Rockie & Irene Burrow
Reg and Hettie Burrow’s second son Reinaldo born in Bolivia in 1914, was known as Rockie, because a Bolivian playmate called him Wokey (my brother). He learnt much of missionary life growing up in Bolivia, but his primary schooling was inconsistent, so that when the family returned to SA, Rockie aged 11 or 12, struggled with his year 7 studies at Burnside Primary School and left Norwood High School after year 10, because in those days fees were required. He was part of local and church life and felt called to return to the land of his birth to share his faith.
At age 19, Rockie went to study and train at the Sydney Missionary Bible College for 2 years and utilised his carpentry skills to help with building work. His future wife Irene Stephens, who trained there for 1 year, was involved with Rockie’s cousin Winnie in the Christian Endeavour movement, which was strongly supported at Burnside.
On completion of their studies, Irene did some training at McBride Maternity Hospital, while Rockie cycled to Hilton and Underdale Baptist churches to enable him to complete a year of interim pastoral work and preaching, as well as acquiring basic medical knowledge at the RAH Casualty Dept. watching doctors bandaging, suturing and other skills used often in Bolivia, until more professional medical help was available.
Rockie aged 23 and Irene arrived in Bolivia in 1937 and both studied Spanish in separate towns, because the Bolivian Indian Mission (later Andes Evangelical Mission), believed that ‘singles’ learn the language better than newly married. Rockie's childhood in Bolivia and knowledge of both Quechua and Spanish gave him an initial advantage, but Irene’s musical ear allowed her to learn both languages with less effort.
They married in 1939 and went to live for 3 years in Colquechaca, a cold, dry mining town, 14,000 feet (4,267metres) above sea level in the towering Andes Mountains, with no running water and intermittent electricity. The town was a centre for Quechua evangelism, but Irene’s poor health eventually resulted in a move to lower altitude and in their new location they set up a school for Quechua children. They taught the children in Spanish, the official language of Bolivia, but also found themselves learning and becoming proficient in Quechua. By then Rockie had developed creative stick figures as an effective way to illustrate his stories and teaching.
During the war years of the 1940s, it wasn't possible for church folk to send support money to Bolivia, so Rockie and Irene let Quechua people stay in a room of their house on their way to and from the local market in return for food and other helpful items. Rockie said that throughout this period they never lacked food - God always provided in some way or other.
Travel was often on horseback, or mule over rough, dangerous, high tracks and at times Rockie rode a bike when appropriate. In more suitable areas, trucks were used on rough dirt and cobbled roads.
The women wore all their skirts and petticoats in layers altogether and lice were often unwelcome companions after Quechuas stayed at their house, or when they visited Quechua houses and also when holding a person’s head while Rockie pulled teeth.
Rockie and Irene spent the whole of 1944 in Cochabamba while waiting for a ship to bring them back to Australia for their first furlough. Good use was made of the time by staying in different villages for about a month, holding open air meetings, as well as planting a church.
There is a Quechua saying that, "what is written endures," so in 1947, after returning from their first furlough, Rockie and Irene developed a serious literacy evangelism program. Rockie drew pictures to go with the sounds in a basic primer, which he posted to his father Reg Burrow, who had it printed at the Adelaide Advertiser and posted back to Bolivia.
The Quechua people, who worked for Spanish landlords, were so keen to learn to read, that they bought Scriptures in Spanish to assist their reading skills, although at one time, some mistakenly thought they were buying title to the land.
The program of evangelism through teaching people to read, empowered them with life skills and continued for two years until the Quecha Bible Institute at Quillacollo near Cochabamba, needed a principal. Teaching O.T. subjects there, was their main ministry for the remainder of their time in Bolivia. During term breaks, Rockie promoted Bible Conferences for the Quechua people, with an emphasis on faith and discipleship, all of which was greatly valued at the time, as well as in the years after they had left Bolivia.
Irene was a very gifted singer and musician and played several instruments, including the piano accordion. She had a very valuable ministry with the Quechuas, who loved to sing and make music. She conducted a ladies choir, wrote hymns to their tunes and organised sewing and knitting groups, as well as ladies Bible studies.
