The Houston Post Section 1, Page 1
Tuesday, December 31, 1963
PILGRIMS IN PARAGUAY
Texans Pleased With New Country, Miss Ice Water
By BERNARD MURPHY
After we had recovered somewhat from the exhaustion of our six day flight, I tried to get some reactions from the settlers about their new homeland in the wilderness.
Everyone I questioned – men, women and children – with few exceptions spoke of being pleased by Paraguay.
“This is fun once you get used to it, “ said one woman.
“I LIKE IT,” said Sister Dora Townsend . “There’s plenty of room for all my kids to run around. The only worry is whether they are going to step on a snake.”
Sister Eddie Couch, who said that she was born in the “good old J-D [Jeff Davis } Hospital in Houston, “ said:
“As far as the place is concerned, this is what we were looking for. It’s a little better than I had expected. I thought it would be a dry, dusty, land and it’s not. All out little teething problems will be wrinkled out eventually.”
These reactions were typical among 76 pilgrims from Texas, members of the religious group known as Camp Beulah, who are setting up a community in the primitive back-country of South America.
WHEN THE women of Camp Beulah were asked why they left the comforts of civilization to come to Paraguay, their replies were almost identical.
“The Lord told my husband to come and I came along too, “ said Sister Caroline Long and that was roughly the reply of them all.
“Ice water is the thing I miss most – something cold, “ said Sister Long. But I like it here.
“What I like here is that it is so quiet. Sometimes I still imagine that I can hear the noise of planes and cars and all the rows we heard in Houston. I thought I heard a telephone this morning.
“HAVE YOU noticed the birds? They are not like the birds in Houston. They sound different.”
Her husband, Gaston Vernon Long, chipped in: “This land will grow anything. We are go-
The Houston Post Section 1, Page 5
Tuesday, December 31, 1963
ing to have things that we never had before. Give this place a year. If I can get used to drinking hot water, everything will be fine.
“I saw a palm tree yesterday – it looked just like a Houston water tower.”
Said Sister Bettye Smith: “I just like all of it. You can sure slow down and relax here. You are not always in a big rush. I don’t miss TV because we didn’t have one even when we could. I don’t miss elevators. They make me sick like an airplane. I’ve had enough flying for the rest of my life.”
FROM THE children there was universal approval of the Chaco. With its abundance of wildlife and vast possibilities for Tom Sawyer’s dream island come true.
“I like it fine here,” said 7-year-old Cheryl Borden, the younger daughter of a Woodsboro cowboy. “I like the houses and the river and everything.”
Randy Watts, 14, said: “It’s a nice place and the houses are close together and there are plenty of cattle and horses to ride.”
Brother Jack Wood said: “I really appreciate being here. I appreciate what the people have done for us and the welcome that they gave us when we got off the plane. The Paraguayans have tried to be nice to us, fixing our houses up and doing extra things for us.
“THE CLIMATE has been a lot different. We’ve been kinda fagged out because of the heat. We’re still not used to this much heat, but I really do appreciate being here.”
Wood was asked what he hoped to find in Paraguay that he could not find in Houston.
“Well, really, just freedom,” he said.
“What I call freedom to live like the Lord wants me to live without any criticism from the religious world – and I really thank the Lord that I am here.
“In America you must fit in a pattern. It’s completely organized and people have it organized within themselves. I wouldn’t say that religion is organized, but men and women are. You must worship God like they say. Also, the denominations are highly organized and I believe that in a few years we’ll see one church. I don’t think this is a good thing.
“IT NEVER was. The Puritans of England, they died for what they believed, and I believe that today God has ordained that man should worship God according to the scriptures and not give one inch on what is true and what is right.”
Wood said that he is a reformed drug addict who at one time was in “every jail in Texas.”
“But in Paraguay the Lord welcomes a former drug addict just as much as anyone else,” he said.
He denied reports that the group had left America because it was tired of high taxation. “That’s rubbish,” he said. “We were a charitable religious organization and we didn’t even have to pay taxes. We just knew there was more freedom in Paraguay. I had a comfortable house in Houston.
“WE HAD four bedrooms and two baths. Now we have two rooms – and a path.
“My wife and I will be heads of the school here. There are 500 native families, and I figure each one will have four or five children.
“None of these children go to school. So we’ll build a school for the Indian children. We’ll teach these children reading, writing, and arithmetic, and Christianity also.
“We’ll farm about 750 acres of land.
