Chapter 18 - Boqueron

Chapter 18 - Boqueron
“Come over. . . and help us” Acts 16:9


Boqueron, about twelve miles southeast of Valencia is part of a vast area given over to sugar cane cultivation. There were at one time nineteen plantations but General J. V. Gomez, the dictator, appropriated them all and built a modern sugar refinery. He also built a military barracks in Boqueron and the conscripts who were taken there had to work in the plantations. They were given soldier’s pay, but the officers ran a picture show which the soldiers had to patronize, and this meant revenue for the officers. Prostitutes thrived and immorality abounded. Any conscript who attempted to escape was hunted down and scourged until he was half dead.

In the year 1945, I received a letter from Boqueron signed by the leading merchant and a backslider named Juan Ascanio, whom I had known since his conversion. The letter urged us to take the Gospel there in view of the depraved moral state of the people. The merchant had appealed to the priest in the nearest town but without success. I invited Don Benito Estrano of Valencia to accompany me, and not having a car, we went in a taxi which carried five passengers. We worked the whole place with Gospel literature, and then went to see Juan Ascanio. He was lying in his porch in an advanced stage of T. B. and had been spitting blood all around him. His wife was there with a number of little children. We had prayer with him and I urged him to get right with God as otherwise he would only be a hindrance to the Gospel.

The people had a debased form of religion, a kind of animism. They carried around the skull of what was supposed to be a decapitated soldier. It would be placed on a table and the people would dance around it, get drunk and engage in their all night orgies. We made a second trip there to see if we could get a place to preach in. An elderly man offered us his front garden with space around for people to stand. Our Valencia brethren hired a car and we had a meeting, but the people were all hidden in the dark and we could not tell how they were taking the message. The only policeman in the place came along drunk and wanted to arrest us, but his companions coaxed him away.

Some days later a large ranch, previously used as a slaughter house, was available to preach in. When we saw the place, we visualized several hundred people sitting inside listening for the first time to the Gospel! Brother Agreda, who had once been trained for the “priesthood”, and I went there and spent the day cleaning the place up which was in a filthy state with cockroaches everywhere. That evening no one offered us food except the elderly man, who got us a plate of black beans. There was nowhere to sleep except in the ranch, and we passed a bad night, as I imagined I was being bitten by quipitos, of the bug family, which is a notorious blood sucker and gives fever. After all our trouble, a policeman occupying a room at one end said that the Gospel would not be preached there as long as he was there. He was an enemy.

Then a small room in the old barracks was offered to us to stay in, and we also secured another for Senor Joe Naranjo and his wife. I then wrote to Mr. Williams to see if he would lend us his thirty year old tent, and received a favorable reply. We came right away to the Port and it was prayer meeting night. At the close I announced our object and three brethren who had worked on sailing boats, and could mend sails and ropes, volunteered to help me fix up the tent. Upon opening up the canvas roof, it was riddled with termites and the thread of the seams had been nibbled by mice, so that it was no longer rain proof. However, willing hands soon made a fairly good repair job, so we packed the roof into its case, and next day left for Boqueron. The same friendly old man offered his back yard for the tent, although it was planted with orange bushes. The canvas had to be handled with much care as it was rotten, but it stood up to five or more weeks of the dry season, and we thanked God for helping us. We paid a man to scrub the floors and whitewash the walls of the two small rooms where we were to stay. The windows had no glass so we put paper up. The whole of the barracks was divided into small rooms with partitions about six feet high. In one of them we had our camp beds and kitchen. In the other, which was a storeroom, J. Naranjo and his wife slept.

Sample Image
Old military barracks, BoquerOn where the Sawords and Naranjos occupied 2 small rooms amongst the poor


Soon the enemies of the Gospel were making war with us. The priest, who hitherto had been so indifferent, now organized a procession for seven weeks with all the school children dressed in white and brought in school buses. The priest had them march around the barracks chanting to “Mama Dios” (Mama God). They all had lighted candles and the girls wore white veils. One boy’s candle got too near a girl’s veil and it went on fire, producing panic and a stampede. They counted upon the intervention of the Virgin to drive us out of there but it turned out to the contrary: they had to retire in confusion. Other enemies were also silenced.

