Pioneer Work in Argentina (3)

This is the third and final article dealing with pioneer work in Argentina by William Payne.

Over the years, William Payne felt a special attraction to those distant northern provinces of Salta and Jujuy, located around the Tropic of Capricorn. His first planned visit to the attractive city of Salta was in 1900, when he tried to obtain a room for meetings. The people there, characterized by religious fanaticism and a somewhat violent nature, were very hostile and refused to rent him a room. He hired a horse drawn cart and preached from the back of the cart while it was slowly driven through the streets. Soon, a crowd gathered, and quite a number of them, armed with rotten eggs and vegetables, tried to silence this invincible foreigner, but without success, even though their aim was good. At last, a dead chicken thrown with deadly accuracy, caused his face to bleed so profusely that he was obliged to stop. From that day, however, his heart was set on returning to that stronghold of Satan’s religious fanatics. In 1906, he settled there briefly with his family. Today, there are several assemblies in the large city of Salta (population 300,000).

After the death of his first wife, Elizabeth, Mr. Payne settled in Jujuy with his second wife, Marie, and later with his third wife, Constance. He continued to visit extensively throughout the north despite the climate which intensified his problems with malaria. T’he Payne’s continued their itinerant labors in the north, making extensive visits to isolated and inaccessible places, traveling for days on horseback or by mule on the most difficult and dangerous paths. In later years, the extension of the railroad system to a few northern cities provided a more comfortable and faster alternative in traveling.

The following is an excerpt of a detailed description, written by Mrs. Constance Payne, concerning one of their typical journeys. “We rose at 5:00 A.M. and then left on horseback at 7:00 to visit believers in solitary places. After visiting dona Luisa at 9:30, eating another breakfast with her and answering her many questions on the Scriptures, we continued on by horse, following a road and then a treacherous path. The dense fog hid the steep precipices beside the path, and reminded us of what one believer said after surviving the journey, “One time along that path is enough for me!” Finally we arrived at a clearing and the next house of believers, that of a couple recently baptized. After eating dinner with them, we visited different families nearby until night, then held a meeting in the simple dwelling of a very elderly couple, with ten people present. All of them had arrived on horseback. That night they gave us simple wooden cots, with strips of leather stretched in the middle over which we spread our traveling blankets, covering ourselves with ponchos. Then we discovered that the elderly couple (around 100 years old) and another visitor also planned to sleep in the same room! Early in the morning, upon awakening, we went down to the river to wash. This practice seemed strange to these rural dwellers.

“Day after day we continued our visiting, crossing rivers innumerable times and then climbing steep slopes as though the horses were cats. At night we stayed in “casuchas,” simple huts with tin or dry grass roofs, no solid inner walls and only wheat stalk partitions. The crude, homemade furniture consists of a small low table, two chairs, and a few cots. With a few old pots and crude kitchen utensils, they prepare the corn and squash as well as some meat (if an animal has been killed) or fish (if someone has gone to the river). Rarely do they have wheat bread, but they use cooked white corn in its place. There are cows around, but rarely are they milked unless someone has the urge to eat cheese. In their simplicity, having food and water, they appear to be content. If they need clothing, they sell one of their animals. At each place, we had barely arrived when they brought out their Bibles. Their hunger for the Word of God is so evident. Much prayer is needed for these folks. They are so isolated from other believers, and there is no mail service here. My husband says this is the most primitive place he knows of. No Roman priest ever comes to the areas we visited.”

Near the end of 1923, the Paynes began what was to be their final earthly journey. They began their travels riding in a railway wagon used by the laborers who were laying track on a new extension. Then they continued by mule for three more weeks, arriving in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, located in a tropical lowland region where Dr. George Hamilton had recently begun making inroads with the gospel. The Paynes intended to rest the mules for ten days, then push northward, with the USA as their destination. Suddenly, Mr. Payne offered, in his typical self sacrificing manner, to relieve Dr. Hamilton for three months in the new work, while he and his family traveled south to Buenos Aires in order to visit two older sons who were studying medicine. Meanwhile, a revolution erupted in Bolivia, and the Hamiltons were prevented from returning until after five months had passed. The final month, Mr. Payne’s health began to deteriorate, and just after their arrival, he took a turn for the worse. After a painful heart seizure, he passed peacefully into the Lord’s presence on June 4, 1924. He was buried in a local cemetery, a long distance from Argentina and those among whom he had labored with sacrificial love.

A number of fellow workers, along with his children, expressed very fitting tributes to Wm. Payne. His children said, “He was an excellent father, a special friend to his children, a good husband, tender and patient, a considerate, faithful, self sacrificing servant of the Lord.” Mr. James Clifford wrote, “He was humble, self sacrificing, ready to help anywhere, warm and kindhearted and noble in spirit. He left a unique testimony to imitate and follow.”

Mr. Harold St. John wrote, “To his fellow workers he has left the fragrant memory of a counselor of confidence, a persistent pacifist in days of difficulty, a true gentleman, and above all, a sincere man of God.” Mr. S. Williams, wrote, “He was a man of action … Once he confided to me, ‘When the Lord calls me, I trust He will take me running’.”

Mr. George French, who was baptized and taught assembly truths by William Payne, wrote in the prologue of his biography, “He was a dynamic man, determined and with vision. What he began he finished, because he labored in fellowship with God. The boundaries of a city were too limited for his active and diligent spirit. He could not remain unmoved by the call to go to the regions beyond, where Christ was not known.”