Joe and Elna served the Lord with NTM for fifty one years in Bolivia. Joe did evangelism throughout his time there; seven years while still single, and the same work after marrying Elna. After their children were older, Elna taught Sunday school, a ladies’ class and VBS. The majority of their time on the field was spent in the tribal church at San Lorenzo. (Both are children of NTM missionaries. They retired in 2011.)
Elna was led to faith in Christ by her father when she was ten. Joe accepted Christ at an evangelistic service at age nine.
They were totally aware of NTM from young ages as both lived with their parents on the field. Elna’s family lived in Venezuela, and Joe’s in Bolivia. Both graduated from high school in their respective fields.
Joe had entertained ideas other than missions for his future. However, after devotions one time he felt the conviction of the Lord to continue sharing the Gospel with unreached peoples. Joe sought to clarify this conviction by requesting to stay in Bolivia after graduation. The leadership committee agreed. He lived for seven years with a missionary family traveling to villages doing evangelism.
Elna, having lived from a young age among the tribal people, saw the need to reach even more people with the Gospel. The summer before graduation she lived with another missionary family and helped them with the work among the Piaroa learning their language and teaching literacy.
Back in the States, Elna took her training at Waukesha and Joe at Fredonia. They met and married and felt God leading them to the work in Bolivia.
Even though Elna and Joe were raised on the field, they agreed it was a completely different challenge to go as the only two missionaries into a new work as a married couple with a tiny baby. The cultural differences were extreme between the Yanomani she had known in Venezuela and this new tribe, the Trinitario. Also, there was no radio contact or access to an NTM plane. (Other missions helped out with their planes in emergencies.) Then there was their little one to raise in near isolation. It was a very discouraging time for Elna. Although Joe was not discouraged, he did agree the conditions were quite primitive.
A number of episodes stand out in their memories.
1. Cooking was done on a kerosene stove pre-heated with alcohol. Neither of their children had taken notice of the flame; but even under Elna’s watchful care, their fifteen month old son one day reached toward it and innocently spilled burning alcohol on his face and chest before Elna could stop him. The medical facility was a three day canoe and truck trip and the little one was hurting. In faith they trusted the Lord with their son’s healing. Today only a thumb size scar is left on his face.
2. Years later, Joe was picking fruit from trees on their property which they shared with families in need when he fell six feet to the ground. They had radio contact at this time and were able to call the plane, but their isolated location delayed its arrival until morning. Believers sat up with Elna all night and transported Joe to the plane the next morning. When he finally awoke in the hospital in Cochobomba, he had no memory of the incident.
3. A sciatic nerve problem caused Elna to take prescription medication for a lengthy period of time, and when she stopping the medication, she suffered a frightening drug withdrawal. Another time, when Elna was hospitalized in Cochabomba delivering their daughter, she experienced problems with the anesthesia and remained in a coma for eleven days. She resists dwelling on those experiences. Instead she praises the Lord for being so faithful in many different, miraculously wonderful ways; and remembering how wonderful the tribal Christians were to them.
The stories continue… Joe getting lost and alone twice – once in the jungle… the other walking flooded plains. And then there was he time their house caught fire during the dry season. The Lord brought a downpour and saved the house! And on and on the stories go… and with each one, Joe and Elna give the Lord the glory for his safe keeping!
Would they do it all again? “Yes.”