For years I had been dreaming of
being a missionary. After four visits to Japan, my first choice was
to serve there for two years or so, and I had started with Berlitz in
the spring of 1971 to learn Japanese, along with Mary Charlotte. That
didn’t get very far, as both of us had difficulty in
remembering these strange words from one lesson to the next, Mary
Charlotte soon refused to continue, as she said it made her feel too
foolish when she couldn’t remember the words she was supposed
to have learned. As soon as I used up my prepayment, I too stopped,
as I felt it was too expensive for what I was getting out of it. A
month or so later I received a telephone call from the Japanese woman
who had been our instructor to offer to teach me whatever I wanted to
know about the language on Saturday mornings in her apartment, at $25
a lesson. I took her up on it, and went for several months, getting a
smattering of the characteristics of the language, although
definitely not learning to converse Berlitz style. When Mary
Charlotte absolutely refused to consider living in Japan, I had to
think of another way. That was when I persuaded her to get the
trailer as our only home, to travel about the US, Mexico and perhaps
other Western hemisphere nations in some kind of space-film
evangelism. I had written to NASA’s publicity department in
Washington to be allowed to receive films, pictures and news
releases, which request they granted me, and for several years I was
on the same mailing list for these items as a newspaper or TV
station. (While I do not know this to be a fact, I believe I was the
only person to whom NASA granted this privilege.) I was also able to
get at cost Apollo mission films with Spanish sound-track, which were
made in the US. So with schedules for the first fall and spring of
retirement in the making, I was ready for the great R-day of October
On Wednesday of that week, I was given a farewell party by my NASA colleagues that really warmed my heart. It was attended by my own people, many of my fellows in middle and lower management, and by all my superiors up to the Directorate level — more than 50 in all. Only Dr. Clark, the Center director, didn’t come but he gave me a very flattering letter of commendation for my contributions to NASA and Goddard, as well as recognition of my desire to be a missionary. They gave me as presents two things I had told Mary Charlotte I had not been able to find — a film splicer and a tow rope. I brought the trailer and tow vehicle to the space center that week and held an open house during the lunch hour.
On Thursday we closed on the sale of our house. On Friday I wound up my employment at Goddard in the morning, and we left for California in our new "home” in the afternoon. On the way we visited Mary Jo and Clyde in Toledo, Mary Francis and Bill in Minneapolis, Will and Judy (and Mark) in Blair, and friends in Greeley (CO), arriving in Los Angeles 12 days later. We parked the trailer on a nearby horse farm and got Mary Charlotte settled in with Bob and Bea Watson, friends from our North Hollywood days. I flew to Tokyo for a 4-1/2 week program Chuck Corwin had set up for me all over Japan.
Chuck had arranged for me to spend my first week
in Hokkaido (Japan’s northern island), but the missionary that
was to sponsor me there got sick and they canceled out just before my
arrival. Chuck hurriedly tried to improvise meetings at a huge
housing development of the city just outside Tokyo. Our first meeting
there had a zero audience — nobody showed up! Later in the week
we had a good meeting, and sowed the seeds that eventually developed
into a church. We spent the next three weeks in traveling north and
south on the island of Honshu (where Tokyo and Osaka are), and in
Tokyo itself, showing the Apollo-15 space film, speaking about the
space program, and giving my testimony, with my speaking in English
and Chuck translating into Japanese. I had to learn to be concise, as
the presentation time was doubled with translation, but the pauses
gave me time to think of my next sentence. I rather liked that mode
of presentation, and found some difficulty later in addressing
English-speaking audiences where I had no time to think of what to
say next. Our venues were largely churches and universities. In the
latter there was usually a student Christian group (called KGK in
Japan) who would set up the meeting and arrange the publicity. After
each meeting we would gather with these Christian young people and
ask them to critique our presentation. One such group gave me the
valuable advice that I needed to make smooth transitions. I had been
making too sudden a break between my talking of the space program and
giving my testimony. I developed a transition by telling how many of
the astronauts had publicly proclaimed their Christian faith —
really a tremendous testimony in itself when you put all of these
We rode the trains to most of the cities visited, and slept either in church people’s or missionary homes or in the churches, on the floor in unheated buildings. Brrrr! Few of these groups were very large, most ranging in size from a dozen or so to 100. Exceptions were the few high schools where the whole student body turned out — 500 to 1000 kids. I met many missionaries known to Chuck — he had been president of one of the mission societies in Japan and was widely acquainted. I was impressed with the earnestness and attention of the Japanese people. There was almost none of the frivolity we expect from Americans. What a contrast to the audiences in Latin America, where the speaker has a hard time talking above the chatter of the "audience.’ My ability to speak with expression and without notes was in contrast to the usual university professor’s dry monotone, with his head buried in his notes, and it paid rich dividends in both attendance and receptivity. We normally had a question period at the end of the talk, and seldom failed to have many good questions raised, with very little heckling. On one occasion I was scheduled to speak in one of the state universities in Nagoya, where there was a strong Communist or Marxist group. This group defaced our posters and set up a rival meeting at the same time as ours. We learned later that while we had an auditorium full of 500+ students, they had less than a dozen! I earned a few brownie points with this audience when my translator (a Campus Crusade Japanese woman who spoke excellent English) drew a blank on the meaning of “million”. In explanation, the Japanese use a 4-column decimal system, rather than a 3-column one as we do. They have words for hundred (hyaku) and ten thousand (mon), but not for one thousand or one million. To say "million” in Japanese, you must say “hyaku mon’ (hundred ten-thousands). I had learned about this from Chuck Corwin just a few days earlier, so I shouted to the audience “hyaku mon”, and they cheered and whistled for several minutes. The poor translator lost face, however, and that is not the way to treat Orientals. After this meeting, I treated the Christian group of sponsors to a late snack — steak sandwiches. I was appalled at the bill — over $50 for five or six of these.
