Billy Graham Center

Collection 248 - William John Barnett. T2 Transcript.

Click here to listen to an audio file of this interview (96 minutes)

This is a complete and accurate transcript of the second oral history interview of William John Barnett (CN 248, #T2) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words which were recorded are omitted. In a some cases, the transcribers could not understand what was said, in which case they put "[unclear]" in the place of the missing word or phrase. If the transcriber was not absolutely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted. Also, grunts, verbal hesitations such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. Readers of this transcript should remember that this is a transcript of spoken English, which follows a different rhythm and even rule than written English.

... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence of the speaker.

.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.

() Word in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.

[] Words in brackets are comments made by the transcriber.

This transcription was completed in July 1991 by Robert Shuster.

SHUSTER: This is an interview with Dr. William Barnett by Robert Shuster for the Missionary Sources Collection of the Billy Graham Center for Wheaton College. This interview took place on April 5th, 1982 at 10 a.m. at the Billy Graham Center. Dr. Barnett, what was the family background of your father?

BARNETT: I'm second generation missionary. My father was an Australian. He was born in Australia in 1876. And his background was one of a large family. He was one of eleven children and he belonged to a Methodist church, a nominal sort of a background.

SHUSTER: Did he live in the city or were they...

BARNETT: He lived...

SHUSTER: ...rural...?

BARNETT: Wellington...Wellington, Australia. Okay. But his other members of the family were...were off on farms. They apparently had quite large ranch holdings and were sheep ranchers. He himself had gone into a trade of being a miller and ran one of the flour mills, the old time waterwheel mills, he said, that ground the...ground the grain into flour and that's what he was by trade. But he apparently became somewhat discontented with Australia or enchanted with the stories he heard of western United States, some of the stories of the gold rush in California [in 1849] and so on and around the turn of the century he emigrated to the States.

SHUSTER: To participate in the gold rush or was it...?

BARNETT: Well, what it was I'm not quite sure but when he got to the States, he arrived in San Francisco and lived in California and he took up residence in the city of Sacramento and there he got a job the hardware business. And he was working in the hardware business and....

SHUSTER: About how old was he at that time?

BARNETT: Well, he would have been around twenty-six, twenty-seven, about that age. And he was climbing the ladder in the hardware business. And he told us a very interesting story about how one evening, coming home from work, he was walking, I think it was one of the main streets of Sacramento, when he passed the open door of a city rescue mission. And he just happened to pause and look in at the singing that was coming out of there and something drew him in. He just walked and sat down in one of the back seats in this rescue mission and he says he virtually remembers nothing of what was said that night except that there was a missionary from India who was speaking and at the conclusion of his message he gave a challenge of full surrender to the Lord and he said he...he remembers the man saying, "Perhaps there's just one person that God has brought into this audience tonight whom He wants to totally dedicate his life to the Lord." And my dad said it was though it was a voice that singled him out completely and said, "You're that man." And in that moment he totally turned his life over to the Lord. And the next morning he went to his boss and said he was...he was stopping work.

SHUSTER: Why was that?

BARNETT: Because he had a...a very immediate, strong conviction that he must get ready to serve the Lord. He didn't know where. But he felt he must go to Bible school and serve. His boss tried to get him to stay. He offered him raises and so on in the work, but he said, "No, this is a call from the Lord and I cannot be swayed." And he....

SHUSTER: Had he been involved in a church in the US before that or had he been thinking about it?

BARNETT: I...I do not recall what his background at all in church activities the USA had been. He obviously had heard of the Moody Bible Institute because that was the only thing that came to his mind. And at once he said, "I'm going to the Moody Bible Institute [MBI] in Chicago to study the Bible." And that was in nineteen hundred and five that he came to Chicago and attended Moody for two years and at the end of that time the Lord had so dealt with him that he had made his contacts with members of the Africa Inland Mission [AIM]. AIM at that time was in its rather early stages and I believe it was Mr. [Charles] Hurlburt that he had met at one time and through that influence he nineteen hundred and seven he left for Africa. He sailed via Europe...a ship.... And I think there was a party eventually of seven that landed in Mombasa.

SHUSTER: What...what had been his impression of Charles Hurlburt?


SHUSTER: What had been his impression of Charles Hurlburt, of the AIM leader [?] ?

BARNETT: Well, I can only recall my dad speaking very high of Charles Hurlburt. We...I met him personally as a fact it was Charles Hurlburt who baptized me and my sister in 1925, '26, in Los Angeles. And I recall absolutely nothing that my dad and mother had ever spoke concerning Charles Hurlburt other than commendations of his work and service that he....

SHUSTER: What qualities did they...?

BARNETT: I remember him saying Mr. Hurlburt was a man of very strong mind and made strong demands on the missionaries who he was responsible for and yet at the same time he was an individual who apparently did not spare himself at all. He did a great deal of the early pioneer safari work in Kenya and on up into Uganda and down into Tanganyika along with some of the other missionaries. Some of the first safaris my dad went with Mr. Hurlburt also on the safaris up into the interior of Kenya itself, into the Masai area where eventually my dad and mother settled down for their service. But I was impressed. I know that Mr. Hurlburt was the center of some conflict in the mission in those early days, apparently because of his very strong will and...but my dad, my mother never spoke of those conflicts or the reasons for which Mr. Hurlburt eventually left the mission. But I can only gather that the AIM is...has been a mission without question brought into being by the Lord, different in some ways as far as I can see from some of the other interdenominational faith missions. And probably the biggest difference being almost jealously guarded independence, independence of the individual missionaries...

SHUSTER: How do you mean that?

BARNETT: ...within the organization. Well, I don''s hard to explain that without drawing comparisons with...with some of the other missions, but AIM has always placed strong emphasis on the individual gaining his direction, guidance from the Lord, the Holy Spirit. They have been very careful through the years about setting up organizational committees or individuals who would in any way dictate to the individual missionary what he or she should do in terms of service for the Lord. Some people have...well, obviously the...the members of AIM probably felt that that is one of the strongest points of the mission and of the organization and obviously that type of individual is an individual who has thrived within AIM and done very well. They also have felt very strongly as individuals concerning their support and so on, financial support. Consequently through the years on a faith basis, trusting the Lord to send in the money that is needed, but never on a salaried basis in AIM. There is not the basis of...of shared, equal support, say, that...


