Pioneer Work in Argentina – The Life of William S. Payne

How thrilling to think of the vast army of men whose names are inscribed in heaven’s roll of honor, yet who have passed through this world with little fanfare! The words of the writer of Hebrews come to mind, “Of whom the world was not worthy.”

Argentina owes a great spiritual debt to the outstanding pioneer Gospel labors of a number of foreign brethren and sisters. Three men stand out in the vanguard of New Testament assembly pioneers: John Henry L. Ewen (1855-1924), William Charles K. Torre (1853-1923) and William Smith Payne (1870-1924). John Henry Ewen, the original assembly pioneer, was sickly during a major part of his life, but the enthusiasm and urgency which he manifested in his visits to the British Isles stirred up a number of exercised young men to go forth in obedience to the Lord’s command. William Charles Torre of London spent nearly half of his life in Argentina and is remembered particularly for his printing press and his orphanage work in Quilmes, a suburb of Buenos Aires. William Smith Payne, the most outstanding pioneer in Argentina and Bolivia, has been compared to David Livingstone of Africa and William Carey of India. A tireless, dynamic man of action, he spent 32 of his relatively short life of 54 years traveling incessantly with the gospel in Argentina and Bolivia. He was dedicated to planting the good seed of the gospel, followed by consistent teaching and a fine example of whole hearted obedience to the Word of God.

Humble, self sacrificing and fearless, he stood out as a “burning and shining light” (John 5:35). His numerous hair raising experiences in the Lord’s work captivate the attention of every reader of his biography Always anxious to move on to new ground, he resisted the tendency to settle down where there were established assemblies.

Born in Dublin, the second of four children, William Payne had to assume major family responsibilities early in life, first at six years of age when his father died, and particularly later when his older brother moved to New York for employment. At 12 years of age he was well respected as a disciplined and responsible railway employee. The neighbors in Dublin used to say, “Set your clocks on the hour. Here comes little William.”. At an early age he received Christ as his Savior, and at 16 was appointed superintendent of the Sunday School in an evangelical mission. On day his godly mother said to him, “Son, I have attended some simple meetings where some believers gather to read the Word of God and practice what is written. Would you like to accompany me just this once?” He did, and continued attending the meetings conducted by these simple brethren, gathered in the Lord’s Name. His eyes were opened to the truth and throughout his life he never departed from the fundamental principles that he learned among those brethren in Dublin. Furthermore, he cultivated the habit of obeying the Word of God whatever the cost. In the same assembly, Mr. Richard Scott, a faithful brother of strong convictions and friendly disposition, showed a special interest in the young men and taught them from the Scriptures. His influence was fundamental to young William’s spiritual development and growth in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

William’s formal studies at Wesley College were followed by practical studies and applied leaning in his employment with a firm which administered properties. His natural abilities and leadership qualities resulted in rapid advancement in position. At the same time, however, his conviction became more firmly established that God was calling him to a special work. At that time, two events occurred which were to influence his spiritual pathway First, John Henry Ewen visited Dublin, and his earnest entreaties regarding the wide open doors for the gospel in Argentina hit a responsive chord in young William. His heart was constrained by the love of Christ and his soul moved by the Lord’s command to “Go forth.” Second, at a Spanish language class he became acquainted with Elizabeth Milne, from Scotland, who was in Dublin preparing for some special service as the Lord would lead. They were married in September of 1890 and were commended by the brethren in Dublin to the grace of God for the work of the Lord. The young couple went forth in dependence upon God and His promises, and not upon any of the evangelical missionary societies which were quite popular at the time. Their hearts were set upon serving the Lord in Argentina and elsewhere, but first they traveled to Spain to observe the gospel methods used there and to learn the Spanish language. Only a few weeks after their arrival, William began accompanying one or another of the Bible colporteurs, even sleeping at night in a stable on a pile of hay Almost immediately, he experienced the enmity of Rome’s religious devotees, displayed in the determination of the priests to destroy all the Bibles sold and to inspire in the simple folk a fear of even touching a Bible. During their 21 month stay in Spain, their first daughter, Margaret, was born. Later in Argentina, Lillian and Arthur completed the family circle.

The Payne family arrived in the port of Buenos Aires in August, 1892. First they stayed with the Torres in Quilmes and then for three months with the Ewens in Tandil, another suburb of the capital. However, this warm, humid climate greatly effected Elizabeth Payne’s health, and the family moved northwest nearly 500 miles in the old horse drawn Bible coach to the hilly and dry area of Cordoba. It was a city with many Roman Catholic churches and seminaries, and much enmity toward the gospel. This was the first of several moves for the Payne family on behalf of the expansion of the gospel in Northern Argentina and Bolivia. The indefatigable labors of William Payne and his restless energy required frequent adaptation by his family to new surroundings. They felt deeply their isolation from other Christians and continually sensed the enmity and hatred of the enemies of the cross. Their most memorable experience occurred in 1902, when they lived for a short period in Cochabamba, Bolivia. An enraged, drunken mob, instigated to fury by the clergy, advanced down the street, throwing paving stones and shouting, “heretics, enemies of the holy religion.” Then they beset their house and made a kerosene fed bonfire in the street with the Payne’s furniture and belongings. They were prepared to slaughter the Payne family next. The story of the miraculous deliverance merits a separate article on the Lord’s work in Bolivia. Today, several hundred assemblies bear living testimony to the brave and persistent labors of the Paynes and other intrepid pioneers.