I got to see quite a bit of the countryside and smaller cities in Japan, which had never been my privilege in earlier visits to the country, and I got to ride the “Bullet” train from Tokyo to Osaka, 250 miles in 150 minutes or so. During the final week we flew to one of the southern islands (Kyushu), to the city of Miyazaki for meetings at the university, a high school and a church. Altogether I counted in my diary 44 meetings with a total attendance of 7150 during these 4-1/2 weeks. Only God knows how many of these people were led to consider seriously the claims of our Lord Jesus Christ, but I did get feedback of a few that made a decision for Him as a result of one of these meetings.
After speaking at our former
church in North Hollywood on Sunday morning, we left late in the week
of December 12th for a few days with Will and family in Blair, spent
Christmas Eve with Mary Jo and Clyde in Toledo, and had Christmas
dinner with Judy’s parents, Herb and Mary Ann Wasson, in
Shelbyville (IN). We then drove to Hyattsville for a few days with
Mother and on to Wilmington (NC) to renew fellowship with Edna
Applebeny, our friend from World War II days there. Since our Mexican
hosts didn’t want us to come until February, we arranged for a
repeat visit to Haiti and make-up visits to Aruba and the Dominican
Republic. The Haiti visit included many of the same places we had
been to in 1969, but this time we had the Apollo-15 film both in
English and in Spanish. The same packed houses greeted us in Cap
Haitien and Port-au-Prince, with 3,500 people attending just four
meetings. I was also interviewed over a mission radio station in Cap
Haitien and a TV and a radio station in Port-au-Prince.
Proceeding to Aruba via Santo Domingo, we had our previously canceled meeting at the Holiday Inn, and several meetings in churches and schools in the 4-day period, as well as two interviews over TV-Aruba and one over Radio Victoria, the TEAM station there. In the Dominican Republic the following week, I spoke and showed my Spanish Apollo-15 film in several churches and schools. In the two countries we added another 1,500 to our live audiences. We then returned to Florida, and spent a week seeing the sights in Central Florida before heading for Mexico.
Crossing the border at Laredo with our dog and trailer were not as difficult as I had anticipated, although they were more fussy about the dog than the trailer. Except for talks to two small groups at the Baptist Student Center and Baptist (English-speaking) Church in Mexico City on Sunday, our first nine days were spent in meeting people I was to work with and sightseeing. That changed the second week when we went to Torreon (in northern Mexico) with Julian Bridges, the Baptist missionary I was to work much with. A trailer wheel came off while on the Periferico (the Mexico City freeway), causing some consternation, because all the nuts were lost, and we had to proceed with only three nuts per trailer wheel. Getting replacements consumed many futile stops until we finally got some that would fit. The Baptists operated a seminary in Torreon, where we stayed six days, speaking in the large Baptist church every night and in schools and the university during the daytime. We left Julian, who returned to Mexico City by plane, while we drove to Monterrey for four days with Dave Wyman (the Baptist youth worker), speaking at the Baptist church, a private technical institute, the American school, and several youth groups. We then returned to Mexico City for another five days of evening church meetings and two of day school talks. Our next journey was to Guadalajara, a 2-day trip over rugged mountainous country. Guadalajara is the nicest large city in Mexico, and we enjoyed eight days there. Speaking engagements were mostly with young people’s groups sponsored by the resident Baptist missionaries, with an occasional showing of the Apollo-15 film. Then back to Mexico City for another week of evening meetings at various churches around the city. So far all our meetings had been arranged by the Southern Baptist missionaries in Mexico, and audiences had been small. Our first seven weeks had provided only 48 meetings with a total of 4000+ attending, but we had seen a good deal of the country and met some very interesting people.