BARNETT: ...several...SIM [Sudan Interior Mission] or CIM [China Inland Mission], some of the others have had. Money came in and it's taken out of the kitty and shared equally with the...with the various missionaries. But the...through the years the missionaries of AIM have taken whatever came to them, designated for them; it belongs to them.

SHUSTER: Is that what you mean when you say they felt strongly about support?

BARNETT: Well, this is one of the points that I bring out of the sense of independence of the missionaries of AIM. And this has been so that as I have grown up with the mission, I have sensed that this is one of the things that they have guarded carefully. And its at the same time some would feel the weak point of the AIM.

SHUSTER: Why is that? Why is that?

BARNETT: Well, you know, some of these other missions have always had a strong leader, a strong field director through whom the...the policies of the mission and the work have been established. And that individual cracks the whip and give the guiding hand to the individuals within the missionary...within the mission. [Coughs] A certain amount of that is probably good, you know, if you're going to get really get moving in a direction and accomplish things, well, that's essential and necessary to really getting on as an organization, to have that strong leadership. But the AIM has probably been far more democratic in its government of the mission than some of these other groups. We have representative elections go on all the time for the guiding committees and...of the fields and the committees that are necessary on the larger mission stations and things of that sort. And the people who are in positions of leadership are elected by the mission body and put in that place and I have seen on one or two occasions where there is any evidence of a person who has been in leadership for a long period of time to the point where that an individual is beginning to...begin to take things into his own hands in leadership and become at all dictatorial in his leadership, you see [?], that the mission just would not tolerate it.

SHUSTER: Is that what happened...

BARNETT: The mission body would not...

SHUSTER: Charles Hurlburt?

BARNETT: ...tolerate it. Hmm?

SHUSTER: Is that what happened to Charles Hurlburt?

BARNETT: That's what I understand happened with...eventually with Charles Hurlburt. But I was just a kid at the time. But it's happened with...with other individuals the mission during its history. And it''s a just a trend in the mission, the mission is different in that sense from others. They feel it's important to the AIM to have that.

SHUSTER: What kind of did your father take at MBI?

BARNETT: It was a general...I...missions course I think. I think way back there Moody was already directing toward more than just a general Bible course...Bible training, but preparing for actual ministerial service and missions and I understand that my dad took that....

SHUSTER: Did he ever talk about courses that were particularly helpful or things that he wished he had had before he came to Africa?

BARNETT: Well, I don't recall him speaking of anything in particular. My dad was a very practical man. He was a green thumb. Wherever he went, he always had a garden and during those initial years, when the family was growing there in Africa, a good many of those years the family lived off of the farm that my dad developed and the type of work that he did. He was a practical man. The...the only course that I recall my dad mentioning (this is specifically mentioning) was a course he took in dentistry. [chuckles] I said he was a practical fellow. But he...he had taken sort of a first aid course in dental work. (I guess that had been associated with Moody.) And he was the only dentist in that whole part of the country and he did the extractions and so on and he actually even did a little bit of the filling of teeth. I saw him do some of that. And he took care of us kids, you know, and we were....

SHUSTER: Without anesthetics?

BARNETT: Without anesthetic, no. We had no anesthetics. But I can remember those pairs of forceps that he had for pulling teeth, what an impression those made on us as kids you know [chuckles]. But I believe that my dad...he had become ordained before he went out. Actually he was through all the years that he was out in the field, his main supporting church was Moody...Moody Church in Chicago.

SHUSTER: What denomination was he ordained in?

BARNETT: I think it must have been Baptist...the Baptist denomination. There was...when it came...very little was said about denominations within the mission and the missionaries. That was a very interesting thing about the AIM. You can be working alongside of people for years and never know what denomination they would belong to and yet there are many different denominations represented within the AIM. But the Baptist church seemed to...what I recall my dad talking about more and whenever we would come to the States and so on, it was the Baptist church usually that we found our fellowship in as a family, we came to. My mother was Swedish. My mother had come to the States it must have been about the same time that my dad was in Moody.

SHUSTER: When had she been born?

BARNETT: She'd born...she was born in 1881. She was five years younger than my dad and she had come to the States from Sweden [coughs] and her....

SHUSTER: By herself or with her parents?

BARNETT: No, she had came...come alone. But she...she had a contact with a missionary couple...Reibe, I think it was. R-E-I-B-E. They had been among the earliest of the workers. I'm not sure if they had gone out with Peter Cameron Scott or shortly after Peter Cameron Scott. But they had apparently been to Sweden or somewhere in Europe. I'm not sure if it was Sweden or England where she had met them. And that had been her initial contact with AIM. And that had to be pretty early too. Somewhere around the turn of the century, shortly thereafter. And through that contact (the Riebes were from...from the States) from the States, she came over to New York and attended this Bible school that they called Hephzibah...Hephzibah House in New York City. And she was there about a year, I understand. And....

SHUSTER: She came over specifically to go to this school?

BARNETT: That's right, to attend Bible school. And then she had returned to Sweden and through the British home council [of the AIM] had made her arrangements for going out to Africa and lo and behold, they wound up on the same ship, on [unclear]....

SHUSTER: How...what was her maiden name?

BARNETT: Nischer. Her name was Elma Elizabeth Nischer.

SHUSTER: And...?

BARNETT: N-I-S-C-H-E-R. A good Swedish name apparently. She was one of three girls in the family. And I never met my aunts on that side. I...the only one I met on that side was my grandmother. In fact, she's the only grandmother I ever did meet. My father's parents were...were gone when we visited Australia in 1925 and then it was on our way back to Africa in 1927 from the States that we went via Sweden that we spent a little over a month there visiting my mother's mother.

SHUSTER: Tell me, what made your mother come to the United States to go to Bible school?

BARNETT: Well, I...I really don't know, other than perhaps it was the paucity of Bible schools Sweden at the time. I rather think that it was the influence of this missionary couple on her that led her that way. They knew of the school apparently and suggested that she go there.

SHUSTER: Besides the Bible school, had she received any kind of training...?

