The two men stood in front of him, hatchets in hand. They spat tobacco at his feet and dared him to cross their blockade.
The story sounds like a movie, but it was all too real for Heartland Region World Missions director Larry Odam.
Larry had been in ministry since 1972, and involved in missions since 1981. He had taken dozens of missions trips before this. They had their challenges, like all trips do, but this time in Bolivia he was in danger of losing his life.
He had spent the previous days working in Yotalla, building a feeding and training center for the poor and the new converts. While in his hotel one night in the city of Sucre, a fight broke out between different factions, which resulted in severe instability in the region.
“My contact person became so concerned about the seriousness of the fighting that he said it’s best we try to got you out of the city,” Larry said.
They walked for blocks to see if an exit from the city was possible, but they were met by the men with hatchets. There was no escape route to be found.
Larry returned to his hotel. Outside, demonstrators were throwing rocks and bottles, yelling frightening things. The city was in chaos. His contact worked out a plan with motorcyclists who would try to zoom Larry around the blockades. After hours of waiting on them, they backed out for fear of being killed.
He was trapped.
Finally, in conversation with a highly-ranked government official, he found out about a bus that was being allowed to leave the city. His contact begged him not to go, terrified that it was unsafe, but Larry was determined to get home. He purchased the last ticket on the last bus out of town.
After driving for five hours, that bus was met by another blockade. Tired and ready to be home, he walked two miles to where the blockade was. Debris was blocking the road, and just as he went to remove it, he miraculously heard the voices of snipers who were poised to take out anyone who attempted to remove the debris.
He walked back to the bus to try and sleep. The next morning, more determined than ever, Larry told the bus driver he was leaving. He signed a waiver saying the driver was not responsible for what happened to him, got his luggage, and walked two miles back to the blockade from the previous evening.
Larry tells it best:
“As I approached the blockade, I noticed that all the people that were on the mountain had now come down to the road to try to get some sleep. As I got closer to the blockaders I started taking very small steps trying to be quiet, sometimes walking within inches of the people lying there. I can remember asking the Lord to put a deep sleep on them so I could get past them, and not one of them woke up! But the problem was not over because there were two blockaders standing with their back to a fire and soon I would be in their line of sight. I whispered another prayer, asking the Lord for help because I just didn’t know what to do. I just kept quietly walking and praying, past the sleeping blockaders toward the two who were warming themselves by the fire. As I got within their line of sight they both suddenly, at the same moment, turned their backs from me and I walked right past them without being seen or heard. I crossed a long bridge and as soon as I got across I threw my hands up to the Lord and thanked Him for His help!”
Although he was safely around the blockades, Larry was still miles from any help. He walked for a long time and then finally found a truck full of workers who agreed to take him to the next city. In this unfamiliar place, he heard the voice of a bus driver calling for fares to Santa Cruz — the exact place he needed to be to catch a flight home.
He arrived back in Oklahoma many hours later, much to the relief of his wife, Glenna, who had been understandably frightened during his long journey to safety.
Three weeks after his adventure, Larry went back to Yotalla, Bolivia to continue work on the project.
He said he returned because of his “love for those believers who were counting on us to help them finish the project, and to feed the poor children of the community.”
He has since been back two times.
“Although I am in my 51st year of active ministry and I am 70 years old, I feel I still have the energy and desire to go to the world and help other who cannot help themselves,” Larry said.
Larry’s story is incredible and inspiring, but it is not unique. Every day men and women who have surrendered their lives to God’s call find themselves in circumstances that seem insurmountable. By God’s grace, they make it through to testify of His power and to continue to help those less fortunate than themselves.
“I would ask the believers in the United States to see the vast need that is in our world; so many people need our help,” Larry said. “I would ask believers to read again the Great Commission found in the gospels and sincerely pray about either going on a mission trip or to give so that others can go, and to certainly pray for all who are involved in missionary work.”
To parter with Larry in future missions endeavors, please click on the project number below.