MY STORY: JAARS Was There for Me

My translation co-worker, Anne, and I had just spent three weary days riding an overcrowded bus, jolting along on a rough track. Now we faced two really hard days of hiking through the rugged mountains of the northern Philippines in headhunter territory where one never goes alone.

Joanne returned to Balangao in 2010 to review the story of Jonah with translation co-workers.

It was 1962 when we arrived in Balangao, the remote village where God had called us to bring his Word to a people who had never heard the Good News. JAARS was our living hope for the practical assistance needed to get God’s Word to the Balangaos in a language they could understand—their own.

JAARS provided us with two-way single sideband radio communication, and the generator needed to run it. They housed us and fed us when we came out of the village for workshops, translation collaboration, and rest. But we realized that our most valuable resource for serving the people, saving time and energy—and possibly our lives—would be air transportation. When we finally found a relatively flat spot, the JAARS pilot air-dropped shovels, sledgehammers, and crowbars to us to work on a landing strip. Balangao men hammered away at massive boulders, built drainage ditches for two natural springs and built an 11-meter extension on our wee flat spot. A year later that giant eagle-in-the-sky landed in Balangao!

When it brought in a battery-operated radio—the newest, most wonderful thing going in those days—our joy knew no end. Now we could get rid of our generator that always needed attention, and the new FM radio would no longer allow the rest of the world to listen in on conversations!

The whole world of Balangao had waited breathlessly for the coming of an airplane—that “magic” from another world.

The whole world of Balangao had waited breathlessly for the coming of an airplane—that “magic” from another world. But most were very skeptical about the message the American ladies brought. Although some people in our village believed, those in faraway villages were not receptive. That changed one day when the pilot flew a mother, near death from prolonged labor, to a lowland clinic, then later brought her safely home with her healthy baby. The amazed village folk tried to put it all together: “That pilot must be your brother—he is, isn’t he?” … and “Now, who is this God, the one you’re always talking about?” A new church was born in Balangao.

I finished the Balangao New Testament in 1982 and returned to the US for furlough and speaking tours. Visiting the JAARS Center in North Carolina, I realized it was a place where I could care for my mother in her last days of widowhood and yet complete my Balangao work. JAARS had the technological support that would help me continue working on the Old Testament and remotely carry out field responsibilities. The Construction and Maintenance department could help with fixing things—after so many years away, I was very nervous about how to handle life in the States. And the Vernacular Media department [now known as International Media] could convert the Balangao text to audio and make video presentations.

My assignment now includes international travel, presenting Culture Meets Scripture workshops with my colleague Amy West. JAARS has come through again with assistance in obtaining visas, making connections, and travel advice. I have also had the joy of sharing from my years of experience with future translation workers when they come to JAARS for cultural training. I’m glad to be able to give back to an organization that made it possible for me to share God’s Word in the language of the Balangao people.


“Visiting the JAARS Center, I realized it was a place where I could care for my mother and yet complete my Balangao work.”

Joanne Shetler