BARNETT: Oh, yeah. She had had some training as practical nursing. Her main training, at which she had had professional training, was as a Swedish masseuse. She was tops in massage work. And I goodness, I think eventually all of us kids learned how to massage, but it came from my mother. And that training that she had I saw her use many times in Africa. And was a marvelous thing, actually. I suppose a lot of us doctors today would say that it was sort of quackery, maybe chiropractory or something of that sort. But it wasn't. It was excellent physical therapy. I saw her rehabilitate many cripples. And I saw many Europeans--farmers and officials in government and so on--come to her for treatment who otherwise would never ever ever approached a mission station or a missionary station.

SHUSTER: She did...?

BARNETT: The Lord used that to draw them and to bring them and it resulted in numbers of these people coming to the Lord.

SHUSTER: She would give somebody treatment over a long period of time so...?

BARNETT: Yes, she would set up so that she would have them come in, these Europeans, once or twice a week or so. She would set up a schedule for them. Some of them I remember coming for weeks and months for treatment and saw them gradually getting better. She had a lot of very, very grateful patients from among the Europeans as well as myriads [?] of patients among the Africans. Of course among the Africans her basic work was not doing massage unless it was clearly indicated but the care of the general sick and dying. She had a dispensary on the station there at Eldama Ravine which I used to love to go out and watch her caring for the people. And every now and then I'd find something that I could do to help her in caring for them. But that's, I'm sure, where I got my initial vision of possibly being a doctor one day, was watching mother, her encouraging me that way.

SHUSTER: Did AIM give your father and your mother any kind of training or orientation before they left?

BARNETT: I can't...I don't think there was any sort of an orientation school or anything like that. The AIM has always had a very strict committee through which candidates had to pass and the Chicago committee here was always one of the toughest ones for a candidate to go through. I know. But I don't think the idea of a...of a candidate school, training program came into being until...well, within the past twenty years or so. That's a relatively new thing with AIM. Whether it is generally in missions or not, I don't know. But....

SHUSTER: What kind of qualities were these committees looking for when they screened candidates?

BARNETT: Well, they'd.... [Pauses] I'll have to give practical one on that because my brother (by the way all five of us kids in our family returned to the mission field as missionaries and two of us were doctors and my sister was a nurse, the other two were ministers) but my brother Paul, who was the third one in the line, was a graduate of Columbia Bible College [in South Carolina]. He came to Wheaton here to visit me at the time when I started in Wheaton College and at that time he felt that he should be heading toward the mission field, that he had his calling. And he went through the Chicago candidate committee here Chicago. And they gave him a grilling, I'll tell you. They went over him. And they were looking for his knowledge of the Scriptures, what he really knew about the Bible, his own, above all, personal experience with the Lord, his assurance of salvation, what he really believed. And I think that they...they really gave him an extra tough going over because of his background, of being a missionary's kid, you know. [chuckles]

SHUSTER: How do you mean that? Why?

BARNETT: Well, I think that they wanted to make very sure that he just wasn't going back home, that he had actually had a call from the Lord. Well, I can only say that after they finished going over with him...him for, I suppose, a full morning practically, their final recommendation to him was that he take one more year of Bible school.

SHUSTER: In Moody Bible Institute [?] ?

BARNETT: That was after graduating from Columbia Bible College. [Chuckles] And he did. It was a very tough one for him to take, but they weren't quite sure that he knew what he was doing, that he wasn't just going back home. Well, he took his course and Paul went out as a single man and Paul's married off now. He's lived his life in Africa, he's still...still out there, one of the old pioneer missionaries.

SHUSTER: Now of course your father went out as a single man too. Did...your parents met on the boat...?

BARNETT: They met on the boat. I think the boat took about three months to get there to Mombasa, so they had enough [chuckles] time to get acquainted, you know and the romance started...started out on the ship. But AIM had its regulations that they couldn't get married until they had been out there for a year. So they had to sweat it out, wait on that one. And my dad did help in getting my mother established on the station to which she and Mary Slater, who went at the same time, were assigned and that was one of the bush stations up the Rumuruti among the Masai. They had to go up there by foot...slogging it up there by foot and my dad was still courting in those days, but he...he was appointed to help go up there and build that station for these ladies.

SHUSTER: Now what was...?

BARNETT: [Unclear] He'd tell a story about it. They had to go slogging through the...the...big swamps and leeches all over them. It was wild, wild country at the time. And it railroad through at that time. It was all foot safaring with porters carrying their stuff in there. And somehow my mom [chuckles] really led him a merry chase, you see. He [unclear] had a terrible time just trying to keep up with her. But she was playing hard to get at that time.

SHUSTER: What was the name of the station she was at?

BARNETT: Rumuruti.

SHUSTER: Rumuruti.

BARNETT: Rumuruti. It was right among the Masai people at that time, before...a few years later the Masai were all moved out of that part of the...of the country and to that reserve by the British and all of that section of the highlands, including Eldama Ravine (where my parents moved later when I was born) was all given over to the farmers, settlers that were coming in and it was settled by the European farmers. And it is only today that the problems over that are coming to the front. I suppose one of the many things that were sore points with the African people. But the first home that my dad built for those two ladies was a tree house. They lived in a large tree and the idea was to get away from the lions.

SHUSTER: Did it work?

BARNETT: Yeah. I suppose it helped, but they didn't realize at the time that lions can climb trees. They can do so. But they didn't climb the trees but they did come along underneath the thing and roar and they said the whole place would shake with that [laughs]. They were up there terrified inside this treehouse.

SHUSTER: What were they doing? What was their mission? You said....

BARNETT: Well, the very first thing they were doing was learning the languages....

SHUSTER: Which was?

BARNETT: Masai. At the time both my mother and Mary Slater. And they making contacts with the people, learning to know the people. It was a year later that they were married and...and it wasn't too long after that actually at Rumuruti that the first three children were born. My oldest brother Carl died of meningitis there with no doctor around at all when he was only about three years old and he was buried at Rumuruti. And...and then my next two brothers were twins. At night [?] they were born.

SHUSTER: When was that?

BARNETT: That would have been...well, they are now [pauses] seventy two years old.

SHUSTER: 1911.

BARNETT: Yeah. That was at Rumuruti. And that was quite an event, because twins among the Masai...the Masai were just watching them, because it is a curse to have twins. And the Masai at that time would take and kill...if they had twins, they would kill one of the twins.

SHUSTER: Why did they consider twins cursed?