During Rockie and Irene Burrow’s second term in Bolivia, Alison was born in 1949 and Robert in 1951, but by 1952, 3-year old Alison had contracted polio. They returned to Adelaide for treatment and during the 6-week boat trip, Alison’s paralysed legs responded to Rockie’s massage. Extended leave aided her recovery, including some time at Minlaton, where Rockie pastored the local Baptist Church, with a donated cow to supply milk.
The family returned to Bolivia in 1955 with enough clothes to last for the next 6 years, plus a knitting machine so that Quechua women could knit llama wool jumpers for export to give them an income. Rockie developed other suitable crafts and industries to assist the Quechua people to help themselves financially. He continued lecturing in the Quillacollo Quechua Bible Institute, not far from Cochabamba, where he also oversaw the building of a church, which is still in use to this day and was visited a few years ago by his nephew Paul Burrow, who had also grown up in Bolivia.
During the next furlough in 1961, the family photo was used on the cover of a vinyl record of Irene’s beautiful rendition of nine Gospel songs and hymns. It was recorded here at Burnside, by some Technicians from Radio 5AD (the Advertiser Broadcasting Network), with the church organist and pianist.
Rockie, Irene and Robert returned to Bolivia without Alison, who needed to complete her secondary schooling, so she stayed with Rockie’s older brother Allan, (by then the Principal of NZ Bible College).
Rockie continued his lecturing, supported by Irene, but during this time Irene was treated for cancer and had to go to USA for radiation treatment in 1964.
Then sadly, after close to 30 years of missionary service and Bible teaching, from 1937 to 1966, they returned to Adelaide because of Irene’s ongoing poor health.
Rockie was pastor here at Burnside from 1967 to 1973 and he and Irene lived in the manse across the road in Nilpinna St.
As well as preaching, Rockie taught 4 Religious Instruction classes at Burnside, Marryatville and Linden Park Primary Schools. Like his father Pastor Reg., Rockie was able to produce very creative visual aids to illustrate children’s talks at church and for RI, using cardboard, or wood, with movable parts and simple texta labels. Children were intrigued to discover how the teaching aid could relate a Christian message.
In spite of ongoing health issues, Irene faithfully supported Rockie in his pastorate at Burnside, in home visiting, involvement at ladies meetings and sang soprano in the choir.
In 1973 they moved to a position lecturing in Old Testament studies at Tahlee Bible College, NSW, which prepared many young adults for missionary service. Irene died there in 1975, having continued to acknowledge her trust in God for her future as her health deteriorated.
Rockie continued lecturing at Tahlee and a few years later married his cousin Winnie Burrow, after her return from 26 years of missionary service in Borneo.
They retired from Tahlee in 1982 and returned to Burnside, where Rockie served as an Elder until 1998 with many opportunities to preach.
They were both actively involved in Kids Club, which had begun in the mid 1980s and helped with stories, craft and counselling, as long as they were able. Rockie used simple drawings and aids backed with foam, for use on a flannel graph board for Kids’ Club talks.
There were also many years of faithful preaching and teaching at Auldana Home at Magill, Holden Hill Christian Fellowship and a Spanish speaking group, where Rockie carefully planned and presented stories using Overhead projector sheets. He utilised the special stick figures, which he called Little Jets, developed decades earlier when teaching children in Bolivia, e.g. this is one page of 9 for the story of Ruth and Boaz in Spanish.
Together Rockie and Winnie continued their prayerful and practical support of various missions, especially Christian radio FEBC and SIM (which had amalgamated with the Andes Evangelical Mission, formerly Bolivian Indian Mission).
Eventually Winnie’s health and memory began to fail and she died in 2002.
When Rockie’s health deteriorated in 2013, he moved to Residential Care, where his missionary outreach continued as he witnessed to staff and residents.
Many of the congregation will remember that Rockie, although deaf and almost totally blind, memorised his special, final, public sermon for the church’s 150th Anniversary in November 2014, a few days after he reached the age of 100.
Rockie continued his fervent interest and regular prayer support of friends, church folk, missionaries and missions, until finally the 101 year old missionary and prayer warrior left this life on September 24th, 2016, for that longed for better one.