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updated: 12/9/2010 1:57 PM

Holmstad resident shares Africa stories

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  • Batavia author Barbara Lytle, in her 90s, has published stories about her life, including details of her mission trips to West Africa.

      Batavia author Barbara Lytle, in her 90s, has published stories about her life, including details of her mission trips to West Africa.
    Courtesy of Charles Davis

  • Barbara Lytle of Batavia received this certificate in recognition of her work translating the Book of Acts into Kpelle, the language of the tribe she worked with in West Africa. The book was later published by the British and Foreign Bible Society for other missionaries to use.

      Barbara Lytle of Batavia received this certificate in recognition of her work translating the Book of Acts into Kpelle, the language of the tribe she worked with in West Africa. The book was later published by the British and Foreign Bible Society for other missionaries to use.
    Photo courtesy of Charles Davis

 
 

Everyone has a story to tell. Barbara Lytle's story began when she was a young high school coed.

"I heard a speaker give a presentation on (the people of Africa)," she said. "I knew at that moment that what I wanted to do with my life was to go to Africa and work with the people there."

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Lytle was an adventurous girl with a deep faith, so she chose to pursue a career in mission work. She enrolled in Simpson Bible Institute in Seattle, Wa. It was there she met her husband, Richard, who shared her dream of going to Africa.

Although Lytle had studied both Latin and French in high school, she was required to take three years of Greek during her college years. For her fourth year, she and her husband moved to Nyack, N.Y., for additional studies.

Then the couple went through an intensive French course that met six hours a day, five days a week, for nine months in New York City because they had been assigned through the Christian and Missionary Alliance to a mission in French Guinea, West Africa.

"I was never really good at speaking French but I could write it quite well," Lytle said. "In fact, the head of the French program said that I should be the one to write any correspondence to the government."

They spent the first few months living in a garage at the mission station and learning from the missionaries who were already there. Their job was to spread the gospel and train African men to become pastors.

Barbara Lytle's ability to grasp foreign languages was put to the test when dealing with the different tribal languages. Her job was to teach the men in the mission area to read and write their own language. She also taught them Mandingo, a language of the Niger-Congo family. By learning Mandingo, the men would be able to communicate with other tribes.

During her tenure in West Africa, Lytle also translated the Book of Acts into Kpelle, the language of the tribe. The book was later published by the British and Foreign Bible Society for other missionaries to use.

The Lytles were blessed with the birth of their only child while in Africa. There was a French doctor available to perform the delivery, but things didn't work out quite as planned.

"I went into labor and he came to see me, but he decided that there was still time before the delivery," said Lytle. "He went to a party and said to come and get him if my situation changed."

When it was evident that the baby was on his way, the mission nurse sent Barbara's husband, Richard, to get the doctor. He came to deliver the baby in an inebriated state. Lytle said the doctor made serious errors that caused problems for the baby.

"It was the mission nurse who was with us through the entire night and knew what to do," Lytle said. "I think she was truly a blessing."

Having an infant in a mission wasn't easy because there were no conveniences of home: no refrigeration, formula or access to fresh milk. Through a U.S. Government pamphlet, Lytle learned how to make her own formula using evaporated milk. The baby, Steven, began to gain weight.

Lytle's mission work wasn't just limited to educational and spiritual endeavors. She also treated people with medical issues, working with those afflicted with leprosy.

"The hardest thing was making sure to wash Steven's hands and to keep him from putting his hands in his mouth because they all wanted to touch the baby," she said.

She recalled one young man who had topical ulcers on his foot that wouldn't heal.

"I decided to try and wash the sores with the same solution, Potassium Permanganate, that we used to wash our fruits and vegetables," she said. "I did that every day for six months and stop and tell his friends how I had healed him."

After 14 years in West Africa, the Lytles returned home because Richard developed arthritis and the damp climate wasn't good for him.

"It was so hard to leave," Lytle said. "This was our life's work. It was what we had been trained to do."

Barb Lytle's memories of Africa remained with her, especially the memories of the African people.

"We loved them," she said. "They were beautiful people, so joyful, never violent and alway willing to help us."

I first met Barb Lytle when she walked into the writing club I facilitate at the Holmstad. A humble woman, she quietly shared the stories of the African people she had come to know and love. She also shared one of her stories at her Holmstad book club.

A member in the club, Cay Boiland, suggested that Lytle send her story to her granddaughter, Stephanie Boiland, an editor at Tyndale Press. Boiland took the story and sent it to Alliance Life, a semimonthly magazine for Alliance missionaries.

"I was immediately mesmerized by both the richness of the story and the richness of this woman's life," Boiland said. "If you met Barbara, you might just see the sweet grandmother with declining vision. You might not realize at first what a lifetime of adventures lie just beneath the surface."

Barbara Lytle had her first story published a year ago, and this spry nonagenarian has another one scheduled for the near future.

"I figured if Grandma Moses could start painting when she was in her 80s, I could start writing my stories now to share with others," Lytle said.

Everyone has a story to tell. It doesn't matter if you are 9 or 90. Our lives are filled with stories and images that remain with us forever. What a gift when those stories are shared with one another.

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