BARNETT: Well, it was just a belief that they had. Why, I don't know. It was one of their superstitions that they had. And they would smother one baby or put him out in the bush for the hyenas. And so they were watching our family very, very carefully at that time because they were sure something would happen to the family.

SHUSTER: Because you didn't expose one of the children?

BARNETT: That's right. But they were quite impressed nothing happened and it turned out alright.

SHUSTER: [Interrupts Barnett.] Did your...? I'm sorry. Go ahead.

BARNETT: It was shortly after they came along that my folks took the next step of moving further inland, across to the opposite side of the Rift Valley, the west side of the Rift Valley, about forty miles north and west of the small development town of Nakuru, which was the farmers' town, and started a mission station just outside of Eldama Ravine, which was a government post.

SHUSTER: Now Eldama, how is that spelled.

BARNETT: Eldama. Eldama Ravine. And it....

SHUSTER: How is that spelled?

BARNETT: E-L-D-A-M-A. Eldama. And we...they built the station and their home at a place called Kilombi (K-I-L-O-M-B-I) which was, oh, four or five miles outside of this township where the government post was. And it was right out in the bush at the time and it was among the Masai people.

SHUSTER: During...during the year...before your father got married, you mentioned that he did some pioneering with Charles Hurlburt? Or was that during a later time?

BARNETT: Yeah, yeah, it was during this period where they explored...

SHUSTER: Were they...?

BARNETT: ...where they explored and the other one that went along with them and did much of the early exploration was Mr. Stauffacher.

SHUSTER: John Stauffacher?

BARNETT: John Stauffacher. That's where my dad and...and John Stauffacher became bosom friends. They...through all the years they were very close friends. That was because of these early days when they did this sort of work together. The Stauffachers had gone out two years before my father and mother had gone. Nineteen oh five they went.

SHUSTER: What was the range of territory covered by these safaris?

BARNETT: Oh, they were extensive. And one would never when you go out there and you travel by car, you are absolutely amazed to realize that much of this territory which you are taking hours to go on by car had been originally covered by foot by these early missionaries. And they had done it. And Dad and John Stauffacher and Mr. Hurlburt safaried up to and around Lake Baringo, which is in the floor of Rift Valley and is one of a series of chains of lakes that are there in the Valley. And you have Lake Nakura and then you have Lake Hannington [now Lake Bogoria] north of it and Lake Baringo and then finally Lake Rudolph or as it's known today Lake Turkana, which is the big long lake extending up to the Ethiopian border. But that was wild, wild desert country up there and extremely rough. And this is the country which even today is just now within the past ten years since independence of finally opened to missions and yet way back then these early pioneers walked up there into some of these areas and they had amazing experiences up there.

SHUSTER: What were some of those experiences?

BARNETT: Oh, I can still remember my dad telling about how on one of these safaris he and...they ran out of water was what happened. They got separated from their porters somehow out in the desert, in the bush. And the ports went in one direction for this prescribed camp, where they were going to meet that night and they went on another path and they got lost...lost from the porters. And they were out in the desert and they had not water use. And as they were going along, they were praying that somehow God would lead them to water. And as they went my dad saw a big bush that was absolutely loaded with berries and they were edible and they were full of juice. And they stood there and they just ate and ate and ate these berries and they got their water that way, their moisture and the Lord saved them. And they eventually remade their contact, but if it hadn't been for that they said they would have had really a terrible time, of course, whether they had lived or not. And another time dad wasn't on this particular safari but I understand that John Stauffacher was with Mr. Hurl...Hurlburt on one of these northern area safaris where again they had run out of water and they had their old [?] porters with them and the porters were beginning to rebel. And they eventually found an oasis where...these people were so dehydrated that many of them were just barely dragging along, many of them were almost dead of dehydration. And they got to this oasis and these African porters and so on rushed to get in there and Mr. Hurlburt knew enough that if they just swamped themselves with water right away, they would probably die. And he stood there with a...a whip and had to hold them back with a whip and let them come in one at a time and take just a little bit of water. And he stood there himself not having drunk until all his porters and the others had drunk first and then he drank after that.

SHUSTER: This would have been around 1908 or...?

BARNETT: Oh, yes, around that time. It was in the early days when they were going up there. [coughs] Mr. Stauffacher has...had interesting stories to tell. One time (I guess my dad was with him that time) when suddenly in the bush on the safari a rhino charged them and they had a...a mule that was loaded with their stuff. The porters all dropped their loaded...loads and ran and climbed the trees immediately. You know, the rhino hasn't got very good vision and it picked the biggest thing in this safari and charged it and that was this mule. It hit the mule and tossed it over its back. Killed it. And then (Mr. Stauffacher was a big man, he was quite a stout, heavy man) and he headed for him next and [chuckles] Stauffacher made off like that and he...he...he looked at one tree and decided it was too small [laughs] for him to climb that, so he headed for another tree with this...with this rhino breathing down his back. He took his helmet off and threw it down and the rhino saw the helmet and stopped and stamped on it and then kept on charging him and he had run for this tree and he had got to this tree just in time to throw himself down flat on his face behind the tree and the rhino hit the other side of the tree. And he said it took a slab of bark off of it and just went rushing by him. He had an umbrella in his hand. He was holding the umbrella as he lay on his face there on the ground and the hoofs of the...of the rhino trod on the handle of the umbrella and smashed it as it went by, but I guess by then...

SHUSTER: That was....

BARNETT: ...but it figured it had done its damage by then and just went on [chuckles] and left them. So they had a...they had a lot of interesting experiences with the animals in those days.

SHUSTER: Your...then your parents were married at...?

BARNETT: Kijabe.

SHUSTER: At Kijabe.

BARNETT: They were married in Kijabe and then they went and lived in Rumuruti, where the treehouse had been burnt..built originally, but then I guess they had got over the romance of the treehouse [chuckles] and put something down on the ground instead, mud and wattle. And then as I said they eventually...they moved further inland and Eldama Ravine would have been by then the furthest state inland and built their mud and wattle house at Kilombi and it was while they were at Kilombi that I was born. I was the youngest of a family of six children who had come along. And I was the only one who had actually been born at Kilombi out in the bush. The others had been born at Kijabe, my brother Paul and sister Ruth. I didn't have the benefit of the doctor apparently. That...Mary Slater...little Mary Slater was the one who attended my mother at my birth. And then they had the interesting experience in which in the middle of the night this Masai woman who had been one of the first of the converts among the Masai and had built a little hut in the same compound where my dad had built this house of ours just happened to wake up in the early hours of the morning and saw this glow in the sky and looked out of her hut door and here the whole roof...grass roof of our house was in flames. Apparently a spark had gotten into the grass and started a fire going.