It was hard to get the people into the tent at the beginning, but we went to the nearest country sawmill and bought lumber to make benches and a table, in anticipation of increased numbers, and we were not disappointed. One night a woman named Maxima came with her stepmother. She had the temper of a tiger and even the men feared her. The first night there were tears of repentance and the second night she stayed behind and confessed Christ as her Saviour. Her faith was severely tried, but she remained true to the Lord to the day of her death. She had a brother called Altagracio, who was a staunch Roman Catholic and refused to come to the tent, but two molar teeth began to ache and he was told that I could extract them. So he came and found the desired relief. He seemed interested in what we told him and continued to attend until the Lord saved him. His wife also came to know Christ as her Saviour.

An elderly man, Don Pablo, and his woman, Senora Antonia, were persuaded to come to the tent. From the very first night he was convinced that the Gospel was what he needed, and ere the meetings closed, both of them were saved. Then there was the question of getting their lives fixed up, so brother Naranjo went to the nearest town and made arrangements for them to appear at a certain date. The shoes Don Pablo bought for Antonia were too small so she carried them and walked barefoot to the civil authorities’ office, put them on for the marriage act, and then walked back barefoot. We had a meeting in their home to celebrate the occasion. It was attended by most of the neighbors, and we were able to show what a wonderful change the Gospel makes in the home. This couple had both been hard smokers and the Lord delivered them from that vice, and they went on firm and faithful to the end.

In that old barracks the noises and voices re-echoed from one end to the other. One night we could not sleep for the groans of a young woman. We called out, “What is wrong?” and were told that she was suffering from toothache. She was then told to come in and soon the tooth was extracted and quietness restored in the barracks. On another occasion, we could hear a baby “yelling its head off” at the farther end of the barracks. Our wives went around with a flashlight and discovered that the young mother had been working all day in the sugar plantation and had no food for her baby. She was so dead tired that she slept on with the baby crying. A bottle of milk and hot water was soon prepared, which got the baby to sleep.

Each Lord’s Day morning we went into Valencia to “Remember the Lord”, and we had to hasten back to the bus station to get places on the dilapidated old vehicle. Many times there was only standing room. The bus had no glass in the windows, much less conditioned air, and the last stage of the trip was through clouds of dust. To preach to the poor we had to live amongst them.

When the dry season ended we had to make arrangements for the continuance of the work, so ordered posts, poles, canes and palms to build a native Hall. Our old friend wanted us to build in his back yard where our tent had been, but the wife and grown up sons objected, so our brother Ascanio, who was now restored in health, went and saw the administrator of the plantation. The gentleman was friendly and came out on his horse. There was an ideal site for a hall which had been reserved for a plaza but never developed. This was granted to us. When the materials had arrived, I went out from Valencia and after a light lunch, was about to read my midday portion when I discovered that my glasses had disappeared. I searched around in the vicinity without success. Then a boy went with me on foot through the cane plantation, over the pathway that I had come, and then we turned around and came back. After this I stood still and asked the boy: “Do you believe in God?”

“Yes” he said.

“Do you believe in prayer?”

“Yes.”

“Do you think God will restore me my glasses?”

“No” - said the boy decisively - “those glasses are lost.”

“Well,” - I said - “God will see to it that I get them again.”

I then decided to go to Valencia, thinking possibly that I had left them there, but it was not so. On the way back I told the taxi driver of my loss, as he was a friendly man, and he offered to help me. Two days later we heard a taxi horn sounding loudly and then the taxi driver appeared where we were working, all excited and holding up my glasses, saying: “Here they are, Papa.” It transpired that when he sent his car down to the river to be washed, he told the man to be sure and take out the seats and look underneath. My glasses had slipped out of my hip pocket and worked their way under the seat. After that I had a nice talk with the incredulous boy about faith in God.

The fact that we were building a Gospel hall started up the faithful Roman Catholic’s in the district, and with the help of the bishop and priests, a site was cleared for a Roman Catholic temple. A great crowd gathered for the laying of the foundation stone, including government officials. After that, all their enthusiasm subsided like the effervescence of the Pepsi-cola, and that is as far as the project went.
 
 
 The Boqueron assembly has suffered in numbers by some being called “home”, by others leaving for Caracas and other parts to gain a livlihood, and sad to say, some have turned back.  But they have a nice hall now, a good Sunday School work and the light of testimony still shines amidst the gloom.  Mr. Fairfield, who lives in Valencia, and our son-in-law Donald Alves, try to visit them occasionally, and we still hope to see reviving in the work. Brother Fairfield made them some nice windows, doors and seats for their new Hall, and my wife painted a large Gospel text at the entrance.