by Edna Headland
Tate Publishing, 2016
—Reviewed by Scott Hedley, Bible translator, for sixteen years, Southeast Asia
One challenge in ministry is the need to see immediate results. Many missionary biographies end with stories of a growing local church and lives being transformed by the word of God. But this book is the story of a strong commitment to Jesus Christ in the midst of obstacles and opposition.
Paul and Edna Headland invested twenty-six years translating the Bible into the Tunebo language without seeing much reward. Although the Tunebos have the New Testament in their language, the book states that there is still no Tunebo church as of 2016.
The obstacles and opposition that the Headlands faced were diverse. First, there was a taboo against outsiders learning the language. Fortunately, the Tunebo chief was above the taboo and he taught the Headlands the Tunebo language.
Second, the Tunebo were afraid to have the Headlands live in their midst because of similar taboos. Also, some non-Tunebo people did not want the Headlands there. However, the Headlands were able to build trust by providing free medical treatments, haircuts, and tool sharpening.
Third, once the Tunebos did get some of the word of God translated, the Tunebo could not believe it because of their worldview that spirits control plants and animals rather than the creation account of Genesis 1:28-29 that explains that God put man in dominion over the plants and animals. Additionally, important concepts like ‘cross’ and ‘forgive’ did not exist in their language.
Fourth, about ninety-nine percent of the Tunebos were illiterate. But they also had taboos forbidding people from writing their language. This meant almost no one wanted to learn how to read. So the Headlands produced audio recordings of gospel stories in Tunebo. But the Tunebo could not use the recordings if the shaman didn’t purify them and he didn’t want to purify them or allow the Tunebos to have the scriptures in their homes.
The Headlands’ home was vandalized a number of times when they left the village and their valuables were stolen. But this one verse really spoke to the Headlands: “You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (Heb. 10:35).
The most important thing I learned from reading this book is that God does not always provide immediate fruit to our faithful service to him. After the Headlands served the Lord for almost three decades in Bible translation, they don’t have a lot of tangible fruit of Tunebo people who are now believers.
I recommend reading this book as it calls us to persevere and trust God to bring the harvest. This book also reminds usto pray for the Tunebo and other people groups so that they too would experience the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives and that they would be able to worship the Lamb around the throne (Rev. 7:9-10).
Ward, Mariel. 2008. Penetrating The Stronghold Of Islam: An Insider’s Perspective From a Bible Translation Team, Lake Mary, Fla.: Creation House.
Watters, David. 2011. At The Foot of The Snows, Seattle: Engage Faith Press.
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