Monday, January 20, 2014

Pendleton family follows mission call to Africa

Andrew and Barbara Clark of Pendleton met in Africa while both were members of the Peace Corps. A Jan. 6, 1978 story in the East Oregonian interviewed the couple and their children as they were preparing to return to the continent on an agricultural mission in Kenya. Excitement was running high for the family. “We have a long-term romance with Africa,” Andrew said.

Andrew Clark served the Oregon Department of Agriculture as a veterinarian for five Eastern Oregon counties, and also had worked as an employee for the African government after his Peace Corps service was finished. Because of his experience, he was picked for the three-year stint in a cattle-producing area in Kenya, helping to build up production of both cattle and crops. Though the area did not place an emphasis on farming, the Clarks hoped increasing the water supply to the region might change that.

Barbara planned to home-school their five children, Sam, Jamie, John, Benjie and Mary, with help from a correspondence course available to missionary families. The flexible school situation would allow Andrew to take the children along on his extensive travels around the region. The Clarks also vetoed the idea of placing the children in local schools so as to not take up space that African children could use.

In addition to clothing, some medications and other items that would be hard to find in Africa, the Clarks were taking many tools and a “standard missionary” square-tub gas washing machine. Children at the Pendleton Presbyterian Church also bought a Polaroid camera for the family so they could send photos home to Pendleton without having to find a place to develop the film. Letters telling of their life and travels also would be routed to their friends through Dr. Myron Nichols of the church.

What would the family miss? Trick-or-treating at Halloween would be out, as would a white Christmas, though the family planned to discover new holidays while celebrating the usual ones. And what about the children’s favorite toys? “I’ve never seen African children with commercial toys,” said Andrew. The classics — sticks and rocks — and bugs, which are much bigger in Africa, were the staple for African kids. Considering each of the family members would be allowed only two duffel bags for the move, ordinary items and a little creativity would have to make do for playtime.

Being accepted by the African people didn’t worry the Clarks. They had learned on their previous stint in Africa that acceptance was dependent on how the native people were greeted, how they were entertained in the home and the respect they were shown. Also, “The African people love children,” Andrew added. Their children, two of whom were adopted and were African-American, would be door-openers for them, the Clarks said.

Renee Struthers is the records editor and book reviewer for the East Oregonian. Contact her at

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