Joanne Shetler

Joanne was a typical young farm girl, full of fanciful thoughts, always dreaming about what the future had in store. She said, “I’d dream about the house I’d have some day: a big, beautiful farmhouse with a white fence.

Cows would graze on the rolling hills surrounding it. Bets of all, my house would be crowded with happy people. Occasionally in my dream, I’d leave my house and friends and go to the hospital where I worked as a nurse, like my mom. To me, it was the perfect life.”

At such a young age she had already dreamed up such a beautiful plan for her life, but she didn’t yet have sight of what God had in store for her. Joanne gave her life to Jesus at the age of 11 during a Bible club meeting. She says that the Gospel “was the best news [she’d] ever heard of, it was like discovering gold.” Soon she came to understand the mandate to go into the world to make disciples of nations. A missionary visited her church one Sunday, sharing “that 90 percent of the ‘goers’, ‘tellers,’ and ‘makers-of-disciples’ were concentrating on only 10 percent of the world’s population.” She knew that she had to be part of the 10 percent that reach the 90. After significant struggle, Joanne surrendered her perfect life dream to Jesus and told him she’d go anywhere, having no idea what that really meant. Joanne began to pray that God would prepare a people group to hear the Good News that she would take to them.

Joanne graduated high school and headed to Biola to get a Bible degree. She decided to take a linguistics class that would help her learn languages, a necessary skill for any missionary. While studying at the Summer Institute of Linguistics she began to see the necessity of translating scripture, while not yet understanding what missionaries really do. Translation seemed to be very definable and even very attractive to a girl who cold so easily be carried away by daydreaming. She didn’t know what she had to give to any people group, but she knew that she could translate and watch to see what God’s word could do.

Part of Joanne’s training involved jungle camp, a training course in the jungles of Mexico in which participants must hike in with few supplies and set up shelter, cook their meals by fire and learn what it takes to survive on the land. She was assigned a partner named Anne. They had a quick rapport and were like-minded, however it seemed that they were headed in different directions. After jungle camp Joanne left to visit the highlands of Guatemala and shadow a couple translating the scriptures there. It was at that time that Joanne began to dream again about living in a nearby people group in this beautiful mountainous region. However, her jungle partner Anne wrote to ask Joanne to be her partner, a partner to a people group in the Philippines. The decision was tough for Joanne, but finally she realized that like-mindedness was much more important than location. Once again she surrendered her dream to God.

Despite the perils of inaccessibility, Anne & Joanne were allocated into a very remote village called Balangao, two days hike from the furthest road. After trekking for two days, carrying their gear with guides, they arrived in Balangao. The Balangao people desired translators to come and write their scriptures, but they never imagined that two towering white women would come. Despite the surprise and dismay, one elder from the village came forward and offered to feed them dinner, which was a pledge that he would protect his guests. That night he offered to adopt them as his own children, knowing that it was the only way to provide for and protect these single women. Soon they began to learn the language. As they were able to hold conversations, the Balagaos continued to ask them why they had come. Joanne and Anne always answered, “We’ve come to translate God’s Word into your language, and teach you to read it, so that you can know God.” The Balangaos always responded by asking “Yes, but why have you come?” The Balangaos were under the impression that they came to take the language back to America to sell it or to find husbands.

This people group had a terribly high infant mortality rate. During childbirth women would deliver with no help from anyone, often killing both the woman and child. The people also depended on appeasing evil spirits. Anything could trigger the wrath of these spirits. They had to make blood sacrifices of pigs and other animals to ward off their anger. Spiritists in the village were possessed by these spirits and would communicate to the people how to appease them. Anne and Joanne could see how much these people needed the one true God to liberate them. Soon, their new friend in the village, Tekla, told them that she wished she could know God. Tekla had always known that she shouldn’t sacrifice to the spirits and she was waiting for the news of God. Anne & Joanne began to share the Gospel with her, but the village people began to harass Tekla because of it. Despite the opposition, Tekla continued to meet with them and soon became a believer. She even helped them to start translating the scriptures. Anne & Joanne also began to assist the women of the village in childbirth and trained Tekla to help. Slowly people came into contact with God’s word and began to be saved. God was transforming this people group.

Soon Anne received a marriage proposal from and old friend in the US. Despite the disapproval of the mission agency, Joanne knew that she had to stay in the village to translate the scriptures for these people who were beginning to so desperately crave God’s truth. Soon, several spiritists who were tormented by the evil spirits became desperate for life change. They came to Joanne and asked for help. She led them in prayers asking for forgiveness and asking Jesus to be their God, pledging to give up their spirit appeasement. They spirits tormented them to the edge of life, but the spirits were defeated. The power of the one true God had been displayed before all of the Balangao people, showing them that God was supreme over these hateful spirits. Many more came to faith. After a long village stay, Joanne went home on furlough with some hesitation. The people didn’t understand how to pray, when to pray, or why to pray. She asked her home church and supporters to pray for a breakthrough among the believing Balangao, no matter the cost. On Joanne’s trip back into the Balangao territory, carrying supplies in to build a hospital, the aircraft crashed just before landing. The people rallied around as she gave them instruction on how to treat her injuries and begged them to pray. This was the breakthrough she had prayed for. The Balangaos learned what it meant to pray without ceasing and how to ask God and trust Him for everything.

The Balangaos were experiencing new freedom in Christ. Joanne’s village father was raised up as a teacher, learning first from Joanne and then teaching the scriptures to the people. They were so hungry for God’s word and urged her not to stop translating because they were waiting. In the meantime the people began to travel to neighboring enemy villages, to take the Gospel to them. They even began to host Balango-style Bible conferences in their village to teach people from many different areas about the God who was supreme.

Now the New Testament and has been completed in Balangao and the first edition sold out. Translators from Balangao have been raised up from the village to take God’s Word to neighboring people groups. God answered her prayer by preparing a people group for her coming so that she could take God’s word to them. Joanne concludes her book in this way: “I’ve never quite figured out how to bring God glory. But I have learned to surrender my dreams to Him. And he has made the reality of living according to His plan even better than my greatest dreams.”


And the Word Came With Power: How God met & Changed a People Forever by Joanne Shetler with Patricia Purvis, ©1992 Wycliffe Bible Translators, Multnomah Press, Portland, OR.