SHUSTER: Did that happen often?

BARNETT: Well, yes, you'd...houses would burn frequently among the people. You know, it was all grass roofs, thatched. They wasn't unusual for a house to burn down. But among the missionaries, this was rather novel [laughs]. But she rushed over and woke the family up and they jum...Dad and Mother jumped up and the kids and all scrambled out of the house and they were throwing things out through the doors and windows to try and save the few belongings that they had, especially the precious that had come...they had brought from overseas that you couldn't get out there. And they managed to save a fair amount of stuff. And it was in the midst of this that suddenly they missed the baby.


BARNETT: Me. I was the baby. And they couldn't find me. And they were just petrified. Thought that I had been left inside. And my dad was just beginning to rush back into the house and the grass was falling in, all the rafters and so on, from the fire. And somebody lifted up a mattress that had been thrown out the window and here I was underneath the mattress. Somebody had thrown it on top of me. [chuckles]

SHUSTER: Could have smothered [?].

BARNETT: And these were the interesting things...experiences that Dad and Mother told me later on in life when they said they felt that the Lord must have something special in mind for me because of the way my life had been spared.

SHUSTER: What...what were your father's activities at the station? What was his week like?

BARNETT: Dad was a, as I said, a general worker. He was a hard worker. He was a very practical man. He made his own home, he made his own furniture. I can still see him out there with a adze shaping a log himself to make a piece of furniture from. And yet his...his early ministry was out itinerating among the Masai people. And this apparently he did very faithfully. He and Mom would go out among the people and would speak to them and would give them the Gospel message and would read to them from the word of God. And the Masai would always be very polite. They would listen and yet there was no response. In fact, Dad tells about how in those early days it was very discouraging. They brought some very precious pots and pans and kettles and a chamberpot and so on from overseas, from the States and from Europe. Take care of them and....

SHUSTER: You say precious. You mean because they were...?

BARNETT: There's none available out there at all. There is nothing of this sort [slaps handle of chair] that could be bought in the shops [unclear] in those days. And these things would begin to disappear. And as they would go around to the various Masai manyattas (corrals as they were called), they would see in one place their teapot and in another place their...another one of their pans and in another place, a village they went to, they would see their chamberpot being used to draw the blood from some cow so that they would mix in with the milk they were going to drink. And they wouldn't say anything. They would go ahead and tell the story about the Lord. But they were there for...doing this for six, seven years, without seeing a single convert. No results to their work. And it was an exceedingly discouraging period of life for them, for my dad especially. And I never heard this testimony from my dad until I was a student in Colombia Bible College and he came home on a furlough and was the speaker at the chapel service in Colombia Bible College one day. And I sat as interested and as touched as all the rest in the congregation that school that day when he told of this particular period in his life when totally discouraged and questioning his call to go to the mission field and actually ready to throw in the sponge and head back to the States again, he got up early one morning with his Bible and went out onto the hillside overlooking the mission station at Kilombi and sat there, as he said, ready to have it out with God and question why the Lord had ever led him into a place like this. And he said as he sat there and had been there some time, reading the Scriptures and wondering what was ahead for him, suddenly he said it was as though a million lights began to shine around him. And he was startled and looked up and wondered what is this that is that way. And he became aware that the sun was just beginning to come up over the horizon and was shining onto him and all the millions of little dew drops that were around him were beginning to sparkle and shine as the sun caught them in its rays. And he sat there and watched that for a while and suddenly it was as the voice of the Spirit of God speaking to him it said to him, "Look, I didn't call you to be an apostle Paul, I didn't call you to be a Moody or a Billy Sunday or a Sankey. All I asked you to do was to be a believer and shine and reflect My light. That's all I want you to do." And he went back from that hillside that day a changed person with a victory and began to live that way, just to let the Spirit of God shine through him. And from that time on they began to see the people coming and the converts coming. It was in that period that he had had...he would go out...he had been going week after week out to the villages and he had said, "Look, tomorrow is Sunday." (And they had had to educate them as to what the days of week were. They didn't know what the days of the week were, time.) "Tomorrow is Sunday and we're going to have a little service up there and you're all invited to come." They had always said, "Yes, yes, we'll come. We will." Week after week it would be only my dad and mother, children in the church. So discouraging. A little mud and wattle hut they had put up for church [?]. But then after this experience, the people slowly began to come. And it was during this time too that on Christmas he would have a...this slide show, which was an interesting thing because it was a...technically going back to the old carbide lanterns for projecting. You put carbide into this little compartment. I can still see Dad doing it. And there was a little water reservoir that would drip water onto the reservoir and create a gas and the gas would come up through, you'd light it and it would burn. And it had two carbon sticks that would set just so far apart and this flame up between and suddenly you would have an arcing going between the ends of those sticks and you would get a brilliant light to project the...the slides up onto the screen. And he had sort of these old lantern slides, as they called them (squares of glass about six inches square set between them) and his...his slides depicted some of the Old Testament stories and then the life of Christ and Christmas time he always showed the life of Christ. And the people would come in to see that. Hundreds of them would come at that time and of course they had to be shown at nighttime when it was dark, which was unusual because people didn't like to go out at night. They were afraid of the animals. But they would come for that. And it was during this time that this Masai warrior young man came. And the people were crowded around, filled the church, around the windows, standing there watching and looking through the windows to see the pictures up on that. The young man stood there with his spear and knobbed stick and he stood on his one leg, as they typically do, the other foot up on his knee to support his spear, looking through that. When it finally came to the picture of Christ hanging on the cross, something snapped inside this young warrior and the tears began to flow down his face, just an unheard of thing, because these people, they don't cry much.

SHUSTER: You say they don't cry.

