And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God (I Corinthians 2:4).
“The evil spirits ruled the Balangaos’ lives by their unceasing demands for sacrifice.”(From: “And the Word Came With Power” published by Wycliffe in 1992.)
Joanne Shetler and her friend Anne Fetzer stepped into a situation that required all of the courage they could muster as well as much grace from God. But they had confidence that they were called of God and felt the power of His love and protection.
The Balangao people in the northern Philippines had asked for translators to come and translate the Bible into their language. They were not pleased that two tall women came instead of the men they were expecting. But Joanne and Anne were up to the task.
And God blessed them and the Balangao’s over the coming years.
If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed. (John 8:36)
In this posting it is not my intention to just recount her story. Please get the book mentioned above. It is truly exciting to read about God’s love for His people. Here, I want to emphasize one point – the spiritual warfare that Joanne encountered.
In the United States people have a hard time believing in demons or evil spirits. We are so skeptical in our western, materialist world that we think they don’t exist. I believe that they are very real, but manifest themselves differently in different places. The devil is behind much of the evil in our culture; I don’t know how to explain the number of late term abortions for example without the knowledge that Satan hates God, life, and humans who bear the image of God. Satan behaves more subtly in our country.
In remote cultures like Balangao the evil spirits manifest themselves more openly because the people do believe in them. And the demons keep the people in tremendous fear.
The Balangao village was two days journey from civilization via difficult roads. The Wycliffe Bible Translators, who sent the women, were not sure that Joanne and Anne would be able to survive. The Balangao people were traditionally known as headhunters. This practice had lessened but tribal warfare ending in killings was still known. The Wycliffe director did not think it advisable to send women but no one else was available and Joanne and Anne so firmly believed that this was where God called them that they talked the director into sending them.
The women faced many problems: leeches that you couldn’t feel until they’d sucked a lot of blood, a basic diet of only rice often, learning a difficult language, and loneliness from being so far from home. Above all this, when Joanne and Anne arrived they found that the infant and sometimes mother, mortality rate was very high. The Balangao’s had no midwives. Joanne was able to use her jungle camp training to aid the women in childbirth. And since the Balangao’s feared the spirits so much that they did not go through childbirth without making many sacrifices to the evil spirits, the natives really needed Joanne. Even if the people met the evil spirits’ demands, the spirits often took the Balangaos’ children or crops. Many more babies were born alive and healthy after Joanne came.
The problem of spiritual warfare is not often talked about in missionary stories though it is very real and spiritual warfare was pervasive in Balangao. The high infant mortality rate was often the work of the evil spirits who would be very angry if the people did not make sacrifices to them to appease them. Joanne and Anne knew that the Lord had sent them to do more than just translate the Bible; He had sent them to proclaim freedom in Christ, real freedom. The Balangao’s needed to be free of the evil spirits.
The first time Joanne and Anne encountered the evil spirits was when they tried to help a sick boy. Joanne gave the boy penicillin and he seemed better but the people were afraid to give him the needed second dose. A spirit medium had been contacted and she told the people that the spirits were angry. She spoke to the people in a male spirit’s voice. They made sacrifices to the spirits instead of giving the boy the medicine. In this case the spirits demanded three pigs, two chickens, and some rice and wine and beads. The boy’s father met the demands and the next day the dying boy was well. The evil spirits really do have power. This is why the people caved to their demands.
At some point, Anne felt led to go home and marry a former boyfriend. This left Joanne alone, but a man in the village, Canao, had “adopted” her and she had some protection. Canao and his son, Doming would accept Christ and eventually go on to work to further the gospel.
Joanne had encounters with many mediums during the years that she was in Balangao translating the Bible into their language. The spirits through the mediums threatened Joanna but of course as a Christian she was protected. Little by little people began to want to be free as Joanna was.
One story is about Forsan, a small and crippled medium. When she decided to give her allegiance to Christ the spirits tried to kill her. Joanne encouraged her to be brave and tell the spirits to go away. Forsan put her trust in Christ and survived to the amazement of the villagers.
In another incident, Tekla, a Balangao woman who never did sacrifice to the spirits and also accepted Christ through Joanne’s teaching, screamed for Joanne’s help one day. This time it was another sick boy. The people were prepared to meet the demands of the spirits as recited to them by Chalinggay, an old spirit medium. When Joanne arrived she realized that the voice coming out of the old woman was the voice of the evil spirit. Joanne was so angry she did something that she had not done before. She had been trying to be careful how she treated the mediums, but this time she grabbed the old woman’s shoulders and pushed her out of the door. Joanne commanded the spirits to leave. The people in the room were afraid. When the spirits had been disobeyed before the evil spirits would make more people sick or even kill them.
There was something else different this time. The boy’s father had become a Christian and now the son wanted to be a Christian also. This is what had angered the evil spirits. The people told Joanne that the boy would surely die since she kicked the medium out. But Joanne replied, “You watch, that boy won’t die. You’ll see that God is stronger than the spirits. He’ll keep him alive!” Joanne and Tekla prayed over the boy and he lived.
Now the people had seen that God was stronger.
As the people began to see that the spirits had no power over those who obeyed God they began to seek out Joanne. The Bible study Joanne had started grew from sixty to over two hundred. They all wanted to know “Who is this God who has more power than the spirits?”
Yes, evil spirits are real and thankfully Joanne relied on the One Who has the power over them. This story sounds strange to our western ears, but it is repeated in many other countries around the world.
Joanne Shetler still ministers today giving seminars around the world. Doming, her “little brother” who helped her much with the Bible translation died in 2007. Over a thousand people attended the funeral of this faithful Christian man who had helped translate the Bible, was a pastor, teacher, and mentor to many young men.
Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven. Luke 10:20