“I travel gladly along the road of the pioneer. I don’t expect others to prepare the road for me. I like to pioneer, explore, and develop the new untouched areas which others often fear.”
N A LATE summer day in San Pedro, Mexico, a band of masked Indians surrounded the home in which Vessie D. Hargrave preached to a small Church of God congregation. The masked men were armed and dangerous. A few months earlier, J.H. Ingram had been shot at while preaching in this same Mexican home. In this case, however, the local leaders were able to whisk Brother Hargrave away, and the masked Indians withdrew without firing. His life had been threatened, but the Lord kept him safe. Such was the road of the pioneer.
Brother Hargrave’s childhood had prepared him for pioneer work in Latin America. At the age of 7, his family had moved to Micos, Mexico, and lived there for six years. During that time, the Mexican culture had captivated his young mind. He was often fascinated with Mexican ways of life. Yet his mind was plagued with questions about their religious customs: Why were candles burned before peculiar-looking pictures? Why was delicious fruit placed before statues at certain periods of the year? Gradually, young Vessie’s curiosity developed into a burden for the Hispanic people.
In 1943, Brother Hargrave knew it was time to put his burden into action. He was enrolled in Bible Training School at Sevierville, Tennessee. When the Foreign Missions Board meeting was held there, he approached them about the possibility of missionary work in Mexico. The Lord answered his prayers, and the door was opened. The Missions Board assigned him to serve as an interpreter to Executive Missions secretary M.P. Cross and to observe the Church of God’s work in Mexico.
Brother Hargrave immediately set to work revitalizing his Spanish by visiting several churches in central Mexico. After two months, he teamed up with Fernando A. Gonzalez in the northwestern state of Sonora. On August 1, 1943, he preached his first sermon in Spanish at Esperanza, Sonora, and 17 people were saved.
Despite wonderful results, his life as a pioneer preacher was often difficult. Hargrave recounted, 11 After this service I took deathly sick with food poisoning, and for several hours the brethren rebuked death itself while I languished in agonizing pain. It was several days before I could be moved from my canvas cot in the mud hut where I had taken sick.” Nevertheless, he did not give up the good fight.
These experiences gave strength to him for the journey ahead. They enabled him to fulfill his call to those of “meager living, little or no education, no homes, reared under the influence of pagan superstitions and idolatrous worship.” His calling propelled him to travel the road of the pioneer so others might hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Vessie D. Hargrave served as social and moral director of Mexico for the Church of God, superintendent of the Latin-American Department, president and founder of International Preparatory Institute, superintendent of Europe and Middle East, director of World Missions, and as state overseer. Brother Hargrave’s journey took him to be with the Lord on September 19, 1987.