Saturday morning (March 18) we left Mexico City
for Cuernavaca and Pastor Samuel Reyes — and things started to
happen! Pastor Reyes had called the governor’s office and told
him of my coming, offering a private meeting for his staff, which was
accepted for Monday night. Then he called the media in Mexico City
and suggested they ought to cover an event as important as that
(Mexico’s governors rank much higher than ours!). Monday
afternoon a TV truck from Mexico — TV’s most popular
program (“24 Hours” in English) — showed up to
interview me. While I was setting up my equipment in the governor’s
palace, a reporter from Mexico’s leading newspaper,
“Excelsior,” interviewed me. This interview filled two
columns on the outside back page of the first section of the next
day’s paper, which goes all over Mexico. On Monday night most
of the TV-viewing audience in the Mexico City area had seen my
interview, in which one of the questions was, “Did I believe in
God?” and/or had read the Tuesday morning newspaper interview
which also gave me an opportunity to declare my faith. I was
apprehensive lest anything I said in the newspaper interview might
have been offensive to the Mexican mind, or to NASA, but no
repercussions occurred. I have a copy of the paper for anyone to
Sunday night I had my first of many presentations to Pastor Reyes congregation (Templo Evangelico), showing the Spanish version of the Apollo-15 film, and Monday night doing the same at the governor’s palace, at which 50 of his staff attended, including the secretary of state. On Tuesday there was a noon meeting at the State Preparatory School, where 200 kids kept me for two hours after my presentation, asking many questions including many about Christ and Christianity. Most of them had seen me on TV the night before. After a Tuesday night meeting at the University of Morelos, I was amazed to learn that the Institute of Joan of Arc order of nuns had raised the money to rent a movie theater, so that I could make my presentation to the community Wednesday afternoon! The rest of the week was occupied with school and university meetings during the day and church meetings at night. What a week! When Pastor Reyes had asked me for two weeks at the breakfast meeting in Mexico City two years earlier, I had wondered how this “country pastor” could keep me busy that long. The week was climaxed by a Saturday night meeting at the Morellos College of Medicine, at which 75 students and faculty attended to hear me speak on space medicine (on which I was NOT an expert).
The next week was almost as busy, and included talks to fraternal and professional groups in nearby towns, as well as several more evenings at Templo Evangelico. Mary Charlotte told Pastor Reyes that his people were getting tired of seeing Apollo-15 over and over, but he assured her that they weren’t. Mother and Marion came down to visit us, and we drove to Mexico City on Tuesday to pick them up at the airport. At the week’s end we returned to Mexico City where we were invited to lunch by a fascinating wealthy lady, who also took us for a ride in the Floating Gardens. We took Julian Bridges’ family to dinner Saturday evening. In the two weeks in Cuernavaca we had 17 meetings, attended by 4,100 people, and I was exposed to tens of thousands of Mexicans by TV and newspaper. Not a single one of these events was specifically arranged by me. Many of them simply appeared, without advance notice.
During the early part of the following week, we showed Mother and Marion the sights of Mexico City, including the very modern anthropology museum, and the "Light and Sound” show at the Pyramids, leaving them at the airport for their return flight on Wednesday.
We left Thursday morning for the
750-mile drive to Guatemala City, which took three days. At one
point, where a new bridge was being constructed, we had to detour
over a Bailey bridge, and I didn’t think the trailer would make
it. But we managed to get across. I hoped the new bridge would be
open on our return, which it was. The invitation to Guatemala City
had come from Mr. Zapata (the husband of Mary Espinoza’s
sister), who operated a Christian school complex from kindergarten
through high school, with a junior college in preparation. He
arranged for us to park our trailer in a vacant lot next door to one
of his principals, from whom we got water and power. The nearest
trailer park was over the mountain and 50 miles away. Our first
Sunday included a Latin wedding from noon to 2pm. — two long
sermons in Spanish with many prayers. The week brought opportunities
for me not only at Mr. Zapata’s schools, but at several
universities and high schools, including the American school. Campus
Crusade was quite active there, and their Mr. Luna did an excellent
job of interpreting for me. The second week brought more of the same,
with Sunday morning and evening talks at churches. In all, we had 31
meetings, with 3,560 in attendance.
On Thursday we drove through the mountains to Chichicastanango, famous for authentic Indian culture and markets. There we took a tour of the cathedral, and saw a witch doctor plying his trade at one end of the sanctuary while priests were officiating at the other end! That Sunday afternoon we were invited by her son Raoul Ruiz to the home of the wealthy lady who owned the land where our trailer was parked. Arriving at the door, we were ushered into the huge parlor where an older man joined us and introduced himself as Raoul Ruiz. That was the name of the young man who had invited us, and I asked the older Raoul what was his relation to the Raoul I knew. To my amazement, He said Raoul was his brother — in fact he had three brothers with the name Raoul, each with a different mother! The father had four wives simultaneously and had named his first-born son of each after himself. Such is Guatemalan society.