BARNETT: No, they don't. The women, yes. But the men, that's...that's a sign of weakness. And he pushed his way through the crowd and up to the front to my dad and he pointed to that picture and he said, "Who is that man and why is he there? Why is he dying like that." And my dad told him the story of why Christ came and who He was. And that young man was about the first of the Masai converts who came to the Lord. He gave his heart to the Lord and served him. And Dad...he said one of the practical evidence of what was happening was that very quietly their pots and pans all began to come back again and they got most of their pots and pans back again as the people began to be touched by the Lord. It was very amazing, wonderful it happened.

SHUSTER: Did your mother always go out with your father when he was itinerating?

BARNETT: Not always, especially when the family came. She used to go all the time. My mother was the linguist too. My mother was easy for her to catch languages. And she spoke very good Masai, Swahili and then Tugen she picked up, the Kalenjin tribe...languages. And she spoke these languages all very well, in addition to Swedish and...

SHUSTER: English.

BARNETT: ...and English and so on. And Dad was not a linguist. He had a very hard time with languages. He never did learn Masai. He could speak the...the words...the occasional words and so on, Greek [?] and so on and he memorized certain of the verses, like John 3:16 and could quote them all. But the main language that my dad always spoke was Swahili and it was almost a pidgin type of Swahili he spoke. It was always an amazing thing to me how the Lord used him in spite of the lack of really being expert in the language in spite of the years he was out. It was strong evidence to me that it was the Lord's call to him and the Lord was using him. From that time on with the work my dad traveled by foot and then by horse and then by one of the first motorcycles that ever came and by oxcart and then finally by the old Model T Ford. And my Dad was quite adventurous and ready to leap out into the unknown and things like that where he thought it would be helpful and beneficial to the work.

SHUSTER: He must have been one of the first in the area.

BARNETT: He was the first one to have a car, as I understand, and he took a lot of criticism for it because, you know, those things were "things of the world" and [chuckles] it took a while for the missionaries to get reconciled to some of these early developments.

SHUSTER: Now, why...why was he criticized?

BARNETT: Because he was...he was indulging in something that wasn't, you know, quite within the accepted Christian circles and so on. There was a lot of criticism about the...the early developments that were going on in the world, and so on.

SHUSTER: The missionaries felt was too expensive?

BARNETT: That's right. That was one thing. But it was interesting. I mean, here was a family that had gone through almost the entire First World War period, with the children coming along, and all contacts virtually broken with the homeland so there was virtually no support money coming out. And Dad and Mother never taught about suffering or lack of, never. We were not raised that way. They taught us that God was our Father and we did not need to be afraid, that He would take care of us, no matter what it was. I mean, we knew what it was to be without any money. And that is literal. We'd be down frequently towards...we might have a cent or a five cent piece left in the home, something like that. But we never feared. I never had any fear. I always thoroughly believed, that's all, that we were God's children. He would take care of us. And this was our background as a family and the Lord without question honored it. I can still remember my dad as he got older and we kids began to filter back to the States here for education and so on. "How in the world were we going to go to school?" Well, it never even dawned on us that we wouldn't, because my dad said, "You are going to school and you are going to get what I was never privileged to do and that is get a college education. I don't know how, but the Lord is going to provide for you." And he...he...I can still hear him quoting the verse from Psalms that...that, "Once I am young, now I am old. Yet I have never been forsaken nor seen my seed begging bread." [Psalms 37:25] And we were raised on the principle, "never go into debt." And we still follow it today. This was our background and this whole principle of deficit living that we find today is totally strange to us. It's something that we find difficult accept or to live with today and yet [chuckles] everybody in the country lives on that sort of a principle [?] today. But this was our background and custom....

SHUSTER: Besides the...the farm, what other activities were going on at the station? There was an orphanage, wasn't there?

BARNETT: Yes. That's one of the very first, early things that was started that I remember in Eldama Ravine. That's when I began to remember things is when we moved out of the house that burnt down into the mission the mission station that was within the township of Eldama Ravine and is still the current mission station in Eldama Ravine. And I can remember the early little home that was set there as sort of an orphanage for kids that had been abandoned, thrown out, so sick that they were going to die or so. My dad or mother would hear about them, go and collect them in the bush before the hyenas got them, bring them in and raise them there. This developed into a girls' home, which was a refuge for the girls particularly who were treated very much just as chattel and...many of them abandoned until the time came when they were ready to be...go through the circumcision ceremonies or to be married. Then they became of value to their relatives and fathers and so on. And they'd be claimed in order to sell them for so many cows and so. But these were the works that originally were started on the station that were done and were a clear demonstration of care and love. And this was a way of really getting the message across, because these people that were taken in originally were abandoned people and the Lord used that. And then Mom had her dispensary. Dad built her a hut there on the station that served as a dispensary and then the early church, which doubled as a school during the week and was just a grass roofed shelter with mud walls.

SHUSTER: Who taught the school?

BARNETT: My mother taught the school. I can remember that. Until she got people trained sufficiently to be able to serve as teachers as well for the three...

SHUSTER: African?

BARNETT: ...R's. [reading, writing and arithmetic].

SHUSTER: Africans?

BARNETT: African teachers, yes. Otherwise it was my mother out there hours every day. teaching the three R's to the youngsters. She had to set up little printed charts with the A B C's and the vowels. I can still remember that is where I got my first reading lesson, sitting with the African kids, learning the A B C's and A E I O U [Chants several phonetic sounds] until you get all of your sounds and then you put them together to make your words and learn to read. And then arithmetic. The earliest [?] hadn't any paper to write on, no pencils or anything, but the earliest thing that they wrote on was a piece of slate and a blackboard, probably. Dad set up a blackboard there and we'd go collect our own chalk, out in the chalk [unclear] in certain of the hills. Around there was some chalk and that's what you'd write with in the boards. The kids would have the slate and slate pencils and when they got the slate full, they would take a damp cloth and wipe it off. That was writing tablets. And then eventually the church...a more permanent church was built on the station and Dad built that. I can remember him building it. He went out and talked to people about how to cut stone in that area. That area's church was made out of cut stone. Blocks of stone brought in. That church is still standing after many, many years at Eldama Ravine.

SHUSTER: Did your dad design the building?

BARNETT: Yes. It was originally a simple rectangular building. Then gradually as it.... And it was roofed with shingles, cut cedar shingles.

SHUSTER: From the nearby forest?

