"What kind of person would write an autobiography?" a good and humble friend asked me when he heard that I was planning on reviewing Niall O'Brien's Revolution From the Heart (Orbis Books, 1991). At first I responded similarly to the book, thinking that it would be another tale of the trials and tribulations of a Western missionary among the poor of the Third World. But having been taken in by O'Brien's gripping struggle to be church in the midst of incredible injustices suffered by the Filipino poor, I thank him for offering this gift to us.
The first missionary's account I ever read--Adoniram Judson's classic from Burma--convinced me to go to Asia one day and preach the word. Revolution From the Heart compels me to stay at home and work for justice.
For most of us, it is this sort of spiritual autobiography, not a theological treatise, that sparks a conversion in our lives. O'Brien's book is a veritable manual on the Word becoming flesh.
Revolution From the Heart recounts the Columban priest's work to found and develop base Christian communities on the island of Negros, struggling with the Filipino peasants to confront the violence of the landowners on one side and that of the National People's Army on the other.
O'Brien arrived in the Philippines from Ireland in 1964. The book tells the tale of the heroic acts and miraculous works that were necessary to help transform the colonial Philippine church into a living, breathing testimony of the Second Vatican Council that was just coming to an end in Rome. Revolution From the Heart offers an important example of basic Christian communities in a radically different context than the Latin American one most of us are more familiar with.