Chapter 2 The Valiente Indian Mission
This Mission was founded in 1917 by the Rev Mortimer Surgeon by placing the 18-year old Ephraim Alphonse among the Valiente Indians as an evangelist and missionary. It is a widely held belief that the Rev Ephraim Alphonse was the founder but there is an entry in the baptism register written by Alphonse that clearly attributes the founding to Mortimer Surgeon.He performed the first baptisms among the Indians and against his signature in the column,there is drawn an index finger with the caption:-“The founder of the Indian Mission”.
Following theological training and acceptance into the Methodist Ministry, Alphonse returned to the Valiente Peninsular, married to Hyacinth Ogilvie and continued the work. His main outreach was through education and the setting up of schools along the coast from Tibobe to Bluefields and beyond. On our arrival in 1970 we found several churches:- Tibobe, Punta Uva (Grape Point), Playa Colorado, Cayo de Paloma (Pigeon Key), Bahia Azul (Bluefields), Coco Key and the main church, Kusapin.
The use of the Indian language was key to the work in that the Indians accepted the Gospel through “the language they heard whilst taking their mother’s milk,” Guaymi. Following our language training in Mexico we had a working knowledge of Spanish. Fortunately for us, most of the men spoke English, though not “English, English”, but Jamaican Patois. This being introduced through the Jamaican workers on the banana plantations in the Province of Bocas del Toro.
Alphonse had translated parts of the Bible into Guaymi, his main work was the hymn and service book,”Himnos de la Vida Cristiana”. This book had 16 psalms, 98 hymns, a catechism and full translations of six services including the “Order of Morning Prayer”. I still have my copy which shows signs of being visited by countless cockroaches who enjoyed the cover’s glue. However, the inside remains intact and has my additions of the music for the hymns, this enabled me to take a lead in singing the hymns unaccompanied by any instruments.
Some years before our arrival all the schools had been handed over to the Panamanian government. They were doing an excellent job, the lessons were entirely in Spanish and through the teacher training program many were probationers which gave us young and enthusiastic teachers. To most of them the Valiente Coast was a “culture shock”.
It certainly was for us as there was no public transport, all the travel was by open motorized canoe through dangerous reefs and sandbars, and there was only one shop, “Santa Cecilia” where we could buy gasoline, flour, sugar, and a limited amount of other provisions. The “Mission House” had a gas powered refrigerator which was a great help, but we remembered the words of those who had gone before, “You’ll have to make your own bread!”. Fortunately we met a Jamaican lady in Almirante (Mrs Green), who gave us an excellent recipe. The mission house had three bedrooms and was perched on a mini-peninsular with the sea not only on two sides but in a cave deep below. Electricity was supplied by a Witte diesel generator which had to be cranked and usually run from 6 – 9.30pm. Though the front entrance of the house faced the sea, the main entrance was at the rear which faced the village. We had many visitors, some curious to see the new padre and his senora, and most were well mannered. However this entry was through the kitchen and one dear old lady passing the stove lifted off the cooking pot lid and smiling all over her face asked “What’s cooking?”
Our water supply was from a large wooden tank outside, collecting water from the roof. The toilet system emptied into the sea and in our first week was blocked, so I turned into a plumber and went down to the beach and shook the pipe until it became loose enough to cover me with its contents, the sea provided a handy bath and laundry. The furniture in the house was well used, including the mattresses which had some insect life in them. With “Miss P’s” usual efficiency we soon had the place cleaned up and liveable.
So began our missionary work in the Valiente Indian Mission. To those going “Ngoborebea” (God go with you), to those remaining “Kgobrerica” God enrich you.