BARNETT: That's right, from the forest, the cedar in trees, cut from the forest. His earliest shingles were ones he cut himself and shaped split boards into shingles. Later on there was a...a saw mill that came into being there at a place called Nozulazurmi [?] (which means good water) about six miles away from our station. And that was a great boon to my dad then because he could go there and get fairly decent cut boards and timber from the forest [unclear]. Then when that church outgrew its size (the congregation got too big, the original church building probably held a hundred and fifty, two hundred or so), then he took built an extension on to the front of the church off to the side, like an ell. It was capable of holding another seventy-five, hundred people. The seats in the church, originally were just simple logs on the floor. Later on he made them into boards, just a five, six inch wide board on...on blocks in rows. And this was what people would sit on [chuckles] and you'd'd see these people crowding on to one of these benches. You'd...a bench that we Europeans would sit maybe six...four to six people, they would...they would jam at least a dozen onto one of these, ten to a dozen. The newcomers would come in down the aisle and this bench was already absolutely full, you know, but he...he would start in and whoosh, find himself a little room to sit there. The poor guy on the opposite end in fact frequently landed on the floor. [laughs] But the church would get jammed with people and it was interesting to see my dad taking the steps necessary to keep up with a growing, developing church. The early baptism services he held out in the...oh, stream that flowed down into the forest about a mile away. He'd dammed it up and get a pool there big enough to carry on a baptism service and hundreds and hundreds of people gathered from all over the place to see this strange happening but it would give an opportunity for a wonderful service and testimony from the people being baptized and eventually he dug a hole in the bottom of the platform in the church and lined it with concrete and...and made a baptistery up there, put a hinged cover over the thing. [coughs] And I remember the first time he ever showed that off on a Sunday. After it was all ready and he was praising the Lord for the special money gift that had come in to make this possible and...and telling the people about it and then stood aside and lifted this door up [chuckles] and he never expected it to happen but all this church that was jammed with people, suddenly the whole bunch of them just surged forward to see this hole in the...under the floor of the...under the church. That was so strange that...some [?] [unclear] fell in the thing. They got pushed in by all the rest of the crowd. But that served as the baptistery for some time and....

SHUSTER: When your dad went to a new area to begin a church service, when he was itinerating with your mother, how did he start? What did he do?

BARNETT: They went from place to place. I can still remember those safaris were basically by foot, on horse and as I say later by...he was one of the first ones to use the motorcycle out there, a sidecar on it. And it wasn't the easiest thing to get around then because of the bad roads and the mud and so on. But they would...I can see them and I would sit beside them in the Model T Ford and they would see people and they would stop and just begin talking to the people, these Masai people and others. They would start telling them that they had a...they had a...a message to give them. The message came from God. And they would start quoting or reading the Bible to them and they would read a phrase and then ask the people to repeat it. And this would go back and forth. And I would be seated in the car and this would go on for not just five minutes but it would go on for half an hour, an hour or so with me as a kid...I was really getting worn out with this and I was wishing they would get on. [?] But it was contacts like this that gradually began to build up the interest of people and then people began coming in to the central station and coming to the Lord and then requesting that churches be started in their areas. And gradually, gradually little churches began to spring up in that whole area. Within a radius of, oh, forty or sixty miles of so of Ravine was the area my dad became responsible for and literally dozens and dozens of little churches began to spring up. And they'd spring up on the farms. On these European farms they imported workers from many of the different tribes, Kikuyu and Luo, Kalenjins were the main ones working. Many also from Kamba country were brought onto these farms to work on them and Dad went into these farms to start preaching. He would go first to the farmer to make sure that he had permission of the farmer to work among his...his workers and preach to them and then....

SHUSTER: Was it illegal for him to preach to them without...

BARNETT: Well, it was private property. The farms...

SHUSTER: ...without his permission?

BARNETT: ...were private, you know. It wasn't illegal for him to be preaching, no. But he had to get permission to be on the farms themselves. And...and most of the dad was very diplomatic with the people. The Lord gave him good entrance [?] and most of these farmers would eventually give him a small tract of land where they acre or so where they could build a little church and have a congregation that would meet there on the farm itself. And many of these little farms around there had churches built on them. And he did extension work also down into what we called the Reserve area, where the government would set aside for the tribal area. The main reserve around Ravine extended down into the Rift Valley and that was for the Tugen people, which was a branch of the Kalenjin tribes. And my mother would frequently go down into these areas. And these raw heathen who had no contact with civilization at all. There was no farming being done down amongst them and this extended clear up to the Lake Baringo area. And Dad would itinerate on foot down into these places and as kids we loved to go along with him because frequently it meant camping for several nights. And we would set up camps and live down there among these people while Dad and Mother went out among them to give them the message of the Gospel, the Scriptures and so on and gradually building up interest. They would hold little medical clinics for them, helping the sick and wherever they went, Mom was always doing some medical work and helping Dad. And they had interesting experiences. I think I mentioned before when they went to Lake Baringo a couple of times on safaris among the Njemps people, which was an offshoot of the Masai tribe that lived down there. I can remember the thrill...I had started at school by then at RVA, Rift Valley Academy, and one of the letters that came telling of their experience, how they had been down one time in this area one time and they had in a midday backed up under one of these acacia trees to get some shade and the old Ford spewed its exhaust up into the tree and suddenly before they knew what had happened, a swarm of bees was down on top of them. They had been in a hive up the tree, disturbed by the exhaust. And they just swarmed over them and Dad jumped out of one side of the car and Mother out of the other and they headed in opposite directions, trying to get away from these bees. And there was an old Masai man there who had a little fire going. He had just a blanket around him that's all, but he chased after my mother with brand in his hand and caught up with her and took his old blanket off and threw it over the top of her and put the smoking brand under the thing and saved her from these...from these bees. Meanwhile my dad was heading for a river that was near there, the Karekea [?] River. And he had just one thing in mind: he was going to jump into that river to get away from the bees. But he was praying as he ran that the Lord would deliver him. And he said as he came to the bank of the river and was just on the point of jumping in, suddenly all the bees left him. Just like that, they all left him. And then as he collected his wits enough to look down into the...into the river, he saw it was filled with crocodiles right there and the Lord had delivered him from them. And it was just a thrill to get their story of that when it came in a letter.

SHUSTER: What was the name of that river again?

BARNETT: Karekea [?].

