Over the years we have had quite a few missionaries from Chile speak to us at church. The Lord laid a burden on my heart to visit some of them in Northern Chile in May, so I am excited about getting ready to go! The couple I am visiting, George and Letty Black, are now in their late seventies, but still actively serving the Lord in a small copper mining town. Since I do not know any Spanish, I put a note on the bulletin board in the graduate student dorm at the University requesting a native Spanish tutor. A man named Carlos from Madrid, Spain called me so we have begun to meet together for an hour twice a week in the dormitory study lounge to speak Spanish. We are using my Berlitz Spanish for Travelers book and my new Spanish Bible. It’s going well and I really enjoy learning Spanish! It seems much easier than German. Someone told me that it’s easier to learn your second and third foreign language, so I hope that is true!
May, 1984 – Northern Chile
I finally arrived at the bus station here after a rather grueling 18 hour trip in the cigarette smoke filled plane. The smokers sat in the aisle seats while non-smokers like me sat by the window. I breathed through a tissue the entire time because the smoke gave me a headache and nausea. I crossed the Andes mountains 3 times to and from Argentina to get to Santiago because the Santiago airport was fogged in. When we refueled in Argentina, their soldiers surrounded us with machine guns pointed at us which was a little unsettling. I thought the plane would fall apart as we crossed the second time because it was shaking so hard from the turbulence. Oh, my stomach! Mr and Mrs S kindly picked me up at the airport in the pouring rain (first rain in 5 months) and took me to their home for a delicious empanada supper. Several other missionaries stopped over to welcome me which was kind of them.
After a 2 hour nap, they took me to the bus station where I boarded a modern bus for my all night 12 hour trip up the Pan American highway. I sat in my assigned seat by the window next to an elderly Indian man. I greeted him in Spanish and then he pulled a box out of his pocket and popped a couple pills. I noticed the box said “Diazepam” (Valium) which is a very powerful sedating prescription drug in the USA. (Mr Black later told me that all prescription drugs can be bought over the counter in Chile except for narcotics.) He promptly fell asleep and only woke up once in the next 12 hours. I slept little as my bottom went numb and my long cramped legs swelled terribly.
The pretty bus stewardess served us a sandwich, coffee, and hard candy at the beginning and end of the trip. They played American music on the speakers such as theme songs from “Little House on the Prairie” TV show, and “Hello, Dolly!” which was surprising. As I exited the bus, the stewardess and the elderly man each gladly received a Spanish gospel tract. I was so glad to greet George and Letty and take a refreshing nap at their home!
Before I left the USA, Mr. Black asked me to speak to the young people’s group on Saturday night, so I had prepared a devotional on Psalm 119:9-16. I am always challenged by verse 16: I will delight myself in Thy statutes; I will not forget Thy word.
I did not realize how difficult it would be to teach by translation as I spoke a sentence in English and then waited for Mr Black to translate. It came out rather stilted, because I kept losing my train of thought while he translated. I think I was still tired from my journey, but the young people were very gracious and asked me questions afterwards about courtship, my job, etc. One of the high school guys told me he didn’t want me to leave!
I so enjoyed the worship services on Sunday. I went with Mr. Black as he picked up many children for Sunday School in his van. They crowded in so it was standing room only. As he introduced me to each child, they each gave me a hug and an air kiss on the cheek which is customary here. They sing the hymns with great enthusiasm! I followed along during the message as best I could. I found the Bible verse in my English Bible after I saw where Mrs Black turned in her Spanish Bible. Carlos had helped me learn the names of all the books of the Bible in Spanish, so that was helpful. The brethren here are so friendly and open.
The desert climate is beautiful! It is a brisk 60 degrees in the morning and 70 degrees during the day year round. The Blacks said this is a better retirement place for them than Arizona would be, so they want to spend their final days on earth here among the beloved Chilean people. The town is an oasis in the middle of the Atacama desert which is the driest desert in the world. The average ANNUAL rainfall is 0.638 inches. When it does rain, wildflowers pop up and bloom from the dormant seeds left from the previous rain. Mr Black said it reminds him of Isaiah 55:10-11: For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not there, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goeth forth out of My mouth; it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”
We walked around town on Monday through a pretty park and the University campus. I was amazed that poinsettias grow into trees here!
In the evenings after dinner, at my request, they told me story after story of their early days in Chile. They both went to Chile when they were in their thirties, thinking they would be single all their days. George’s father worked in Barcelona, Spain, so George became fluent in Spanish when he was 15 years old. George arrived in Chile in 1940 and witnessed fervently to the Chilean soldiers, many of whom received Christ. There were several single women missionaries at the time. But he was especially attracted to Letty because “she was a woman of character who could encourage me to have an undivided heart for Christ, carry forward with the ministry God gave us, and she was totally dedicated to the Lord.” They married December 31, 1943 because they wanted to start the New Year right!
Eight months later, Letty was struck with meningitis. There was a shortage of penicillin, so the hospitals reserved it for the soldiers who were fighting in World War 2 and were unable to give her any. As her fever raged and her head pounded, she said she thought she would go insane. Then God brought to her memory II Timothy 1:7; For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a SOUND MIND. In her utter weakness, she claimed that verse and asked God to preserve her mind. She began to recover slowly, but sadly she had lost her hearing. For the remainder of her life, she could only hear her husband’s voice. But she was so thankful his was the voice she could hear! She learned to lip read fluently in Spanish and in English.
Another evening we played Scrabble together which the Blacks play in both Spanish and English. For my sake we played in English. I used to think I was pretty good at it until I played with them. They are definitely at the expert level as they came up with the most amazing words! They both scored 200-300. Their minds are sharp as a tack! So God graciously answered Letty’s prayer to give her a sound mind.
I am so thankful they no longer allow smoking on planes! I am also grateful that I now can use Sea Band acupressure bracelets and Zofran prescription medicine for my motion sickness. It definitely makes travel much more comfortable for me. I have also learned to wear compression support socks to prevent my legs from swelling and always request an aisle seat so I can stand frequently.
It was one of the greatest spiritual blessings of my life to spend that week with George and Letty Black. They truly reflected Christ’s love to all they met. Next post I will continue with more about my journey!