I’ve always enjoyed missionary biographies — the stories of men and women who spend their lives sharing Jesus in faraway lands and unfamiliar cultures. I find that they always challenge me to reconsider my own life — have I become too comfortable or too in love with this world? Even though God might not be calling me overseas right now, am I actively participating in the Great Commission?

I particularly enjoy missionary biographies that attempt to accurately portray the triumphs and struggles of those on the field, without romanticizing or idealizing their lives. Missionaries are ordinary people in extraordinary situations, and the best biographies highlight that juxtaposition.

Our Witchdoctors Are Too Weak is such a book. It is the autobiography of Davey and Marie Jank, a couple who ministered in the Amazon jungle of South America among a tribe called the Wilo people. The Janks were part of a team with New Tribes Mission who were tasked with translating the Bible into the native language of the Wilos so that they could hear the Gospel for the first time. The book begins with Davey’s arrival in the tribal village and chronicles his struggles to learn their language, adapt to their culture, and translate the Scripture in terms that the people could understand. Along the way he meets Marie and gets married, but I’ll not spoil the story for you.

Here is what I enjoyed about this book:

The Janks are authentic in their depiction of missionary life. I never got the impression that the book was written to impress me with how godly they were for spending decades in a primitive tribal village sharing the Gospel. To the contrary, it is filled with gentle self-deprecating humor and frank admissions of struggle and even failure. On the other hand, Davey and Marie’s passion for the Gospel is evident throughout the book. They clearly love the Wilo people and deeply believe in the importance of their mission.

It gave me a good window into the world of a Bible translator. Davey’s stories about the complexities of the language and the challenges of Bible translation were fascinating to me. For example, how do you explain the story of Jacob and Esau to a culture that believes twins are inherently evil? How do you communicate forgiveness to a people who have no way to say, “I’m sorry”?

It illustrates the power of the Gospel and its transcendence over culture and language. I won’t say much more, because I don’t want to give away the ending, but the story is a beautiful depiction of God’s love for the world.

The chapters are short and the writing is easy to read. I would imagine the average reader could finish this book in 8-12 hours. The pages seemed to fly by as I read.

I only had one small criticism of the book, and that was its minimal information about time and space. I wished that there were a few more details about the specific location and history of the Wilos. It was also difficult to figure out the dates and timeline of events — one can piece things together by reading carefully, but I would have appreciated a bit more help in this area.

One the whole, I highly recommend this well-written biography as a great story of missionary life, and particularly the life of a Bible translator in a tribal context.

Question for you: Do you have a favorite missionary biography that you would recommend to the readers of this blog? Why do you like it?

(Note: I was not compensated for this review, although I was sent a free copy of the book. There were no stipulations about the content of my review, so the above reflects my honest opinion of the book).

[Image via http://www.daveyandmariejank.com/book/]