“WE’VE GOT six tractors to farm with and there’ll be 17,000 head of cattle that are already bought.
“Brother Saint John has been appointed the general manager of the whole ranch. In other words, he is the boss. There will be nobody over him except at Asuncion which is 400 miles away – so actually we just go as the Lord leads us.”
Brother Saint John had many responsibilities during the first few days in the Chaco. As head of this family of 76, he was consulted on every problem major and minor. His difficulties were increased by a sudden attack of cramps in his legs and a fever which left him pale and weak.
WHEN ILLNESS strikes any member of Camp Beulah prayers are offered first and medical attention comes later.
Brother Jack laid his hands on Saint John and called on the Lord to heal him as the whole community knelt in prayer.
Arriving a trifle late for the pre-breakfast prayers I asked one of the women what was the matter with Saint John.
“He was sick but the Lord has cured him,” she announced with unquestioning faith.
The followers of Saint John see the will of the Lord in every tiny incident. A doctor who had flown into the camp after a young boy had been bitten by piranha fish while swimming was giving the child a shot of an antibiotic. The glass capsule containing the drug accidentally fell onto the earth floor of the hut.
“THE LORD doesn’t want him to have it” said one of the women.
The Texans got to work with great speed to improve conditions at the camp.
Within 48 hours of the group’s arrival, the men had laid a 900-foot-long pipe from the river to the cookhouse to provide running water. A three-horse power gasoline motor supplied the power for pumping the river water to a tap beside the kitchen. The Guarani Indians also built the women some sinks beside the cookhouse for washing up.
WHEN THE first spout of water sprayed from the pipe, the natives who had never seen tap water before were amazed and delighted.
Brother David Lawrence organized a temporary outdoor school for the pilgrims’ children. He started teaching the young Texans Spanish – and a number of Guarani children from the nearby homes of the native workers joined the class.
The Texans also set to work to build a shower house for the women. Lack of adequate sanitation was perhaps the biggest of the early problems.
Actually, the “Green Hell” of Paraguay, as the Chaco has been called, is no more a green hell than Texas in midsummer. But it seems to be one when you have no showers, no ice water, nowhere to shelter from the sun except a hot wooden hut with a dusty, uneven floor.
DUST WAS A big problem at Del Sol. There were frequently strong winds and the dry crust of the earth flew across the camp.
The heat and the dust caused sore throats and noses, and trying to keep belongings clean was almost impossible.
But we welcomed the wind which cooled us.
My roommate, Larry Murray, proved a handy companion. He showed me how to rig my mosquito net and how to make a sort of salad from the heart of a palm tree.
LARRY IS A strapping 6-foot 3-inch jack of all trades.
He is a qualified barber, a plumber, a horse wrangler, and a rodeo rough rider and during World War II was a parachutist. Larry made 140 jumps by parachute, including one in which he broke his knees.
When we left Brownsville and he was about to board the Constellation he had told me, “This is the first time I’ve been in a plane with the hope of landing in it.”
Most of the children of Camp Beulah behaved extraordinarily well during their long journey and when faced with their new surroundings.
BUT THEIR strict upbringing and their long clothes made them appear much more serious and restrained than the native children. The boys in their long trousers and the girls with their ankle-length dresses were more like little old men and women than boisterous normal children.
Brother Saint John said that he was much pleased by his first few days in Paraguay.
Before the first breakfast in the camp he led the group in singing. “I have decided to follow Jesus” and in a prayer of thanksgiving.
THERE WAS hymn singing and prayer before each meal.
“Thank You, Lord for giving us a cool night” prayed Brother Saint John after our first good night when the wind blew refreshingly.
“Everyone’s rested and we’re all intact. Thank You for all the things You’ve given us here. We know some of the things are different to what we expected but we thank You for all You’ve done for us, for giving us good clean water from the river and for this food.”
All the members of the Camp Beulah are looking forward to the arrival of their farm equipment and their tractors due by river in January or February.
“We have nothing to break the ground now” said Saint John, “ but we have great plans for making this place a real garden.
“WE HAVE brought lettuce, cabbage, tomato, radish, celery, avocado, and almost every kind of seed. Every kind of vegetable they grow in the valley of Texas we have brought.
“I have sweet corn, carrots, watermelons, beets, squash, blackeyed peas, pinto beans, green string beans and even Irish potatoes. We also plan to plant fruit trees. I think almost anything will grow here.
“Give us a little time and we’ll have this place growing everything.”
NEXT: The dangers of camp life.