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This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the oral history interview of Laura Isabelle “Belle” Barr (CN 481, T4) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words have been omitted, except for any non-English phrases which could not be understood by the transcribers. Foreign terms which are not commonly understood appear in italics. In very few cases words were too unclear to be distinguished. If the transcriber was not completely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted after the word or phrase in question. If the speech was inaudible or indistinguishable, "[unclear]" was inserted. Grunts and verbal hesitations such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. The transcribers have not attempted to phonetically replicate English dialects but have instead entered the standard English word the speaker was expressing. Throughout the recording the interviewer acknowledged Ms. Barr’s comments with variations of “uh-huh” – because of the frequency of these, most have not been reproduced in the interview.
Readers should remember that this is a transcript of spoken English, which follows a different rhythm and rule than written English.
... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence on the part of the speaker.
.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
( ) Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
[ ] Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.
This transcript was made by Timothy Gulsvig and Paul Ericksen, and was completed in August 2008.
Collection 481, tape T4. Interview of Laura Isabelle “Belle” Barr by Paul Ericksen, January 22, 1993.
ERICKSEN: This is a continuation of an oral history interview with Laura Isabelle Barr by Paul Ericksen for the Archives at the Billy Graham Center. This interview took place on January 22nd, 1993, at 9:10 a.m. in the Media Retirement Center of Africa Inland Mission in Clermont, Florida. After we finished our last section, I thought of several things that we hadn’t talked about, and you thought of several things that we didn’t get to talk about, and got a few minutes here, so maybe we can talk about them now. You are related through your sister to the Propst family...
ERICKSEN: ...which is quite extensive in...
ERICKSEN: ...the African Mission...Inland Mission family. Can you tell me a little bit about the family.
BARR: Well, they had...Jim was a...an MK [missionary kid or child], an AIM MK.
ERICKSEN: That was...?
BARR: He grew up out there.
ERICKSEN: That was Lila’s husband?
BARR: Lila’s husband. And they had seven children. They went...they had three before they went, and they had the fourth a few weeks after they got there. It’s a wonder they ever got there. They thought if they didn’t get there, then they never would, you see. And then they had up to seven. And when the...when the children grew up, six of them went back to five countries of Africa, of their own choice. And at present, there are five out there in four countries. I guess it is. Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya.
ERICKSEN: All with Africa Inland Mission.
BARR: All with Africa Inland Mission, of their own choice. They...they all.... And the one that didn’t go back married a Canadian up in Alberta, and married the...the brother of her older sister’s husband. So they’re two sisters married to two brothers. And he’s a farmer up in the...the breadbasket of Canada up there on the prairies. Very interesting place. And it’s a wonderful center for them all when they come back. And also now, Lila and Jim are retired in Georgia and have a place there where they...they felt they wanted to do that rather than come here [AIM retirement center in Florida], so that the children would have...when they come back on furlough, would have a...sort of a center. And they have land there and everything, you see, they’ve been able to get through a friend.
ERICKSEN: Now some families...I mean, some parents are on the mission field, and the last thing their kids ever want to do is go back.
BARR: Well, Lila....
ERICKSEN: And then there are families like this...
ERICKSEN: ...where they all go back.
BARR: Lila’s...Lila was really fortunate. They just were a wonderful bunch of kids that just all followed the Lord. It was...she’s...she’s been...they’ve been very, very fortunate really.
ERICKSEN: What...what was different about their family that...do you think?
BARR: I don’t know what to say, but Lila was just a.... He was away a lot of the time. Jim...Jim was in district medical work, you see. He was the [pauses] doctor that traveled around, you know, to all the dispensaries and everything. And even in the dangerous times, he was gone a lot, and Lila was just there with her kids, even in Mau Mau time [Uprising by Kenyan rebels against the British colonial government, 1952-1960], you see. And just an answer to prayer, I guess, and Lila’s faithfulness. She was brave and just [pauses] taught them the Word of God [the Bible], and....
