By the time I was born — the 11th child in my family — my folks had run out of names. So they gave the job to my sisters. That’s how I became Maxine Evon Bailey. With a father who loved to entertain us, six big brothers to tease me and four big sisters to spoil me, it all made for a very happy childhood.
My Christian adventure began in the sixth grade when I was invited to attend a neighborhood Bible club. Having no idea what to expect, I dragged my friend Leona along too.
Neither of us had ever heard the Gospel before. We weren’t really sure what Jesus had to do with anything except Christmas. But Mrs. Abel brought Him to life for us with songs and a flannelgraph board and figures. I don’t know how many times we attended before we understood the Gospel, but I do remember how emotional it was for me to accept Jesus as my Savior. Mrs. Abel then guided us to a good church in our neighborhood and explained how important it was to attend faithfully, which we did.
That next year we became more and more grounded in our faith and wanted to be baptized. My mother gave me permission, but Leona’s mother wouldn’t let her. Mrs. Abel interceded and we ended up being baptized on the same night — with no parents to view it. Just two scared little girls on our own.
At 16, I was really challenged when I saw a film of the five NTM missionaries who were killed by the Ayorés in eastern Bolivia, and heard NTM missionaries speak. I began to read everything I could get my hands on about New Tribes Mission. What Paul Fleming wrote really spoke to my teenage heart: “No man is too old to serve the Lord, and no man is too young.”
At the end of my junior year of high school, our youth pastor and his wife and a group of young people from our church decided to go to California to study missions with New Tribes. The others were older than I was but I decided to send in my application anyway. I figured if New Tribes accepted me, I would drop out of high school and go along. I fully expected to be turned down. I wasn’t — and this caused a slight problem since I hadn’t consulted my parents.
With all my older siblings grown and gone, and just my parents and I at home, I had become quite independent. And this was one of the consequences. So knowing my dad wouldn’t want me to go without finishing high school, I answered an ad for the American School of Correspondence Courses, hoping I could take my senior year that way and still go.
After walking home one evening from the local movie theater where I sold popcorn, I was surprised to find an unknown gentleman in a suit sitting in our living room with my parents.
“What’s this about you wanting to take a correspondence course, young lady?”
My daddy didn’t look very happy. Fearing there would be words, the man quickly stood up with his briefcase and prepared to leave. “I can see that she is a bit young, Mr. Bailey, and probably wouldn’t have the determination to finish a correspondence course, so I’ll just be going,” he said.
“Now, you just wait a minute, sir. If any one has determination, Maxine does!”
And before I knew it, Daddy and the unknown gentleman from American School of Correspondence Courses were planning the classes I’d need to finish my senior year.
After the man had gone, Daddy asked me, “Now, why in the world do you want to take your 12th grade by correspondence?”
And that’s when I told my parents about wanting to go with New Tribes Mission in the fall. My folks just looked at each other. I knew they were thinking, “Whatever in the world put such an idea into her head?” But they had always taught us to follow our hearts. Well, my heart was full of becoming a missionary.
The other person I needed to tell my plans to was Howard Morarie. We had met at church, but now he went to college quite a distance away in Fort Collins. We had been dating for a year and he wasn’t a very happy camper when I told him.
“Don’t be silly,” he pleaded. “I know you want to graduate. Then you can come up to Fort Collins and I’ll pay your way through college with my GI bill. We can think about maybe becoming missionaries later.”
“Well, I guess we’ll have to break up then if you don’t approve,” I told him. And we did.
Then just a week before our group was to leave to begin missionary training in Fouts Springs, California, I was surprised to see Howard waiting in the foyer as I walked out of church one Sunday.
“Guess what I did?” he asked, with a big smile on his face.
“What did you do?” I asked cautiously.
“I sent in my application and I’m going with you!”
So in a whirlwind, we started the training in October 1949, got married the following August, and left for Bolivia in January 1951. With only our high school Spanish and a little additional study after our arrival, we were ready to launch in San José.
Howard wore many hats right off the bat. He helped the new little church in town, made supply runs and did the wiring for the new Tambo boarding school for missionaries’ children that was under construction at the foot of the Andes Mountains. That left me alone much of the time. Our first two children were born in San José. I experienced fear and loneliness, and struggled to learn Spanish.
I remember the first time our son Howie smiled. Alone in San José, I wanted to tell someone so I ran to one of the ladies from church. But it wasn’t until I started to tell her about it that I realized I didn’t even know the word for “smile.” I still don’t know if she ever understood what I was trying to pantomime.
Then we were asked to move into Tobité where the Ayorés were — the very tribal people who had killed the first five missionaries. I remember thinking, “What have we let ourselves in for?” when I saw all of them running up the hill to meet us.
One of the Ayoré ladies immediately grabbed Nancy, who was ten months old, and with a grimy finger, began exploring her mouth for teeth. Up to that point, I had boiled everything that went into her mouth. So I prayed, “Lord, you’ll just have to protect the children now.”
While Howard was busy teaching the Ayorés skills they would need — how to farm, saw lumber, cut railroad ties, understand money, etc. — I was busy having babies (six in all), helping deliver other babies, homeschooling, helping with literacy classes, teaching women’s and children’s classes, but most of all, little-by-little I was learning the linguistics of the Ayoré language.
And then one day, I was asked to begin translation of the Ayoré New Testament. Me. A wife and mother. I would have the privilege of translating a Bible for the Ayoré people. I felt so blessed.
Ecarai was my very first translation helper. We became very close as we worked together over the years. With his help, we discovered a term for “born of the Spirit.”
The Ayoré term for “born” is “to fall.” Not at all productive for born again. Fall again? So one day, after puzzling over it a long time, Ecarai said, “I know what it is! It is like being washed into another clan. You are changed completely and all the things of the new clan are now for you to partake of. So we will say, ’God’s Spirit will clan-wash you and you will be changed into God’s countryman.’”
After that, whenever he would write me letters, he would always close them with, “Your fellow clan-washed one by the Holy Spirit, Ecarai.”
The translation took 12 years to complete, and another three years to do the revision and see the New Testament in one volume. By the time it was finished, we had been in Bolivia for 32 years and decided it was time to go home and get to know our grandchildren. And that is one adventure I’m still on.
But who would have thought that getting a Bible into the hands of the Ayoré people in their very own language would start with a little girl invited to a neighborhood Bible club. I never would have dreamed it.