Returning to Mexico early the next week was rather
uneventful, but trouble began almost immediately. We had been
assigned by Pastor Reyes and other Christian leaders to visit several
churches and missionary groups in Oaxala State, but had great
difficulty in making contact. Almost no one we accosted spoke
English, and our directions didn’t seem right. At one point, I
left Mary Charlotte in the car to go on foot, as it was difficult to
maneuver the big trailer in the narrow streets. Almost as soon as I
left, a gang of boys started teasing Su-Su, who barked as loudly as
she could at them. They wouldn’t go away and kept Su-Su barking
the whole half hour or so I was gone, making life pretty miserable
for Mary Charlotte. I eventually found my man, and we started our
ministry, first going over an interminable gravel road to a coastal
town. The rough road apparently upset my car battery, because it
refused to start the car when we were ready to return, and I had to
leave it there and come back in the missionary’s car,
purchasing a Mexican battery that didn’t fit and returning to
get my car the next day. That jerry-rigged solution gave frequent
trouble until we returned to Mexico City and were able to buy a
battery that fitted. Since most meetings were at night outdoors,
where we projected the Apollo-15 film onto a sheet, we had the days
to ourselves, and spent them exploring, shopping and resting. It was
very hot, and the air-conditioning in the trailer was a blessing. I
had my first bout with diarrhea there. In all, we had 11 meetings in
the 10 days in the southern rural area, with an estimated 2,000
Oaxala City, the State capital, was a beautiful city, with huge shade trees, many of them in bloom, lining the streets. We had well-attended meetings in three tertiary schools, as well as at the nearby Wycliffe Center, where the whole community came to see the Apollo-15 film. We went on to reach Mexico City by week-end, and spent the following week giving presentations at the huge National University (110,000 students). Julian Bridges had been operating a student center just outside the university compound, but had been unable to draw more than a handful of students to its meetings. My earlier meetings there in February were far more popular, as everyone seemed interested in the moon landings. Julian had been able to persuade the university authorities to allow me inside the “gates”, and meetings were set up in the medical, engineering, and science faculties. The engineering students were so interested, they had me make three presentations. We also had evening meetings in the student center, which were packed. In all we had a gross attendance of nearly 1,500. We had meetings on Sundays at several churches, including a farewell one at Pastor Reyes’ church.
That Sunday afternoon we headed for Texas and Hyattsville, reaching Mother’s home Saturday, May 20th. We had traveled nearly 11,000 miles, visited five countries, had 125 meetings, and spoken to 17,000 people in just under five months. Every one of these meetings had been set up by someone else — I had done nothing but accept invitations.
In summer in the northern hemisphere most schools
are closed, so there was no demand for my services. Instead, we made
use of the time to visit friends and relatives all over the country,
as well as visit scenic spots we had never seen or had not seen
recently. In all we were in 47 of the “Lower 48” States
and 5 Provinces of Canada.
On the way to Hyattsville, we had picked up our British friends Reg and Dorothy Emery, who were visiting friends in North Carolina, and took them with us in the trailer for a short excursion to Niagara Falls, Montreal World’s Fair (which we couldn’t see because of the municipal workers’ strike) and Cape Cod, where we attended Peter Marshall’s church. Reg wanted to return to England on British Airways that evening, so we drove like mad down the New England Turnpike to the Kennedy Airport, not even stopping for gas. As it usually happens when you make it, the plane was late, so they had no problem getting standby seats. I was so nearly out of gas that I bought two gallons at the horrendous price charged on the airport.
We spent nearly two weeks in Hyattsville, visiting friends from the Eastminster Church, before heading West into Kentucky to visit Mary Francis and Bill, who now lived in Lexington. Then on to Blair NB to visit Will and family, who were expecting another child in July. Once again we visited Greeley (CO), where our friends (the Wilsons from Eastminster) lived before going on to California, visiting friends in Arizona on the way. It took nearly two weeks to make the rounds of our friends and relatives in Southern California, including Charles and Carol Balch and their children in San Diego and a surprise visit with Mary Francis and Bill, who were in Santa Monica at his insurance company’s home office. While in Los Angeles I explored the possibilities of working with World Vision, but nothing came of it. I also bought some Moody science films in Spanish to use in Mexico. Mary Charlotte wanted to attend a Praise Conference featuring Merlin Caruthers (author of “Prison to Praise” and many other praise books), which was scheduled the following week in Vancouver (BC). On the way we visited with John Bratt (our pastor companion on our two world-wide trips) and his family in Seattle, as well as Ken Romjue (Government Printing Office and National Guard associate) in nearby Puyallup.
Returning from the conference for
a repeat visit with the Bratts on the 22nd of July, we called Blair
and learned of the birth of our granddaughter Emily Margaret Mitchell
on the 17th. So we “hurried” to Blair, pausing only for a
leisurely visit with Eastminster friends now in Port Angeles, who
showed us some of the beauties of the coastal range, Bill Spear’s
parents, and children of Bea and Bob Watson of North Hollywood, who
lived in Spokane. We did arrive in Blair before Emily had reached the
age of two weeks, and remained a week to attend her baptism on August
6th, returning to Hyattsville via Lexington (KY) for another visit
with Mary Francis and Bill. In Hyattsville we had the unexpected
pleasure of participating in the birthday celebrations of Mary Jo’s
and son Steve’s birthdays. Our final jaunt of the summer was a
return to Eastern Canada for a good look at New Brunswick and Nova
Scotia. On our return to Hyattsville we visited many of our friends
of by-gone days, as well as Margaret and Bob in their new home on a
hilltop in Newton NJ.