ERICKSEN: Now Jim...sorry.
BARR: Now Jim is the one that started the technical work, now. He’s a...he’s an engineer as well as a doctor, you see. He was an engineer first, and then he became a doctor afterward. So he started the AIM Tech [based near Nairobi and serving rural areas of Kenya and throughout Africa, AIM Tech provides consulting, engineering and construction services for AIM, the Africa Inland Church (AIC) and other ministries], and my two nephews are now in Kibeti [?], Nairobi, the...in that work. But Jim is the director of it, or the superintendent or whatever you’d call him, and John works with him too, and....
ERICKSEN: Now, wh...Jim’s parents were...?
BARR: Missionaries in....
ERICKSEN: And what were their names?
BARR: Oh dear, what his first name? Clo Propst was...Clo was...Clo Myers Propst was the mother. I can’t think of [laughs]...of the father’s first name, but I would have recollection. I would be able to find it. I can’t think things [unclear]....
ERICKSEN: I’ve got some names here of.... I’ve got a Charles Propst.
BARR: That’s Charles’s brother, Jim’s brother.
ERICKSEN: Oh. Okay.
BARR: Ji...now he was a missionary, too. That’s Henrietta’s husband. Charles and Henrietta.
ERICKSEN: Charles and Henrietta go together.
BARR: And Charles was at Githumu in a very difficult time.
ERICKSEN: Do you remember anything...do you remember hearing about that...in Gethumu?
BARR: I just knew there were different.... I...I was in a different field and all,...
BARR: ...and I...I...but I...I couldn’t go into the details of that. But I’ve heard that it must have had some effect on Charles, you know, the difficulties.
ERICKSEN: How so?
BARR: In the end, he finished his life, you see.
ERICKSEN: Oh right.
BARR: And that was a very sad thing.
ERICKSEN: Yeah, yeah.
BARR: He was just ready to...
ERICKSEN: I remember we talked about that.
BARR: ...he was just ready to work...just ready to go back to the field.
BARR: Now, Henrietta’s married to Andrew Telford, who was the pastor at Bracket Church.
ERICKSEN: Now, I’ve also got a Lawrence Propst [name was Lawson Propst].
ERICKSEN: Would that have been the husband of Clo?
BARR: Don’t remember Lawrence at all. [pauses] No, it wasn’t. No, his name wasn’t Lawrence, I’m sure...
BARR: ...but I just can’t think.
BARR: I...I could find it for you, but I....
BARR: Yeah. Even names I know now, I’m...I find I can’t think up sometimes when I want to, even though I’m....
ERICKSEN: Now did you know Jim’s parents?
BARR: Yes. I knew Grand.... I didn’t know his father. He...he died in about 1930. He had been kicked by a horse or a donkey or something in Africa in the head and died on the way home, I think, in about...somewhere around 1930 or something.
ERICKSEN: But you knew...?
BARR: I...I knew Clo Propst, and...Grandma Propst...
ERICKSEN: Tell me....
BARR: ...because she was in Kijabi, you see, still, when...when I used to go down there in the early days. And then...then she came here, you know, at the end. Jim got her in here, and she die...died here.
ERICKSEN: Tell...tell me about her. What was she like to be around?
BARR: Well, she was a very friendly, jolly sort of a person, and....
ERICKSEN: Was she a big woman...a small woman?
BARR: Quite big. She was quite big, and then she lost a lot of weight at the end, and...and it showed, you know, I mean, that she had been big and.... But I...I wouldn’t...I wasn’t with her that much that I would know her too...that well. I only went down on vacation, you know, and all, but she was a...she was a wonderful person.
ERICKSEN: What was Henrietta like?
BARR: She...her mother...she...her mother came out too, you know, so that it’s really...she was old when she came out, I guess, the mother. But...so it’s several generations, you see. We’ve got about three or four generations there.
ERICKSEN: Did you ever meet her mother?