SHUSTER: Karekea [?].

BARNETT: Karekea [?] River. And then another letter came once of a trip when they got down to Lake Baringo and they started working among these Njemps people and they were moving in around among them and...and giving them the story in Masai and they were camped one night. They had put up their tent and went to sleep and the next morning they were awakened, the sun was shining but they were awakened to hear all this chatter and noise going out...on outside. There was a crowd of people out there and my dad stuck his head out and all these excited people were outside and warriors and so on. And they were looking around and my dad said, "What's the matter anyway?" And [coughs] they said, "You don't know?" They said, "Don't you know what happened here last night?" He said, "No. We've been asleep and just woke up." And they were just amazed, and they said, "Look at the ground." All around the tent were these huge elephant tracks, all around the tent and all around the trees. The elephants were in there feeding off the branches off the tree during the night and they hadn't touched the tent at all. And my dad said, "Well,...." And they said, "And you're still here alive." And my dad said, "Well, we were tired last night. We came to [?] put up our tent and as we do at night we prayed to our God that He would take care of us, that He would give us sleep and protect us and keep us. And He's taken care of us."


BARNETT: And so they went on then that day and they traveled, I guess, in the car within fifteen, twenty miles, speaking all along the way to people and then they finally that evening came to a spot where they were going to camp. They didn't want to be deliberately exposing themselves, so they asked some people there, "Are there any elephants around here? We want to put up our tents here. Are there any elephants here?" And the people just looked at them and sort of laughed, "Elephants! Elephants? You don't need to be afraid of elephants. You've got a God who takes care of you, protects you from elephants." The story had proceeded them by word of mouth all through the whole country and a lot of camps [?]. These are the wonderful ways in which the testimony then went through and the Lord used them.

SHUSTER: How would would you describe the Masai people, their qualities?

BARNETT: Very, very proud. That would be the first thing that comes into my mind when I think about the Masai. They...they had their standards by which they lived. They never wanted to be subjugated to...anything to interfere with their independence. They've always been a very independent people. And they have been resistant, generally, to the inroads of the influences coming into the country. Even up to today though all these years...the Masai probably were probably one of the first tribes to ever get the Gospel and they've had work going on among them for all these years, they have been among the slowest (that is as a a group) to respond, because of their deep sense of independence and their pride in their own way of life. They are not interested in changing from their way of life. They believe that all the cattle in the world belong to them and consequently it's not wrong for them to just take what belongs to them if it's in somebody else's yard or belongs to some other tribe [?]. One of the main reasons for the fights...battle that have gone on between the Masai and other tribes is....

SHUSTER: Do they believe that about everything or just about cattle?

BARNETT: Cattle. Cattle. Cattle are the most...that's the most important thing for a Masai, is his cows. They don't own much of anything else besides cattle. Their house, huts are most simple things. They are all made from a few sticks and cow dung that's smeared on them, which covers them, [unclear]. And their food is basically from the cattle. Milk is their basic food and occasionally mixed with blood that they draw from the cows if they want something special, and meat, again from the cows. They don't eat wild meat at all, though their cattle are out there grazing right along side the wild animals, antelopes and so on. But they don't touch that, only eat cows. Cows are very important to them. And they are a very bright people. The ones that have come out from them, they have been very fine, outstanding Christian leaders who have come from the Masai tribe and....

SHUSTER: What was that story you told me about a missionary coming upon a Masai...?

BARNETT: Well, it shows how resistant they are to change. I mean most of know, schooling is required out there today, up through the primary schools. They have to go to school and Masai kids escape if they can. They'd rather be out tending their cows. But there have been numbers of them that have gone on to higher education. They're bright, very bright people. They're intelligent. And this missionary was out in the Masai country. He was walking on, and he saw this Masai...Masai young man, warrior, all decked out in his red crane [?] grease in his hair and all over the body. And he was seated with his little dirty cloth around him, over his shoulder, on an anthill [?] (no one out there) and his cattle were grazing about him. And this missionary came up to him and greeted him in Swahili and he didn't get any answer. He tried greeting him some more and he tried greeting him in the Masai language and he didn't answer. And after a while of this going on for some time, suddenly this man began answering him in the purest Oxford English, genuine [?] Oxford English. The missionary just about died. [laughs] Here was this guy, he had studied [unclear] , he had been to England, he had been to Oxford University and he was a ph.d. He had his ph.d. degree in philosophy. And they got talking and the missionary said to him, "How in the world did you ever revert back this way, to this sort of a life again?" And the man simply looked at him and said, "Can you tell me any better way for me to practice my philosophy than this." [chuckles] But there are many of them that have had university educations and they are back into manyattas and corrals again. Same garb on them again. You'd never be able to distinguish them just to look at them at all, but that's the way they are.

SHUSTER: What's the religion of the Masai?

BARNETT: They're animists.

SHUSTER: [unclear]

BARNETT: Spirit worship. They believe very strongly in evil spirits, in God, good and evil, the devil. I've seen them while my mother has asked them, "Do you believe in God?" And they just look at you and say, "God? Of course. Who doesn't believe in God? Of course we believe in God." And they reach over and pick up a blade of grass and hold it up and say, "Who made that? God made that." The simplicity of their belief disarming really, especially when you get over here and hear all the arguments that entire universities are putting on to prove that there is no God.

SHUSTER: Is their idea of God similar to...?

BARNETT: Basically their idea of God is that He's good. God is a good god. He made us and everything we see is good. But because He's good, you don't have to be afraid of Him, you don't have to do anything to appease Him. It's the evil we have to be careful of. That's what we have to spend our time appeasing. And so it's the devil or the evil spirits that they are constantly trying to appease.

SHUSTER: Where do they see evil...the evil spirits coming from?

BARNETT: It's just there. I've never heard them say where it comes from. But they believe...I mean you can talk about Shetani, the devil,....

SHUSTER: Is that their word for the devil?

BARNETT: That's the Swahili word for the devil. Shetani. And they know what you are talking about. They know that he is evil and somebody that's responsible for evil and that is what the devil is associated with and he's bad.

SHUSTER: That might be a good point to stop, unless there are some more comments you wanted to add.

BARNETT: I don't think of anything. I could talk about some other things that did come up, but....


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Last Revised: 5/17/99
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Wheaton College 2005