daughter of a spirit medium, who had heard of God from a visiting priest, and had already refused to worship the spirits, but had begun praying to God. Tekla was desperate to know God, and was overjoyed when she discovered she could really talk to God, and He heard her. Ama is skeptical, for quite some time, even after a deep trust relationship develops between him and the two foreigners, but he is eventually convinced when he sees the genealogy of Jesus, written down, in the first chapter of the newly translated gospel of Matthew. The Balangao creation story explained man’s frailty, but it didn’t have their ancestors’ names written. For Ama, and many Balangao, the written genealogy of Jesus proved that the Bible was true.

The conversion of Ama was a key event. The following week, he brought a group of people for Joanne to teach, and a church was born. Ama began helping Joanne and Tekla with the translation, and eventually Ama’s son, Doming, joined the team. The church grew as people began to hear the Word, ask questions, learned how to read, and began to read the new portions of the Word that were being translated.

Much of the book focuses on the battle between God and His Word, and the spirit worship of the Balangao people. The Balangaos are faced with a choice of believing in a God they don’t know, but who promises love and healing, or remaining with the spirits they do know, but who torment and enslave them. Joanne lovingly shows the struggle, without condemning those who can’t make the leap to an unknown God, but she also paints a terrible picture of the slavery of spirit worship. The slavery and struggle is best seen in the story of Chalinggay and Forsan, two spirit mediums who choose to follow Christ within days of each other.

The spirits try to kill both women, and nearly succeed. Both Chalinggay and Forsan commit to Christ, and God miraculously saves both of them. Once the Balangao people saw the power of God in defeating the spirits, the number of people interested in hearing more from the Word quadruples. These, and other victories over the evil spirits not only prove convincing for the people in Joanne’s village, but in other villages as well. The influence of the Word continues to grow, a church is established, and the Balangao begin sharing the good news with other tribes nearby – tribes who had been mortal enemies.

In 1982, the New Testament was published in the Balangao language. This event was marked by celebration among the Christian Balangao people. “Twenty years to give birth to a book!” jokes one of the Balangao leaders. However, the twenty years were spent not only in translation and editing, but in listening, learning, teaching, healing, battling the spirits, and a multitude of other duties. Duties that Joanne frequently saw as taking her away from the real job of translation, but which she eventually saw as just as necessary for God to work in the hearts of the Balangao. For the majority of those twenty years, Joanne worked alone among the Balangao.

Joanne’s primary focus is on the power of the Word of God to change lives. Her stories frequently illustrate that power at work, especially in the life of “Ama” and Tekla. Joanne convincingly demonstrates how God’s Word can transform lives. The most dramatic transformations came when the spirit world was confronted by God’s Word. The stories of the spirit mediums were significant, but Joanne shares a number of other similar encounters between spirit worship and the worship of Christ.

Although Joanne’s focus is on the Word of God, along the way we learn quite a bit about Joanne herself, and how God used a single, sometimes insecure woman to do amazing things for a people in great need. We also learn a lot about “Ama,” without whom Joanne would probably not have survived, and almost certainly would not have succeeded. It is inspiring to see how God not only prepared Tekla, a God-seeker, but also Ama, who was not at all interested in what Joanne had come to do, but was a true peace person – a key influencer who wanted to protect Joanne and help her be accepted and happy. God used Ama to bring true peace to his people – peace with God, peace from the attacks of the evil spirits, peace with other tribes, and peace within the tribe.

We also gain insight into the way God used Joanne to lead and teach others. Although Joanne herself admits her conviction that women should not teach men, at first she simply cannot avoid doing so. Without Joanne’s leadership and teaching, however, the Balangao might still be waiting for God to speak. Interestingly, though, when Ama eventually understands Joanne’s conviction that the men should be the teachers, she is able to release Ama and other leaders to teach. This means that the teaching becomes even more effective as it is multiplied.

Joanne lives and works among the Balangao, and although she is active in many roles, some of which are released to others along the way, her primary role remains one that really no Balangao could do. They simply did not have the skills, training or knowledge to translate the Word of God into their language. Eventually, Joanne is able to train others to assist her, and then even to go and do the same for other tribes, but Joanne’s role was absolutely vital for the Word to be present in the language of the Balangao. She really did the one task that no Balangao could have done.

In her brief introduction, Joanne says that her book is a love story, “so that you might stand along with us in praise and wonder at the overwhelming love of God and his relentless pursuit of us.” Joanne achieves her goal, as I think it would be hard to read this book and not be filled “with praise and wonder” at the love of God for the Balangao people. Joanne is the incarnation of God’s love among the Balangao, at least until the written Word begins to take Joanne’s place, and the Balangao understand that God loves them, just as Joanne loved them.

I appreciated Joanne’s transparency when she talked about some of her struggles. And the Word Came with Power is a victorious tale, but Joanne does not pretend to be perfect. She struggled with trust and doubt, she made mistakes, and sometimes acted rashly. But she was committed, faithful and passionate about bringing God’s Word to a people that she grew to love. And God used her mightily. I would especially recommend this book to those interested in translation work among unreached people groups, although I would be very interested to find out if Joanne’s story is the norm, or an exception. If it is an exceptional story, what made it so? What especially did Joanne do that helped her achieve her goal? Was it finding Tekla and Ama, the person of peace? Was it the way she released others? Was it her courage and faithfulness, or the way she confronted spirit worship? We see all of these elements, but Joanne’s book is about one people and one translation project – a project of love, for a people she loved – and God through her.

And the Word Came With Power at Amazon

Comments
  1. Thanks for another great review of a fascinating book, Randy.

  2. Miriam says:

    The kids and I read this book, and we really enjoyed it too!

  3. I’m sure it cannot be done. Sorry.

  4. Who can suggest me some website to find music in karaoke version?

  5. So I am confused weather to take Music Appreciation or Music theory or both. Can someone who knows the difference explain in details. And if anybody has took that class before then which would you recommend me to take?. . ~~~Thanks a lot~~~~;). Oh I also would like to know which helps you more to learn about music like for example, notes, chords, rhythms, etc.. Specially when learning new instruments or playing instruments..

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