BARR: No, no. She died before then. She was there at Kijabe, I think with them. He did agricultural work, and raised things...and she was...and Mother Propst was postmistress at Kijabe in the days when it was smaller, you know. It’s a big place now. They have a government post office there now.
ERICKSEN: What was Henrietta like?
BARR: She’s a great girl, yeah. She really went through a...a terrible difficulty, of course.
BARR: But she fit right into the family. She was from Arkansas, I think. Yeah, I think so. And we met her just when she was ready to go to the field. So I hadn’t...I wasn’t with her too [bumps or pulls on microphone]...too much, really. [microphone noise] What have I done? What do I do with this?
ERICKSEN: Oh, here. Let me....[microphone noise continues while Ericksen helps Barr]
BARR: Oh, just the...I just put it in here.
ERICKSEN: Yeah. They’re we go.
ERICKSEN: That’s got it. Any...any of the other folks in the Propst family that stand out in your memory?
BARR: In the older generation, you...?
ERICKSEN: Any...any...any generation.
BARR: Oh, they all stand out in my estimation [laughs], of course. I just got a letter from Andrea this morning. She’s up in...in Mbale, Uganda, now.
ERICKSEN: Now, Andrea would be one of the...one of Jim and Lila’s...
ERICKSEN: ...that would be her daughter?
BARR: Yeah, fifth daughter, or fourth daughter. She’s the fourth one. She’s the only one that’s not married. They’re all married, and all married to Christians, and all love the Lord, and...and the little ones are coming along and saying they want to...they want Jesus to come in their heart too, you know, and.... John’s little girl just came into them recently, there, after they got back this time, and said she had decided that she wanted Jesus to come into her heart. And they made them so happy. They felt that it was just a...a blessing on their going back, sort of, because they...cause they...these days are uncertain, you know, out there really.
BARR: Now, Lila just told me last night.... Lila and Jim have just gotten back yesterday, or day before yesterday, from Kenya, after being out a month-and-a-half or so or....
BARR: And she told me about the situation out there during the election [presidential election, December 29, 1992] and all, and how diff...how they had to prepare to...to evacuate a hundred people from Nairobi. The boys, I guess, in their big trucks. How they would ever do it, I don’t know. They had to get water and food and everything together in case in the election violence should break out, but apparently it really...it really didn’t. But there’s no...there’s no real happiness there at all. The others don’t feel that it was honest. And Lila says the people feel...everybody feels that it was rigged. So, that it makes it difficult, really.
ERICKSEN: What is the...?
BARR: But so far, there hasn’t been two much break-out of violence. They didn’t have to evacuate.
ERICKSEN: What’s a...a Propst family reunion like?
BARR: Oh, it’s wonderful. We had one up in Canada a year ago last summer, and there were thirty-six of us, I think, there, counting my brother and his wife and me. We went too, and I was so glad, because Winn [Barr’s brother] died a year ago now. He...he died sooner than we expected, of course, there. We...and...and...it was so nice that he...he was up there and that the kids could get to know him. Winn was a minister here all the time. He went to the mountains as a missionary and then...to the mountains...and then he joined the Southern Baptists and he spent his life...
ERICKSEN: Uh-huh, right.
BARR: ...as a Southern Baptist minister. Oh, the pa...the reunion was wonderful. It was all organized very well by the...they had it all organized, and certain people responsible for this and certain responsible for that, you know, and...with outings and with the...the Word of God being spoken to them, and you know, speaking and meetings and....
ERICKSEN: Uh-huh, uh-huh.
BARR: And the food was all set up at a Bible school up there in Sexsmith, Albert, Canada, which...a...a...a...a school that Mart...that the...the brothers’ (that married the two sisters) father had a part in s...in founding up there. He was a...he was the son of an immigrant from the Ukraine and got saved, and that’s a wonderful family too.
ERICKSEN: What kind of reputation did the Propsts...the Propst family have in the mission?
