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Tumi Chucua

These Stones

(by Joel Warkentin at the dedication our new Gestetner mimeograph. Edited and updated by Martha Garrard.)

“And the Lord said to Joshua, take twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, and command them to take twelve stones from the midst of the Jordan and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight, as a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’, then you shall tell them how the Lord led. And these stones shall be to you a memorial forever.”

The Lord has given us stones, too, as reminders of His guidance and presence with us in Bolivia.

When our first members came from Peru, they needed a center that offered a safe haven -- high enough not to be flooded, and with security for their small float plane. Someone in Riberalta suggested the possibility of “Lago Suarez,” uninhabited, and several miles from town. This proved to be one of the Lord’s stones for us.

The present Tumi Chucua site was chosen, but where were they to house 20 adults and 8 children while the jungle was being cleared and houses built? They inquired. Sr. Rene Landivar of Casa Suarez offered free housing for the entire group at Ivon, only a short distance from the new site. Each family moved into a room, or a corner and hung curtains for partitions and privacy. --Another stone, a real provision of the Lord.

A platoon of soldiers made available by Coronel Monje of the 6th Division in Riberalta was a third stone. Under the supervision of our men, they cleared the dense jungle growth making a place for the first buildings. Perry Priest, the only single fellow in the group, lived with the soldiers and thus became the first permanent resident of Tumi Chucua.

Another stone seemed to have been dropped by accident, not carried out of the river intentionally, but it soon proved to have been chosen by the Lord. The beams brought in for the main building turned out to be much longer than planned. The building ended up six feet above the ground instead of the expected three. This provided hangar space, shop space, and living space -- all urgently needed.

Flooring was needed for the building but the economy of the country was unstable and there was no flooring available. A long delay would result if they had to wait for lumber to be cut and dried. But the Lord was aware of the need. Approximately a year before, a man had ordered flooring from Bolital, a local sawmill, but had never called for it. The owner of the mill was delighted to recoup his investment, and we to have sufficient seasoned lumber.

The roof was up and brush from the clearing was piled ready to burn when the wind was right to blow the smoke and cinders away from the building. As an extra precaution, men were stationed on the leaf roof with pails of water to promptly quench any stray sparks. All went well until the flames were leaping high. A sudden shift of the wind from west to east sent the smoke and fire rushing toward the new building. What were a few men with buckets of water in the face of the unbearable heat? They called a quick prayer meeting. Out of a clear sky, in the middle of dry season, the Lord sent a shower wetting the roof and slowing the fire until all danger had passed. None questioned the Lord’s presence that day.

A long list of names of ethnic groups reported to be in Bolivia was given to the group. Investigations and decisions for placing translators were soon underway. Many stories were circulated about the Chacobo, some of whom had been assembled into a government nucleus only to disappear into the jungle after several unfortunate incidents. They were considered to be dangerous, but the Lord makes no mistakes. A friendly contact was made, and within a few months Gil and Marian Prost were living in a Chacobo community. Within six months Dave and Glo Farah were among the Itènez, and Don and Mabel Van Wynen were studying the language and making friends with their Tacana neighbors on the Beni River.

These contacts were followed in 1956 by allocations of translators to the Baure, Chipaya, Ignaciano, Movima, and Sirionó. In 1957 work was begun among the Aymara and Guaraní, in 1958 among the Itonama, in 1959 the Quechua, in 1960 the Guarayu, in 1961 the Ese Ejja, in 1965 the Araona, in 1967 the Chiquitano, in 1969 the Pacahuara, in 1970 the Cavineña, in 1974 the Western Guaraní, and finally in 1982 among the northern Bolivia Quechua. -- Each a stone with its own story of the Lord’s undertaking.

Contacts in Cochabamba and La Paz were other stones. The group had come directly from Peru to the Beni. Uncle Cam had signed the contract with the Bolivian government the year before. Cal Hibbard, Perry Priest and Uncle Cam accompanied Director Hal Key to the capital to get acquainted with government officials and heads of missions. Reception in Cochabamba was not overly enthusiastic, but the Lord had Ray Ross there. His offer was gratefully accepted and soon his garage was full of our clothes bags and barrels while his car was parked elsewhere. Finding housing for a buyer, and for those needing to be in the city for other reasons was something else. The Lord did not give us our present location immediately. He provided only what was actually needed at the time--a few rooms, a two-bedroom apartment, a house, a more adequate house to serve as printshop as well as a home, and finally a complex of guest house, apartments, offices and storage area.

The meeting of our printing needs was a very special stone. Language learning had progressed and linguistic papers, required by the government, needed to be published. No printing facility in the country could handle the phonemic statements. Special fonts were needed, but printers weren’t interested in the job even if we provided the necessary fonts. Did the Lord want us to establish our own printshop? A committee studied our printing needs, different types of equipment, and the need for trained personnel. Even the bare essentials seemed beyond our means, but the Lord had Dick James, eager to equip the entire shop for us and willing to spend two years helping us get into operation--just in time to meet the increasing need for printing primers, Bible stories, and Scripture portions. The Lord met one need at a time, reminding us Who was in charge.

Another stone was His solution to denunciations and libelous propaganda published about the Institute. After much pressure from the press, it was a relief to find that most officials still had faith in the Insitute’s integrity.

The provision of the La Paz office was another milestone which came at the appropriate time. Spiritual breakthroughs among the Chipaya, Chacobo and other groups were significant among the stones which represent the building of the Lord’s church among the ethnic groups.

When the children of Israel brought these stones out of the river, they set them up as a monument on the other side of the Jordan as a memorial to the Lord who brought them through the Jordan on dry ground.

We, too, praise the Lord for the way He has led us in Bolivia, and when our children ask what these stones mean, let us be prompt to explain how the Lord has led each step of the way on dry ground through our Jordan. --From the signing of the contract with the Bolivian government in 1954, through the arrival and departure of members and guest helpers, through sickness, death, birth, joys, sorrows, encouragements, discouragements, training of indigenous leaders, phasing out of the Branch Print Shop, turning over Tumi Chucua to the Bolivian government in 1981, the redeployment of members, the move to Cochabamba, the printing and distribution of New Testaments and other literature, and the final dissolution of the Bolivia Branch near the end of 1985.

He was faithful when we were discouraged and wavered. When our self-confidence caused us to push ahead of His leading, He patiently took us by the hand. Let us joyfully re-commit ourselves to Him for His strength, courage, and power as we continue to serve Him scattered throughout the world

Copyright © 2002 • Lorna Priest • Page last updated 6 July 2002