Pioneer Work in Argentina (2)

The interesting account of the labors of William Payne continues. We are indebted to our brother Moore for his labor and time in researching this information.

In 1894 William Payne, joined by one or another of the English brethren, began using a horse drawn Bible coach, selling Bibles and holding meetings in simple dwellings throughout the northern provinces of Cordoba and Santa Fe. Opposition was stirred up everywhere. Sometimes they preached under pelting rains of stones, rotten oranges and other garbage. The local priests accused them of distributing falsified Bibles, and many copies of the Scriptures were confiscated and publicly burned. If the local priest heard of their next destination, he would send word ahead that the foreigners were selling immoral books. The opposition then was much fiercer with doors slammed in their faces; they were called evil names such as “devil” and “heretic” and were spit upon. Mr. Payne also had a few narrow escapes, particularly in the far northern provinces of Salta and Jujuy, where the people were even in ore fanatical and violent.

On more than one occasion certain religious fanatics, stirred up by the local priest, tried to “have a few words with the preacher,” as Mr. Payne described it, brandishing a revolver and a 14 inch knife. Fortunately, others including the police, intervened on his behalf. At the door of a house in Jujuy province, Mr. Payne was explaining the Scriptures when the owner, raging with anger, went after him with a revolver. Two women held on to the crazed man and told Mr. Payne to run for his life. He took their advice. Despite the open opposition, the gospel prospered, and even more so when a cholera epidemic caused the death of many people, forcing the survivors to think more seriously of eternal matters. At that time the believers were strengthened in their faith. One of the missionaries however, Mr. George Spooner, became a victim of the epidemic.

In addition to the three-horse Bible coach and the accompanying open air gospel preaching, other means were employed in going forth with the gospel. William Payne and other brethren used gospel tents in different cities in the country, beginning in Buenos Aires in 1897. The details and interesting description of those gospel efforts would require a separate article. His last major campaign in the gospel was a sustained three month effort held in a tent in Buenos Aires, only a few months before his death. As well, on two occasions he accompanied brethren on the gospel launch “El Alba” on the rivers of Paraguay.

In every circumstance, including journeys and moves to new locations, the Paynes and other commended workers depended upon the Lord’s promises to supply their needs without any tangible port line. Those were years of slow transport and unreliable mail service, as well as unrest and revolution in countries such as Bolivia. But the Lord’s promises were sufficient. They commended their needs to Him in prayer, and His goodness and mercy followed them. Nevertheless, there was scarcity in the home, and Mr. Payne resorted to earning money for the immediate necessity as a street photographer, carpenter, upholsterer and writer, at the same time utilizing the opportunity to witness for Christ. With regard to his writing abilities, he and S. C. Torres were responsible for the first edition of the hymnbook, Himnos Y Canticos del Evangelio, which is still the main hynmbook used in the assemblies throughout Latin America. Also, in conjunction with Mr. Harold St John, he prepared a Greek-Spanish Concordance, and was instrumental in founding the ministry magazine, “Sendero del Creyente,” (The Believer’s Pathway) in 1910.

William Payne’s dynamic nature and wholeheartedness in the spread of the gospel meant that he

was absent from his family for extended periods, either with the Bible coach or in gospel tent meetings. However, he sought to maintain contact with his family by letter, writing at times while traveling by train, horse or mule. When at home, he entered in the family life wholeheartedly, and gave special attention to the interest of the children such as studies, games and picnics. His children, saved at an early age, would, as they grew up, present the perennial questions: Can a believer do this thing or that? His replies, depending upon the nature of the question, would be one of the following: 1) What would the Lord Jesus do in such a circumstance? Or, 2) What do the Scriptures say about the matter? Or, 3) Is it the old man or the new man that inspires you to ask such a thing?

The rigors of pioneer missionary life and the hardships involved in raising a family under primitive conditions debilitated the health of Mrs. Payne, and she passed on to her heavenly rest in September, 1916, in Cordoba. Mr. Payne, occupied in meetings in Jujuy in the far north, tried to rush home, but arrived 12 hours after her death. The void left in the Payne family and in the assembly in Cordoba was deeply felt. Mr. Payne remained a short time with the family, but soon resumed his itinerant travels in the gospel. Just over a year later in November of 1917, he married Marie L. Mohsler, who had been laboring for the Lord in Tucuman, and they settled in Jujuy However, barely 2 years later she became ill, with weakness, loss of appetite and a rasping cough. The harsh life of traveling with the gospel under inhospitable conditions had affected her lungs. Mr. Payne took her south to the better conditions of Cordoba. For a few months he tenderly and selflessly cared for her, but in vain. Deeply grieved, he laid her lifeless body to rest in May, 1921. His third and last marriage was to Constance Coomber, who had commenced working among indigenous tribes in northern Argentina and in southern Bolivia. She outlived him by 47 years, continuing to labor for several more years in northern Argentina before retiring to Canada, where she passed away in 1971.