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 and has opened the door for me to go. George and Letty Black, in their late seventies, still actively serve 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 Ohio State University requesting a native Spanish tutor. A man from Madrid, Spain called me so we have begun to meet together for an hour twice a week to study and speak Spanish. We use my Berlitz Spanish for Travelers book and my new Spanish Scofield Bible. I enjoy learning Spanish immensely, much easier compared to learning German. Someone told me one learns their second and third foreign language more easily, so I hope this is true.
May 1984 – Northern Chile
I finally arrived at the bus station after a 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. We crossed the Andes mountains three times to and from Argentina because the Santiago airport was fogged in. When we refueled in Argentina, their soldiers surrounded us and pointed their machine guns at us. I silently asked the Lord for safety. The plane shook so hard from the turbulence as we crossed the mountains the third time that I feared it would fall apart. Many passengers screamed. Oh, my stomach! My gracious hosts, Mr. and Mrs. S, waited patiently for me in the pouring rain for five hours at the airport. They took me to their home for a delicious empanada supper. Several other missionaries stopped over to give me a warm welcome.
After a nap, they took me to the 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 read, “Diazepam” (Valium), a powerful sedating prescription drug in the USA. 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. (Mr. Black later told me all prescription drugs can be bought over the counter in Chile except for narcotics.)
The pretty stewardess served us a sandwich, coffee, and hard candy at the beginning and end of the trip. I was surprised to hear American music on the speakers from “Little House on the Prairie” TV show, and “Hello, Dolly!” As I exited the bus, the stewardess and the elderly man each gladly accepted a Spanish gospel tract from me. I happily hugged George and Letty and took 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. I struggled because I kept losing my train of thought while he translated. But the young people listened attentively and asked me questions afterward about courtship, my job, etc. One of the high school guys told me he didn’t want me to leave.
On Sunday, I went with Mr. Black in his van to pick up scores of children for Sunday School. As he introduced me to each child, they gave me a hug and an air kiss on the cheek, the custom here. They sang the hymns with great gusto. 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. I was glad my tutor had helped me learn the names of all the books of the Bible in Spanish. The brethren were so friendly and open.
I enjoy the beautiful desert climate with 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, so they want to spend their final days on earth here among their beloved Chilean people. The town is an oasis in the middle of the Atacama desert, the driest in the world. The average ANNUAL rainfall is 0.638 inches. When the rain comes, wildflowers pop up and bloom from the dormant seeds. Mr. Black said it reminds him of Isaiah 55:10-11: For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returns not there, but waters the earth, and maks it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes 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. The 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 and carry forward with the ministry God gave us. She was totally dedicated to the Lord.” They married on 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 the newly discovered penicillin, so the hospitals reserved it for the soldiers who were fighting in World War 2 and refused to give her any. As her fever raged and her head pounded, 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 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, their favorite game to 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 and scored 200-300 points. God graciously answered Letty’s prayer to give her a sound mind.
I thank God 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. These make 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.
That week with George and Letty Black was one of the greatest spiritual blessings of my life. They truly reflected Christ’s love to all they met. Next post I will continue with more about my journey.