Once again we hitched our trailer to our “star” and headed for Mexico, via Nashville and another brief visit with Will and family. Will had registered for the PhD in mathematics at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago six years earlier, and had completed his residence requirements while teaching in that city. After three years at a small college in Blair, he found himself on the short end of a staff reduction, and thought it time to complete his doctorate. After two successive turn-downs by his faculty committee for orals, he decided that he would attend Peabody Institute in Nashville and change his major to the teaching of mathematics. The turn-down in the space program and in the Vietnam War had so reduced the demand for mathematicians, that the universities were actually discouraging new PhD’s in that field. He had applied to nearly 200 small colleges for a teaching position, with no offers, and this strengthened his choice of Peabody, which had a reputation for placing 100% of its graduates. Even Peabody couldn’t help Will to get a teaching position in mathematics when he had received his PhD there, and he switched to the field of computer science (his alternate field), which has never had a dearth of openings.
Monterrey and Guadalajara. We reached Monterrey the following week, where Dave Wyman had
lined up a number of speaking engagements for me, again largely with
young people. After a week there we went on to Guadalajara, for a
three-week stay of talks and presentations to the many universities,
schools and churches where the Southern Baptist missionaries had
work. I remember one school, where I was to speak informally with a
young people’s group, at which a local Christian doctor had
insisted on being allowed to interpret for me, instead of Jim Crane
who usually did that job. It wasn’t long before the young
people, who knew a good deal of English and particularly the latest
“hot” terms, were leaving the good doctor so far behind
them he soon gave up, and we had a grand time indulging in “jive
Another incident illustrates the frustrations of living in a foreign culture. One of the Baptist missionaries had his home broken into by a gang of youths while the family were at church on a Sunday morning. It so happened that an off-duty policeman saw them do it, and had the lot of them hauled to the police station, loot and all. The next day the missionary was informed that his stolen articles were there waiting for him upon the payment of the usual 10% “fee”, amounting to US$100. The poor guy had no such amount available, so I made it my contribution to the mission’s work.
Torreon and Chihuahua. Leaving Guadalajara, we headed for Torreon for
another visit there with Pat Carter and the Baptist Seminary and
Church. The local TV station was interested in airing a space film
and interview, and this was done a few days later. This visit
emphasized high schools, universities and technological schools,
rather than the seminary and church, reaching a wide audience of
From Torreon we went north to Chihuahua, capital of the state of the same name, where Pastor Gomez had lined up some amazing opportunities for me. One of these was a 25-minute interview on the local TV station (viewing audience 10,000), mostly about my relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and the other was an interview by the press chief of the local newspaper, who gave me a front-page spread including a picture. As a “penalty” for all this witness, I nearly put my left eye out with a chair leg, and could not see out of it until the next day. It gave trouble for several days. After a very productive week in Chihuahua, we headed for El Paso and Will’s home in Nashville. In all, the Lord provided me with 70 speaking opportunities, attended by an estimated 7,200 people, plus 3 TV and one each newspaper and radio interviews. Although I gave my testimony at most of the meetings, invitations were given at only a few, but these few always had some response.
After a week with Will and family, during which we had visits with Mary
Charlotte’s Tennessee relatives and with Morgan and Evelyn
Huff, we took off for Florida, Aruba and the Dominican Republic,
having a visit with Mary Charlotte’s cousin Fleming Montgomery
(see left) in Gainesville on the way.
Our week in Aruba was as guests of Bud and Nan Childs, TEAM radio engineers at their station Radio Victoria. Our time here was spent largely in reaching the cultural and educational community, with churches as the main focus on Sunday. Mr. Reyes had previously asked me to write down my speaking material, so that he could have tracts prepared in Spanish to use as giveaways to students at the schools where I spoke. The station personnel asked me for some of this material for use in future broadcasts, which they translated into Papiamento, the local patois.
The ten days in the Dominican Republic were very busy ones indeed, as my time was shared by the Southern Baptists (Lloyd Mann), the West Indies Mission (Ed Brainerd), and The Unevangelized Fields Mission (Larry Dawson). Lloyd Mann concentrated on university students, and we had one meeting that was quite remarkable. The Marxists among the students had shut down the university with their strikes, and it was not even certain we would be able to hold a meeting. The meeting did take place, however, and was well attended. The Marxists tried to disrupt it several times, but the other students restrained them, and I was able to make my full presentation, including testimony.