BARR: Oh, I think they...[pauses] I think they...they...they had a...a good reputation, really, personally, but there was some disagreement on medical procedure in Kenya, I believe. That...that was difficult for awhile. Jim didn’t feel that Kijabe was the place for a great big hospital or something. I really don’t know too much about this, but I know there was some difficulty and...and hardship, and...and that hurt Lila, you know.
BARR: The...he felt that...but then they went ahead and did it, you see, so.... But, on the whole, I’m sure they’re...they were in very good standing. There was just a disagreement...
BARR: ...with some things. There...there are many important things of course on the mission field.
ERICKSEN: Before we turned on the tape, you were talking about your prayer letters, and saying that someone reading them would not think that circumstances in Uganda were all that bad.
BARR: Well, in those...in the ‘70s...I was reading them over, and you know, I cou...I couldn’t say anything too much about what was happening for fear they might see the letters. You know...you know, you had to be very careful. We were on a...a see-saw, the British and I. I worked with the British there. We were other...other nationalities too. There were Australians and so forth. We were mixed group over there, really. But we were working under the...the British part of AIM, of course, and.... And we were on a see-saw. We never knew what Amin [Idi Amin Dada, president of Uganda, 1971-1979] would do to us, you know. We were allowed to stay in. We were the only mission, really, that was allowed to stay in because we were under the ch...umbrella of the Church of Uganda, which is Anglican. It’s a pa...it’s a part of the Anglican Communion, you know. And so, all the Baptists, all the Salvation Army, all the...the youth work, or an...anyone that was in there, the Pentecostals and everybody had to get out because he...he only recognized the Moslems, the Catholics, and us...and the Church of Uganda that is, and we were under that, so we were able to stay then when others had to go. We were very fortunate, really. We could carry on our work, and Bibles kept selling. It was wonderful how, yeah, Bibles could sell. They...they just sold continually. I imagine they still.... I...I would...I...I would like to write to the Bible Society and see how many now they’ve sent out, you know, and there were thousands sent out before, hundreds of thousands.
ERICKSEN: Were there any incidents that you were aware of where letters were being censored and people got in trouble because they weren’t careful?
BARR: Well, we...I can’t think of any special...I can’t think of any right now...
BARR: ...but we knew that it...it was very dangerous, you know. One...where was it? One...in some country...I don’t think it was our country and it wasn’t that, but some.... What is the group of young people at work in...in the world, like...that [President John F.] Kennedy sort of stuff? [The Peace Corps, an independent United States federal agency that uses volunteers to assist in development projects in foreign countries.] Can’t even think what it is. The people that go out to the...that aren’t in missions, you know.
BARR: She had...one...in one country, she had written a...a card home saying that she saw that they...they used the bathroom right on the side of the road, the men did, you know, and she was put out and the whole shebang was put out...
ERICKSEN: Out of the country.
BARR: ...of the country because of that, yeah, and how that showed....
ERICKSEN: Because it reflected badly.
BARR: Badly on the country, yeah.
ERICKSEN: Interesting. Another thing you mentioned was that at the time when you were...it was it thought by the mission that you were being held, that there was some discussion about whether or not to pay a ransom. Can you talk about that?
