Paul and Lois Steward

Retired Missionaries to Bolivia
“Step By Step”
By Grace Yates, Writing Intern
July 2012

“For me, the whole process of being accepted by the Mission and going to the field was just one step at a time,” said Lois Steward. “This is the step that you need to take, so you make your application. But I always had the idea that I wouldn’t measure up for one reason or another, so it was just one step at a time.”

One of the biggest lessons she and her husband, Paul, learned during their 41 years (38 in Bolivia) with WGM was that God is sufficient through each of these steps. “I think that whatever He asks you to do, He makes it possible for you to do that.”

As they were growing up in rural farming communities in South Dakota and Nebraska, neither Paul nor Lois realized what God would ask them to do with their future. They met at Seattle Pacific College (Washington) and were married on August 30, 1955. They pastored in South Dakota for two years before beginning their career as missionaries.

Life in Bolivia got off to a running start. Paul got malaria two weeks after arriving, and during their first term (with no prior medical training), the couple stitched up a nine-inch gash in a man’s arm. Paul and Lois kept busy throughout their career in Bolivia as they moved several times and worked with different missionaries. They raised two daughters: Sandy, who is now a WGM missionary on the American Indian Field; and Sue, married to a pastor in Ohio.

“My title was ‘jack-of-all-trades,’” said Paul. He worked in a variety of positions, including farming, building, purchasing supplies, communicating via radio, preaching, planting churches, teaching, discipling, and serving as field treasurer. During most of their time in Bolivia, Lois was teaching. She homeschooled their children and taught Theological Education by Extension classes and classes at a local primary school, Berea High School, and Berea Bible Institute. Lois also did a lot of work with women in the churches, partnered with Paul in church planting and discipling new believers, and did some medical work.

“Our gifts were never so much evangelism as much as training the believers,” Paul said. “I’d say it was nurturing,” Lois added. In most of their work, they tried to encourage, equip, and train Bolivians to reach out to their fellow countrymen.

The hard work was interspersed with adventures, fun, and memorable stories. Lois recalled playing her accordion for hours one Sunday afternoon as the Bolivian Christians sang through the entire hymnbook. Some trips required driving across rivers without a bridge. “The first time I had to drive down in the river, I thought, ‘Whoa, wait a minute!’” said Paul.

“Some of the things that we did . . . I just never dreamed that I would be able to do,” Lois said. “But at the time God was faithful and gave what was needed to be able to do it. A lot of them were things I would not have chosen, and yet as I look back on them, I think of the opportunities that were given, and the things I learned through it, and the example that it can be to others.” She added that even when it was not something she wanted to do, “there was that sense of this is right and God is faithful, and I was content.”

In a somewhat-prophetic salutatorian speech at his high school graduation, Paul said, “I like to think of life as a river that flows to the sea, a river with many different channels that we can follow. . . . As the stream of our life flows on we will meet obstacles—ice floes or sand bars in our way. Some currents will be pushed aside by these while others will try to wear them away so as to make the river bed better for the ones that follow.”

Paul and Lois certainly bettered their path through Bolivia, both for other missionaries and for Bolivians they met. God faithfully carried them through each step—and misstep. “We loved them,” Lois said. “I know that I made a lot of mistakes and misunderstood people, but we loved them.”

Paul and Lois retired in 1997 and now live in Upland, Indiana. Like their time in Bolivia, their retirement has been full of activity. Both volunteered at WGM for several years, Lois in the mailroom and Paul in the print shop. Paul also manages the archives at WGM headquarters. They meet once a month in a WGM prayer band with several other retired missionary couples, and Paul is treasurer of the WGM alumni association.

Their involvement in their church includes teaching Sunday School and volunteering as the church relocates and remodels a new facility. They helped the church develop a missions program that now supports five missionaries. Lois is also involved in a community women’s Bible study and uses her Spanish skills to translate during parent-teacher conferences for Spanish-speaking parents in the community. Paul and Lois’ home is always open for missionaries and their children who are traveling through the area.