Torches of Joy (by John Dekker)

In the early 1990s, when we lived in the USA for a couple of years, we were privileged to meet a lovely couple, John and Helen Dekker. Some years previously, they had been missionaries to a 'stone age' tribe in Irian Jaya. Years later, we became friendly with someone else who knew them, and more recently have come across books written by one of their sons (whom we also got to know a little in the USA).

I don't remember where we acquired their book 'Torches of Joy', which is a biographical account of John and Helen's early lives, their courtship, and the beginnings of their time as missionaries to the Dani people. But it's been on our shelves for a long time. I know I had read it at least once, but it must have been more than eleven years ago. Finally I picked it up again, inspired by a local friend reading it with her children, and have been re-reading it over the past week.

It's a fascinating account. I felt almost as if I knew the young John and Helen from the early chapters, and that's nothing to do with having met them when they approached retirement. The writing is good - if a little slow in places - and brings the people alive in a way that is sometimes missing in biographies. John himself is listed as the author of the book, with co-writer Lois Neely, but it's all written in the third person as a biography rather than an autobiography.

I was glad that the accounts included parts about the struggles of westerners as they had to change their lifestyle drastically, adjusting to searing temperatures, unpleasant bugs, and a completely different diet. I was interested too to read about the gentle ways they reached out to people with very different customs, ensuring that the Gospel message was not tainted with western culture.

I lost track, occasionally, of the various characters, but it didn't really matter in the excitement of the story, and the powerful message of God's love and healing that comes through strongly.

Some excellent missiological principles are included as an appendix, such as encouraging locals to run their own congregations, with their own guidelines, and also to send out their own missionaries.


I'm glad to see that, despite having been published originally in 1985, 'Torches of Joy' is still in print on both sides of the Atlantic.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 6th March 2011

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