BARR: Well...well, I think the mission had to make...make the...a rule then. They...they were faced with this possibility, and they had to make the decision that their...the...that it be known that they would not pay ransom for hostages. Yeah. But, in 197...87...77, we had to get out of Uganda. We were sent a message, a cryptic sort of a message to get out without saying anything to anybody or anything. It was at the time of a Commonwealth conference [held in London, England, June 1977]. And the Queen [Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth of Nations] didn’t want Amin to come to it, and he was going to crash the conference. And they thought that if Americans were in there, then something would happen to them. So we had to...we had to sneak out in the morning. It was very hard without telling the Africans why or anything, you know. And go to...and drive to Kenya. And...and we had...we spent three months down there, and then...then we started coming back in, you know. And the McClures and...and Joy Grindy and I came in on the seventh of July ‘77. Easy to remember. 7/7/77. And we got there about...the McClures got in there about seven o’clock, I think, too, [Ericksen laughs] that night. And when we got back to our tee...our...our training center there, the welcome we received, you know. And the people just came out and sort of, “Oh, God is! He...you’re back again,” you know, and so forth. It was quite wonderful. And then...see, that was one time. [vehicle or motor noise in the background] And then when...when Tanzania came in to sweep Amin out of the country...you see, he tried to take some of Tanzanian land. And that was too much for [Julius Kambarage] Nyerere [first president of Tanzania], so he brought in an army [in 1978]. And it was the first time it ever happened, I guess, that one country came in to chase out the government of another. And while they were sweeping up, we were afraid that they would be defeated, may.... We’d heard such great things about our army, but it turned out that our army was very good at riding in vehicles, but not much at ambush, you know. And they just chased them up and out through our place. And the...the church...neither Seaton [McClure] nor the church would let me stay alone there at that time. And so I had to get out for about three months into...and it was a terrific experience. I’ve told about that in...
ERICKSEN: Yes, right.
BARR: ...in...in that book, you know, going out to Adi [probably across the border in Zaire] and then staying with Zola [Smith] at Aru, and hearing the sounds of war across the border and wondering and then going back. That’s all in that diary [given to the Archives, Collection 481, box 1, folder 1], so....
ERICKSEN: We’ve talked a good bit about physical hardships, and I suppose even some emotional hardship, just to being...
BARR: Oh yeah.
ERICKSEN: ...in difficult situations. What...?
BARR: Well, we never knew when we might have to leave on a mome....
BARR: It...it’s really something when you think, “What will I take if I...if I have an hour to get ready? What will I take if I [laughs] have three hours or if I have half a day?” you know. That’s the thing. It really is something. We had that in Congo even, you see.
ERICKSEN: What do you...?
BARR: But these...you see, these things are the unusual things. I had such wonderful opportunities in between.
BARR: And when you tell these things, people get the idea, you know, the whole thing was like that. So sometimes you don’t like to talk too much about...about the difficult things, because I had such wonderful opportunities, and.... It was my aim as a girl to paint beautiful faces on...for magazine covers, but the Lord gave me the privilege of...of giving a Bible to four hundred thousand, a tribe of four hundred thousand [the Lugbara people]. That was great...that’s a lot better, so....
ERICKSEN: What I wanted to ask you was what...what the...we talked about the physical and emotional hardships.
ERICKSEN: What about...what are the spiritual hardships of being a missionary?
BARR: Well, [pauses] sometimes you’re so busy, you know. That’s the thing. But it...it’s won...it’s wonderful to...to see how the gospel works, you know. And it just encourages your...your heart so to see how the gospel can meet the needs of people that are in s...that are so different and so...in such a different background and all. It’s.... And the...the inspiration of...of hearing the Africans preach is...preach was wonderful to me. They preach wonderful sermons, and they have so little to help them, the leaders, you know. And we have to keep up our own devotions, of course, and...but that’s anywhere. [laughs] You have to keep [pauses] open, and looking to the Lord. But, in times of...we were...we were in real times of crisis, and the Lord was always faithful, and saved us. And even back there in Uganda, when we had no way of getting supplies at all, He s...He...He.... When things ran out, s...somehow we got things. It was...it was quite wonderful, really, the whole experience together. Just proves His faithfulness and the truth of the gospel. And it was wonderful to see the church grow and...both countries, really. Because there were real Christians over there among the Anglicans too. Our part of Uganda was more Evangelical, perhaps, than...than the other parts.
ERICKSEN: Well, we’ve got to cut it. I think we could keep going, and...
ERICKSEN: ...we...we just need to stop, so thanks again.
BARR: You’re welcome. I just thank the Lord for the privilege that He’s given me.
END OF TAPE