Leaving Santo Domingo, we went to several interior cities for meetings in schools and churches. In one of these, our Baptist missionary hosts informed us that the previous missionary couple in that house had been murdered in their beds by fanatical Catholics, who of course were never identified. A second excursion took us to Azua, on the coast, where the Brainerds had a work. Their home was in the higher part of town, and they had no running water. Nearly a year earlier one of the town’s water pumps had broken down and was still not repaired. The remaining pump could only serve the lower part of town. They had three barrels at the curb which were filled by the fire department twice a week, and their water had to be carried by hand into the house, and of course all drinking and cooking water had to be boiled. Returning to Santo Domingo, we spent the last two days with Larry Dawson, speaking in churches of his little denomination. In this brief joumey of only 18 days, we had 32 meetings for 4,600 people.
Picking up our trailer and dog in Miami, we returned to Nashville for a prolonged stay with Will and family. On the way we had an unexpected visit with Mary Jo and family in their Fort Lauderdale time-shared condo, with Fleming in Gainesville, and with friends from our pre-War El Paso days in Birmingham — Art and Eleanor Haynes. Art had for a while been the defense attorney for the convicted assassin of Martin Luther King, James Earl Ray, who Art claimed was framed by the police. By this time Mary Charlotte had had enough of trailer life, and wanted to sell the trailer after our next visit to Mexico. I spent much of my time in Nashville, improving the appearance of the trailer, including new tiling on the floor. Leaving the trailer in Nashville, we made post-Christmas visits to Morgan and Evelyn, Mary Jo and Clyde, Margery Henney and family, my ex-bosses at Goddard, as well as other relatives and friends, including of course Mother and Marion.
Passing through Richmond on our
way to Nashville in early January, I stopped by the headquarters of
the Southern Baptist’s Foreign Mission Board, where Julian
Bridges now shared an office with Dr. Grubb, the Board’s
coordinator of laymen in the world-wide mission fields of the SBC.
Julian had been beating Dr. Grubb’s ear about the good response
students had to my space-film ministry, and recommending that the SBC
use me in other places. This interview paved the way for 2-1/2 years
of such activity for me. When we reached Nashville we found a freeze
had locked the trailer wheels into Will’s front yard, and we
literally had to dig them out, messing up the yard terribly.
We took off for Mexico in bad weather, and had a sleet storm from Louisiana all the way to the Mexican border at McAllen (TX), where we arrived at 1:20am.
We reached Cuernavaca Monday, January 16, and Mr.
Reyes put me right to work, with three night meetings in his church.
The rest of the week was devoted to reaching school children in late
afternoon meetings, both in Cuernavaca and outlying towns. The
following week was even more rugged with three nights in a row
traveling over two hundred miles to speak in churches and a school in
Puebla, Mexico’s fourth largest city. The remaining nights we
had meetings in Pastor Reyes’ church. Again the third week this
pattern was repeated, until we had covered all places Mr. Reyes could
get acceptance. In all there were 20 meetings, with over 7,000
attending. Where possible invitations were given and more than 100
Living in a trailer in Mexico had its problems. Our retirement income was only 32% of our working income, and our expenses were about the same. The trailer upkeep, in particular, was a sizable part of our budget, as the narrow and rough roads were very hard on tires. Food, at least the kind we wanted to eat, was considerably higher than at home, and even trailer park fees were not less than those in the US. Mary Charlotte would go with me to the night meetings at Templo Evangelico (Pastor Reyes’ church), but not to the meetings in other towns. Su-Su gave her a measure of security, because the Mexicans are afraid of barking dogs, particularly German Shepherds. I spent many daytime hours rewriting my speaking material, including an extensive testimony, for now Mr. Reyes wanted to make a book out of it. The result was “El Testimonio de un Cientifico Espacial”, after translation by a retired North American missionary living in Mexico City. Mr. Reyes had 10,000 copies printed in a Christian print shop in Cuernavaca later that year. It has gone all over the Spanish-speaking world, including an unauthorized reprint by the Southern Baptist Spanish Publishing House in El Paso, an action that really riled Mr. Reyes. They had requested permission to publish extracts in their Sunday School material, which we granted. But then they decided to publish the whole book (which I have never seen), and sold it in their bookstores all over Latin America. When Mr. Reyes tried to sell his book, he found their book cheaper (because subsidized) and better printed, seriously curtailing his market.
We now had a week break, and decided to go to Acapulco. We located a trailer park north of the city, and spent a leisurely eight days there, swimming in the ocean every day, and sightseeing every other day. I tried to contact a church that Mr. Reyes had told me about, but was unable to find it. The surf was quite rough, on occasion, and I nearly drowned when I went out a little too far. A huge wave came thundering toward shore, and soon swept over me, lifting me up and banging my head against the sand. It dazed me and bloodied my nose. Mary Charlotte was too far away to help, and for a minute I thought I was a goner as another wave bore down on me. I managed to scramble up the beach at the last minute, and exercised extreme caution when going in the water after that. We returned to Cuernavaca the following Monday.
The big event of that week was the “coming
out” party for Miriam, Mr. Reyes elder daughter. This is called
‘Quinze Anos” in Spanish, because it is held on the 15th
birthday of a young lady to signal to the world that she is now
eligible to receive suitors. The ceremony differs from a full-fledged
wedding in only one respect — there is no groom. Mr. Reyes had
a huge feast afterward on the roof of the church building, with
150-200 guests. After a few more meetings that week, I had to return
to Acapulco for a Sunday night meeting in a Baptist church there —
a 500-mile round trip returning at 3 am.
