Thanks to a German fan named Kolja Böther, I now have a copy of my missionary grandfather’s memoir, Roughing it for Christ in the Wilds of Brazil. It’s short—more a pamphlet than a book—but does a good job of conveying what his life in South America was like.
The “roughing it” part is no joke. Traveling between his various mission posts, Grandpa sometimes spent as much as twenty hours at a stretch in the saddle (he rode mules, the terrain having proved too rugged for horses). And his home life, when he had time to enjoy it, sounds like something you might read about in a Matt Ruff novel:
The parsonage was well meant by Synod’s representatives. A large, two-story building of sixteen rooms, intended to house two missionaries, with the greatest number of large French windows that I ever saw in a house of that size. With the exception of my study, the windows were without glass during the war, and for some time after. There were no shutters. In Brazil it rains at times. We sometimes have the feeling as if it were always raining there. And with every rain the water would pour down through the ceiling on the windward side of the house. In some rains all four sides seemed windward, as the storm drove the sheets of rain through from end to end. But we were trained, like a ship’s crew, to stow all movable goods away on the driest side of the house. And when the wind changed, we would re-stow them on the other side. And sometimes we would be sitting on the leeward side and wouldn’t notice the rain coming in the windward, and would then find some books ruined or a bed wet through and through, or even covered with a layer of clay mortar from the unfinished wall. That, too, was hard on the nerves. But I can say that I always tried to find a funny side. One of the funny sides was this, that the floor was absolutely waterproof. We had to bore holes through it to get the water out. But after I had a wife, and before I got the idea of the holes in the floor, and whenever we would have stowed the goods away on a dry side, before the wind would have a chance to turn, we would join hands and dance around barefoot in the sea on the floors of study and dining room…
About the wife: in the stories my mother used to tell me, Grandpa and Grandma’s marriage was far from idyllic. Among other issues, Grandma eventually converted to Mormonism, which I imagine made for interesting dinner conversation. But at time Grandpa wrote Roughing it, the big theological debates were still in the future, and his description of her and their relationship is actually quite touching:
[S]he is a German Russian by birth, a Brazilian by adoption since her eleventh year, an American by sympathies and by marriage. Having had no school, she is a wonderful reader. In her confirmation days and after she memorized all of the synodical catechism, including most of Luther’s introduction. In her girlhood days, she made 14 miles afoot and back on the same day, in the rain and barefoot, of course, to hear one of our chorus concerts…
We have been asked other questions, one or two of which I shall answer here. “Don’t you wear wedding rings in Brazil?” Yes, we do. At least those people do that have the money. We didn’t have it at the time. Later on we made up our minds that we would have a sweet revenge for this condition of affairs, by buying our rings at no other place than Tiffany’s in New York. Which we did. They are the usual gold bands, and contain the legend: “Urwahnfried — 1918.” Nothing else, but that is a volume. Urwahnfried is a word composed of old German word roots, and means in modern English, “Fulfillment.” Or, more explicitly: “The Place where my Fight for the Highest and Broadest Ideals of Life Came to an End in the Peace of Victory.”
And that’s today’s word.
(Update: My grandfather’s book is now available in a Kindle edition.)