Couple recalls outreach ministry in Brazil

Alisa Boswell

Raising three children and going to work every day was part of Joe and Leona Tarry’s everyday life, just like anybody else. But the routine was also adventures and miracles.

Leona, previously known as Leona Isbell, grew up in Portales where she attended Portales High School and met her husband, a Lovington native who studied history and religion at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales. After Joe’s college graduation, the couple spent three years attending seminary school and pastoring a Baptist church in California then left for Brazil in 1965.

They spent the next 36 years of their lives there.

“We had a choice of a lot of places,” Joe said. “But we both felt called to Brazil.”

The couple raised their three children, Carl, Jonathan and Charlotte, in the foreign country while also building local Christian ministries and churches in the state of Minas Gerais (General Mines in English) where they lived.

“I think it was a really enriching and helpful experience for them,” Joe said of his children growing up in Brazil. “People are people, but their culture is different. They got to see what real poverty was like.”

The Tarrys said they had few luxuries their first 20 years they were in Brazil. They had electricity and running water, but no telephone service or elaborate dining options.

“It was very primitive,” said Joe. “We didn’t have things to eat like we did here.”

The couple helped establish 14 missions and churches in the area. Joe preached and ministered at the various churches while Leona split her day between homeschooling her children and working on pre-school education programs at the churches.

The couple said among their daily routines was the adventure of witnessing salvation and miracles all around them.

Leona said the first adventure in new life was their daughter’s illness during the time they were preparing to leave the United States for Brazil. Their daughter was five weeks old when she stopped breathing one night.

“She (Leona) poured her heart out to God as she presented our case,” writes Joe in the couple’s autobiography. “We were on our way to be missionaries. Why was this happening to us?”

After a lot of praying and an ambulance trip, the couple’s daughter pulled through.

“She was so lucky to turn out perfectly fine,” said Leona. “We were very blessed.”

The Tarrys wrote several books on spirituality while in Brazil. Joe Tarry has translated two of them into English and is working on a third. The couple are now retired and living in Ruidoso where they have been since returning from Brazil in 1999. They are very active in their church and plan to continue traveling and writing.