Leaving the trailer in the trailer park, Mr. Reyes and we took the truck to the Gulf Coast to attend a convention of his Pentecostal denomination in a town called La Victoria, in Vera Cruz State. The delegates camped on the church grounds, but Mary Charlotte and I were guests of one of the more affluent local church people. Unfortunately for us, the amount of water used by the low-lying church group left none for us — no water at all for two days! Mary Charlotte had to brush her teeth with orange soda! Mr. Reyes had me give my usual presentations to the assembled delegates, but I am sure they got very little out of it. It was a very interesting experience, and our acceptance by these simple people was truly heart-warming. We returned to Cuernavaca that Friday.
The week of February 25th was devoted to meetings in some of the daughter churches of Templo Evangelico in the outlying towns, winding up in Mexico City at week end. We left there on Monday for our third visit to Guadalajara, again concentrating on small student groups of the Southern Baptist ministry. Almost as soon as we arrived, we were asked to go to Europe in May for a 9-week tour of Baptist work in six countries. This tour had been planned for Astronaut Jim Irwin, who was a Baptist, but Jim had come down with a heart attack (an astronaut!) and had to bow out. Jim Crane, my host in Guadalajara (a personal friend of the European coordinator of the Southern Baptists), had recommended me to take his place, and they accepted. We went to the US consulate in Guadalajara and applied for passports, as ours had expired.
Returning to Cuernavaca at the end of the week, we stepped into a hornet’s nest of trouble! The first problem occurred as we were entering the city, when we had to stop for 15-20 minutes while a truck driver positioned his vehicle in a narrow driveway. An impatient Mexican driver (most of them are!) tried to pass my trailer and truck, but oncoming traffic made him pull in at an angle between the trailer and the rear of the truck. Not knowing he was there I started up and thought I heard some noises in the rear, but went on. After we had gone a few blocks this car came careening around me blowing his horn furiously. He showed me the dented fender on his brand new car, and demanded that I give him money. I told him in mixed English and Spanish to go to a nearby grocery store parking lot, and then I left him to get Mr. Reyes. When Mr. Reyes arrived he soon put the bee on the young man as his own fault, and he reluctantly drove away. I dropped Mr. Reyes off at his home, and headed for the trailer park on the other side of the city. Following a bus along a section of road being rebuilt, I finally got a chance to pass. As I got close to the rear of the bus ready to turn out for passing, the bus driver suddenly slammed on his brakes with no warning to let off a passenger. I hit my brakes (the trailer brakes had long since completely failed), and the truck veered to the right heading for a deep ditch, ten feet wide and six feet across. The truck front wheels hit the far side of the ditch and bounced high in the air, but the weight of the trailer kept the rear wheels closer to the ground. We stopped with the trailer spanning the ditch, wheels hanging in mid-air, and the left front wheel of the truck bent back a foot or more against the side of the truck. Once again I headed for Mr. Reyes’ home, and soon had him back in his car. He quickly assessed the situation, went across the highway and came back with two 2x6’s which the two of us managed to get under the trailer’s wheels. I then was able to get the truck to pull the trailer clear of the ditch, but we could go no further. As it was too late get a mechanic, Mr. Reyes said we could have dinner with him, but we would need to sleep in the trailer to keep off vandals. Before we could get away the police appeared. It is actually against the law to have an accident in Mexico, and the police make a good racket out of getting ‘help’ from tow trucks who charge three prices for towing you into a garage, the policeman getting a good “commission”. Mr. Reyes told these police that I had come to speak to the Governor’s staff, and didn’t they think they should treat me accordingly? This did the trick and they left. I chided Mr. Reyes about twisting the truth — it was last year that I had spoken to the Governor’s staff, but he shrugged his shoulders. The following morning Mr. Reyes had a mechanic out and he got the front axle put right again, replacing a sheared pin. The whole bill was $8! How we thanked the Lord for His providence and Mr. Reyes for his command of every situation.
We left the next day for Puebla, where I was to participate in an 8-day evangelistic campaign at the big Pentecostal church there, Iglesia Efeso. Each evening there was a 4-hour-long series of messages, talks, singing and testimony, repeating the sequence three or four times. I spoke only once, but had to sit on the platform with Mr. Reyes the whole time. I had for interpreter a young man named Jose Palacios, who had spent 12 years in the US, graduated from the University of Texas, and now taught at a Methodist boys’ school. I chose as my topic the six days of creation, and how modern science thinks the universe, the solar system, the earth, and life on earth came about. I’m sure very few people understood what it was all about, but they did give me good attention, and I had a chance to give my testimony and describe how God had been using me in Mexico. The pastor gave me more than $100 in honorariums, which I neglected to share with Jose, finding out only later that he had been given only $10. During the days we had numerous meetings in schools, including Jose’s.
