Unchurched Winter Haven, Florida, girl meets Christian teen boy. Girl is youngest of three daughters mother was left with due to the early death of her husband. Very poor. Rebelled in teen years and refused at one point to go to school having to wear same dress day after day as a high school student.
Boy asks her on a date. One dollar, late 40’s got them into a drive-in movie with 20 cents left for a soda drink. Friendship blooms in time to romance; girl attends his Bible-preaching church, trusts Christ as Savior, is baptized and in time they both graduate from high school and attend Bible college in Missouri, marrying after their first year there.
Lavon, his name, pastors a small church in Preston, Missouri, near their Bible college; Carolyn, her name, is pianist knowing and able to play only four hymns. God blesses them, at age 21, with their first baby girl, Connie LaVonne, and two years later with another beautiful girl, Joy Jeanette. They feel called of God, upon graduation and after an “internship” in a Jacksonville, Fl, church, to apply as missionaries to Uruguay, again at the age of 21, and their mission board, whose policy was to appoint missionaries who were no younger than 25, made an exception, and appointed Lavon and Carolyn Waters, as missionaries to Uruguay in 1957 whereupon the young couple promptly set out to raise the standard amount of missionary monthly support of that day, $400 a month. After 29 days at sea on a Norwegian freighter, with two babies under 2, they arrived in Montevideo, Uruguay ready to do the work of the ministry.
In December of 1960, the Waters were expecting their third baby, Patricia Karen, who was born with a severe case of spina bifida and died at the age of four months. This tragic “loss” happened all while the Waters were busy under God’s guidance planting what soon became a growing church. In 1963 God gifted them with another healthy baby, a boy, David. In time, Lavon, sensed a restlessness in his spirit that God was leading them somewhere else in spite of a growing work in Uruguay after twelve years of faithful, fruitful service in works that they had been used to start. They had built a spacious and comfortable house and Carolyn was content to spend their lives there reaching people hungry for the gospel.
God had other plans and visiting missionary friends from Chile, Flay and Margaret Allen, challenged Lavon and Carolyn to pray about Spain, a field that they were surveying which had just opened up for foreign missionaries in about 1969. God nurtured that restlessness in Lavon’s heart and in a short time a family of five left behind twelve years, believers, friends, house, church to fly from Montevideo to Buenos Aires and on to America for a 10 month furlough reporting to churches before they would board a ship for Barcelona, Spain where, after just 10 days on the ocean, they would disembark with 27 pieces of luggage, heading for Madrid, with the missionary who had promised to meet them there, delayed due to his car needing repairs.
But they made it to Madrid where “more people lived…than in the entire country of Uruguay.” Settled into a house, after living in an apartment for two years, they continued their search for a building in which to gather folk for a church plant. That need was met, the building was bought, and their efforts to gather a people together around His Word took off, but to a snail’s pace of a start. At that time, Spain was very closed to anything that was not Catholic, and it was difficult for these foreigners there to establish relationships with nationals. Persistent evangelism efforts produced little results, but Lavon, Carolyn and their girls plus David worked diligently at it. Some twenty years later, a move to another city, smaller, nearby, Guadalajara, would eventually come and new efforts at church planting there would begin. Meeting places were difficult and expensive to come by, but God provided and a suitable location was discovered and bought after a year-long search. The work they had begun in Madrid continued along with a Bible Institute that they had helped to start there.
Something that was going on South America shortly before Y2K served as a catalyst for new impetus to the Waters’ missionary efforts in Spain. There began to be an influx of people from some European countries and South American countries, suffering from economic hardships caused by repressive national economic policies prompting many people in some of those countries to migrate to Spain for jobs that were at that time plentiful in Spain. These folk were more open and for the most part receptive to evangelistic efforts and the church began to take off.
Lavon had a burden for a camp ministry for the youth to attend during the summer months and after prayer, patience and another intensive search for a site, they were able to locate a beautiful 18 acres not far from the outskirts of Guadalajara, and board by board, road by road, Lavon poured his sweat and skills into literally building a beautiful camp that in time with kitchen, dorms and large fellowship hall would accommodate 120 people.
Ellen and I had the privilege of visiting the Waters about 7 or 8 years ago and toured the camp, visited the Sunday services of a thriving church now under the leadership of a once teenage boy from Guadalajara who was trained in the Bible Institute and we were only able to exclaim, “What God hath wrought.”
But the price, in 65 years on the two mission fields, would have to be measured in toil, tears and trust. When their oldest daughter, Connie, was still pretty much a 21-year-old newlywed, enrolled in Bible college preparing with her husband to return to Spain as part of the Waters’ team, the Waters family was devastated when she contracted a viral pneumonia and died. God used that untimely death (our vantage point) to His glory and funds in memorial to their daughter began to pour in at a critical time enabling them to develop the campgrounds to where it could be a summer retreat for youth from all over Spain. What was a heart-breaking loss was turned into a triumphant gain for the glory of God and the furtherance of His missionary work through these faithful, steadfast servants.
Thompson Road Baptist Church has supported Lavon and Carolyn Waters most of those six decades and to the present. What an investment for eternity! What a testimony of faithfulness. Carolyn has suffered an inherited kidney disease for the past several years, but by the grace of God, even in her later years, was able to receive a kidney transplant.
The Waters are a sweet, humble, youthfully spirited couple who live, eat, sleep, breath missions in Spain. They will, I believe, choose to spend their last days there in their apartment in Guadalajara, not far from the church that Lavon’s protégé, Angel, pastors. It is truly a remarkable story. Their daughter, Joy and her husband, are close by ministering in Madrid and their son David now pastors, having served many years with his family in Spain alongside of his parents, then in Italy and California and now in Virginia.
In the past few weeks, I have been packing up books I have collected in 50 years of ministry. One of those books is entitled Always by Our Side, the Waters’ life testimony as told by Carolyn Waters and published in 2015. I read it again, and turned almost every page with tear-soaked eyes to be reminded of what I have followed and read in prayer letters over the years from this humble yet vibrant couple. It is a book of surrender, suffering, steadfastness, stubbornness in staying strong; and my burden, now at the ripe old age of 80 this November, for world missions has only been heightened for having read it. Truly, Carolyn and Lavon can testify and do testify that He, God, was “Always by Our Side.”
(Anyone interested in getting a copy of Always by Our Side may do so by visiting http://www.watersinspain.com)
“I have set the Lord always before me: because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” (Ps.16:8)