Answering a call to serve
Alice Austin never thought she would find herself in the mission field; in fact, she prayed that God would never send her.
But God had different plans for her, she said. As Austin reflected on her experiences as a missionary with her family, she also shared how that changed the trajectory of her life.
She was born in Corvallis and raised on a farm near Alsea, Oregon, until she was 11 years old.
"I loved the farm," Austin said. "I got to drive the tractor in the summer as soon as my legs were long enough to reach the pedals. It was just a good life."
Austin was born at the end of the Depression, and money was tight in every walk of life. They did lots of things as a family to raise money. Her father bored pitch for turpentine.
"I grew up doing that as soon as I could," she said. "He had a real knack for spotting the fir trees that were full of pitch."
Her father also liked to go to Grant County and mine for gold near Canyon City, Oregon. On their way through, they would stop by Prineville.
"People were so friendly," Austin recalled. "You would walk down the street in the morning to go to breakfast, and it was, 'Hi, how are you?'
"It just appealed to (my parents), so that's when they decided to move here," she added.
Austin's family moved to Prineville in 1946. She graduated from Crook County High School in 1952 and went on to Multnomah School of the Bible in Portland (now Multnomah University).
She met Orlie Austin while in college, and they were married in 1954. Her son Lon was born in 1956, and they had two more children, Steve and Ann. The family did everything together, including rockhounding.
"When the kids were old enough, they went along," Austin said. "When they found something good, we paid them something for it, and we spent a lot of time outside."
A call to serve overseas
They were contacted by the American Missionary Union to conduct Sunday School in Ashwood, a small town in Jefferson County, every Sunday. They would come back through the Ochoco Mountains and have a picnic at Trout Creek.
A visiting missionary — who was on his way to Peru to be a teacher to the children of Wycliffe Bible Translators — brought some literature with him to their church. He gave them a brochure that said, "Recruits needed." Orlie had carpentry skills, and there was a need in South America for missionaries who could offer these skills, among many others, to help villages in remote areas.
"Independently of each other, God gave Orlie and I both the same scripture verse that we later found on Wycliffe literature," Austin said. She added that it was confirmation for them.
After filling out the required paperwork and a lengthy questionnaire, they found themselves at the Summer Institute of Linguistics at the University of Oklahoma campus.
"We were in old Army barracks in the heat of summer," she said.
They received general condensed training they needed for their ministry. From there, they headed to jungle camp in southern Mexico. In a Chevrolet pickup with a camper, they loaded up their three children and traveled with a couple from Joseph, Oregon, and another couple from California.
They drove to Mexico City, and they were able to visit the pyramids and the Anthropology Museum.
"Driving in Mexico City is an experience," she said.
From Mexico City, they headed to Tuxtla, Mexico, and picked up three more couples to caravan with. They encountered many hardships, including the youngest Austin having a toothache that required a stop for antibiotics. They also hit strong winds that were perilous and put their pickup on two wheels at one point.
After spending a few days in Tuxtla, they flew in an Mission Aviation Fellowship plane into the middle of nowhere, she said. They were there for three months, living in a mud hut at main base.
"We didn't get to do very much together, because someone always had to stay with the kids," Austin said.
She added that they went on the same adventures at different times. They took classes where they learned to give shots and pull teeth, as well as mechanics and carpentry. They also had to take walks to the Indian villages to make word lists.
"They don't knock. They clap when they come to a house," she said.
After six weeks, they went to an advanced base where the emphasis was on survival.
"The one thing that scared me was I was afraid of snakes," Austin said. "We built our beds up off the ground by notching trees and putting limbs between and putting vines around. Our houses were made of limbs with vines and furniture was made of limbs and vines."
They also learned to make rafts and dugout canoes. She said that regardless of where you go as a missionary, you must be resourceful and know how to react in situations and how to be safe.
Finally, Austin said that they took a Japanese freighter to Brazil, where they would spend three and a half years. Before leaving for their ship, they were required to raise enough funds to cover monthly support and three months' reserve. They were $2,000 short when they got on the ship.
"Orlie got called to come to the purser's office, and we looked at each other and wondered what was going on," Austin said. "He came back with this shocked look on his face and handed me a check. It was $10 more than we needed. They told him we had overpaid our passage. It took me years to figure out we didn't. The travel agent gave us all of her commission — I know that's what it was."
When in South America, Austin said her daughter, Ann, contracted a form of malaria and had a high fever. The local doctors were at a festival in Rio de Janeiro, and a local who was familiar with the area took them to a nearby military hospital, where Ann was given an antidote that brought the fever down within an hour.
Austin also learned to trust her motherly instincts when the doctor at the military hospital gave them a prescription to be filled. Upon receiving it, Austin said that it just didn't look right. Her motherly instincts proved to be right, as it was written for an adult and would have been lethal to her fourth grade daughter.
"God has stepped in more than one time," she said.
Immediately following this incident, they traveled to Belem, which means Bethlehem, near the mouth of the Amazon River. While there, Orlie built a study center for the tribal people. They next went to Brasilia, where they spent six months for language study.
"There was a communist threat there at the time," said Austin. "They often stopped vehicles on the way when we would go to town."
In the Territory of Rondônia, they went to Porto-Velho to help build houses. Many of the houses were only framed and unfinished. Orlie built another study center and several houses. He also did a great deal of mechanical work.
"He hung his carpenter overalls in the sawmill, and a bird came along and built her nest in the pocket and laid her eggs," Austin said, laughing. "They hatched off and they flew away, and he was still doing mechanical work."
In all, Austin's family were in South America for three and a half years.
Austin said there were hard things, but they received such a different perspective on life by seeing it differently than how much of the world does. All her children got to visit at least one tribe.
"Had they not gotten the tribal experience, it still would have been good, but that was really good for them," she reflected.
When Lon needed to start eighth grade, they encountered the challenge of finding a school, which stopped at seventh grade. They didn't want to rely on correspondence, as the mail was often lost or extremely slow. The Brazilians also called the Territory of Rondônia "the back of beyond."
They eventually chose a school in Bolivia. There were some other students there who had attended jungle camp with them. The kids weren't happy there, however, and shortly thereafter, Orlie hurt his back. Alice's mother and father back home both had some major health issues, and they ultimately needed to return to the United States.
"I wouldn't trade the experience for anything," said Austin with commitment. "I learned so much, and it was great to be part of something I felt so strongly about."
She added that her children gained a tremendous love and appreciation for their country because they saw what it was like elsewhere.
"They saw the commitment to God on the part of people who have spent up to 50 years or so working in a tribe," she added. "One of the advantages to the kids, is that they are all comfortable with people of other cultures. When Lon and Karlene travel, Lon's comfort has sometimes worried Karlene, but he understands that the key is quickly catching on to the culture and moving with it instead of fighting it because it doesn't match your own."
Austin has become part of other missions that she can be part of from Prineville. She is on the board of Redeemer Ministries, a Christian ministry that brings the message of Christianity to the people of Uganda through evangelism, micro-loans, and community health development. She sells jewelry that is sent back to Prineville from the people of Uganda, and the money goes directly back to their ministry.
"I am so glad for the experience. It is something that will always stick with me," Austin concluded.
To contribute to Redeemer Ministries, send donations to P.O. Box 311, Prineville, OR 97754
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