The following week we decided to leave the trailer
in Puebla to be repaired and painted while we went to the southern
part of the Gulf Coast to minister in some of the Pentecostal
churches there. It took me nearly a half-hour to get the trailer into
a narrow driveway into the painter’s work space, blocking
traffic all that time. Mr. Reyes had brought his car and had his
nephew drive it. He was driving my truck when we came to a toll
booth. Mr. Reyes paid the toll collector for both the truck and his
car, which he thought was immediately behind. However, a Volkswagen
had gotten between them and got by free, the nephew having to pay.
When Mr. Reyes found this out he started to chase the Volkswagen,
hitting speeds of 80-90 mph. He caught him and got his toll money out
of him — Mr. Reyes is a big man, and not one to face when
angry! The only problem for me was that the truck brakes had begun to
fail, and I could find no one to fix them.
The meetings in Cuatzacualcos and Minatitlan were at small churches, where the pastors had almost nothing to live on. One of them wanted to give me a handsome honorarium, but I refused to take it, as I could see that he could not afford it. This man refused to say a word all during our communal dinner, until I broke down and accepted the money, when he became alive again. I didn’t learn until much later that the proper thing for me to have done was to say “Demasiado” (too much), and suggest half the amount. We got back to Pueblo at the end of the week and picked up the greatly improved trailer, reaching Mexico City Saturday, March 31. That Sunday I invited the Espinozas to dinner, but when I came to pay the bill found that I had forgotten to put my wallet into my changed pants. Hector paid with much amusement at my discomfiture, and I later contributed $100 to his seminary to make up for it.
That night we went to Cuernavaca for a farewell meeting at Templo Evangelico. Mr. Reyes had all the people line up to kiss us goodbye, a very Biblical practice. Much to my surprise, Mr. Reyes asked to buy my projector, power plant, and Spanish Apollo and Moody films. I sold them to him at half price.
The return trip to Nashville was anything but a lark! We hadn’t
gotten a day’s journey out of Mexico City when the fan belt
broke. I managed to limp into an oasis on the toll road, where I had
a ‘new” fan belt installed. That lasted two miles!
Another painful 5-mile limp in first gear with many stops to cool the
engine got us to a town, where I was finally able to find a garage
with a decent belt. The next thing that happened was a complete loss
of oil pressure. Checking under the truck I found that the oil filter
had dropped off. This had been installed against my wishes in a
Puebla filling station where I had stopped to have my transmission
checked. While looking for the English-speaking manager, a grease
monkey had put the truck on the rack, drained the oil and installed
the new oil filter. Now that had been lost, and we were really
grounded, “thousands” of miles from nowhere. The Lord had
not abandoned us. As I was backtracking on foot to try to find the
oil filter, one of the rare “green trucks” operated by
the Mexican Auto Club came along. Although he didn’t have an
oil filter, the driver stuffed the hole with cotton waste, sold me 6
quarts of oil (all he had), and I was able to limp into the next
town, about 50 miles farther. To top the situation, the truck brakes
were now completely gone, and I had to slow down by down-shifting the
gears or using the hand brake. Nevertheless, with the Lord’s
care, we managed to drive all the way to Nashville — 2,000
miles — with no brakes!
Several times Mary Charlotte had complained of pains in her chest and legs, so Will and I took her to the clinic at the Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville. The intern diagnosed the problem as blot clots and put her in a bed immediately, giving her intravenous blood thinner. She was there a full week, and even then the doctor wanted her to stay in Nashville for another week, so I immediately left for Hyattsville with Su-Su and the trailer. Mary Charlotte came there by plane over a week later. She had decided that she would not go with me to Europe, and would stay with Mother while I was in Europe. She seemed quite put out that I didn’t cancel the trip. It caused a coolness between us that didn’t improve for several years. She went on no more of my space-film evangelism trips. Several weeks after I left she had a bad case of what her nurse friend said was intestinal flu. Mother had her put in the local hospital, where they tested her for everything she didn’t have for five days. By this time the stomach ailment was cleared up — they never did find out what it was. But they did test her blood, and gave it a clean bill of health. She is sure God healed her. I have never been persuaded she had blood clots in the first place. Nevertheless I was thankful to learn by mail that she was okay.
This most extensive of all our space film evangelism trips had taken us to half of the Mexican states, introduced us to hundreds of wonderful Christian people, and provided opportunities to speak to 64 groups totaling over 17,000 people, with 364 known responses to the invitation when given. It was a magnificent three months! Only the Lord could have arranged it. And only the Lord would know what words were needed to convince hearers of their need for Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. I had promised Him that I would seek His words to be my words on every speaking occasion, and particularly when I gave my testimony. Recognizing that this was going to happen hundreds of times, I was fearful of dropping into a trite recitation of my encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ in 1956, and sought the Holy Spirit’s power to make this real and effective whenever I gave my testimony. I have never ceased to be amazed at how faithfully He has done that!
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