By Dan Wooding, founder of ASSIST and ASSIST News Service
PASADENA, CA (ANS – Feb. 12, 2105) — Dr. Dale Kietzman, one of the great unsung heroes of the Church, died peacefully in his bed in the early hours of Thursday, February 12, 2015, at his Pasadena, California, home, at the age of 90.
“Dr. Dale,” as he was known to his many friends, played an incredible role in the global Church during the nine decades of his extraordinary life.
He was the US director of Wycliffe Bible Translators, helped to start non-profits in the US for Brother Andrew, Corrie ten Boom, ASSIST Ministries, to name just a few, and up until his passing, had dedicated many years of his life helping the indigenous people of Latin America, in latter years through Latin American Indigenous Ministries (www.laim.org), which he co-founded.
Dale Kietzman, born in in Gary, Indiana, was a Wycliffe Bible translator in Peru and Brazil, helped to co-found Wycliffe Associates, and even has a university in Douala, Cameroon, named after him called The Dale Kietzman University (www.dkuniversity.org).
In the early days of Wycliffe, he was in the first class at Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) Jungle Camp in Chiapas, Mexico, where he “had a rather primitive existence,” which he says, prepared him for his translation work in Peru.
Dale was still single at the time, but was engaged to his wife-to-be Harriett, and he moved to Peru in May 1947, and Harriett arrived in November of that year, and they were married a month later.
“We were married in Lima,” he told me in an interview. “That included both a civil ceremony, followed by a religious marriage ceremony, which took place outdoors in the famous Olive Groves in Lima,” he said.
After their wedding, they began their new life with the indigenous Amahuaca people.
“We lived with them in three different situations,” he said. “The most dramatic I suppose was up the Sepahua River, because I wanted them to build a separate house for us, but the chief decided we should all live together. So he made his house longer and gave us a section right in the middle so that we would learn the language quickly.
“There was no privacy at all. Everything we did was visible.”
Dale explained that they had to learn by listening and also by mimicry, in reducing the language to written form, before they could start translating the New Testament.
“You have to go back to your days as a baby and learn the language exactly that way. You mimic everything they say. You get the pronunciation of it and then you write it down. Now quite often, they didn’t want you to write while they’re talking as they think you’re somehow putting their words in a magic formula on the paper and it’ll do them harm. So you would talk with people and then you go back to your room and write it down or record it (but we didn’t have tape recorders then).”
After a while, Dale and Harriett faced a terrible situation, when she and their newly-arrived daughter, Ruth, nearly drowned in the Sepahua River.
“We were still living with the chief, and I came down with a fever,” he explained in an interview I did last July at his 90th birthday party. “We did have a two-way radio with us and we were apparently the first missionaries anywhere in the world to have this. It was a radio taken out of a tank from World War II and we could talk to the base, which was several hundred miles away.
“When I told the doctor, via the radio, my symptoms, he told methat it sounded like I had typhoid and said that I had ‘better come out quickly as I could,’ and then added that he was sending a plane to meet us at the mouth of the river. The plane could not land on the Sepahua because it was too small, with no straight stretches.
“Well the problem was we didn’t have a canoe available as the chief had just borrowed it the week before to go down to another river where he knew that there were oranges that he could bring back to the village. But because of rains the river was swollen and he couldn’t come back up stream, so the people made us a raft and the next morning we got on it and started downstream.
“Harriett and our young daughter Ruth was with us and I was worried about places where there were small waterfalls, but the water was so high you just couldn’t even see the waterfall and there’d be a little drop in the river level, maybe a foot, but that was over a 20 foot waterfall. One place there was always a big whirlpool, but that wasn’t a problem; we went straight through.
“We came out finally at a long straight strip and I felt we would now be ok because soon we would be at the mouth of the river. But that straight stretch was the trap. The high waters had undercut the bank on both sides of the river and trees had fallen into the river itself. So the Indians traveling with us had to try to maneuver the raft around this tree and then around a tree from the other side and they were just pulling hard one way and then the other trying to maneuver a raft which isn’t very maneuverable.
“But then, the oar at one end broke and then almost immediately the one at the other end broke so there was nothing to guide the raft. The Indian said, ‘Get down low, because we’ll go right through this tree top ahead. And what happened was we hit the trunk of that tree and the raft stopped dead in the water and water began to pile up on the back end of the raft pushing it down. All of a sudden we just went straight up into the air and of course everything came loose.
“I was lying along one edge of the raft, weak with fever, and I was able to just kind of roll over the edge and come back up on the bottom side to safety. But my wife with the little baby had been sitting right in the middle of the raft and they went down and you could see all the baggage we had go down right on top of them. I got back up on the raft and called to the Indians to help my wife, but they had leapt to the center of the river to avoid this whole thing and they were being swept downstream. So they couldn’t help; they were trying to get out to dry land themselves. I just looked around and couldn’t see any sign of Harriett for a long minute.
“And then, all of a sudden, I saw back, a couple hundred yards upstream, right where we’d come round the bend into this stretch, there was Harriet swimming down to the raft with the baby in one hand. She was fortunately a certified lifeguard so she could handle herself. How she got back upstream we have no idea.”
Believe it or not, that baby, now grown up, was born on the same birthday as her father, and was one of the honored guests at the party I attended with some 100 guests, but sadly Harriett passed away some years ago, as did Ruth recently.
Dale also served in Brazil with Wycliffe and his present work is with Latin America Indigenous Ministries, which began after he met an extraordinary Totonac Indian called Manuel Arenas, who was born in the mountains east of Mexico City as you go down to Vera Cruz.
“Even as a small boy, Manuel had been very embarrassed by the fact that he couldn’t speak Spanish,” said Dale. “He tried to go to school, but he didn’t understand the teacher. So in his mind he had formed the notion that he needed to start a school in the Totonac language. And it just happened that, at age 12, he encountered Herman P. Aschmann, who was the Wycliffe translator trying to learn the Totonac language. So he became that helper to Herman, helped him learn the language and then helped him to translate the New Testament into Totonac.
“But he wanted to complete his own schooling and so with the help of Herman, he went to Mexico City and in four years he did all of the work through high school in the school system – in Spanish.
“He was living at the Wycliffe headquarters in Mexico City, so he encountered a lot of English and he learned some English as well. Manuel then wanted to go on for more education and some friends helped him get up to Canada to Prairie Bible Institute where he spent a long semester just improving his English. Then he went to Dallas Bible College for four years and got a bachelor’s degree there. Because it was an unaccredited degree, he decided to go to University of Chicago, of all places; and finish an accredited bachelor’s degree. And he had to work his way through. He worked at the Hilton Hotel in Chicago as a salad chef. How he learned that skill I’m not sure.
“Anyhow, he had German classes at the University of Chicago and did so well that he was given a scholarship to go study in Germany at the University of Erlangen where he got a Master’s degree in education in German. So he was well educated and he came back to his people.”
By then, Dale said, Manuel Arenas could have made a lot of money in the business world, but instead he went back to his own people and started the Totonac Bible Center in the remote mountain town of La Union.
“The students learned very quickly and very well. They were being trained heavily in the bible because the only text book they had actually was the New Testament in Totonac,” he said.
“Manuel Arenas’ primary assistant and a teacher in the school was Felipe Ramos, another Totonac, who had gone to school in Spanish and had been trained in seminary so he was the principal teacher. He started a radio program called The Totonac Cultural Hour. It was just once a week but it became quite a phenomenon, and continues to this day. They would always have some information or tip about the culture, but then they would go to a bible verse and preach a sermon.”
After Manuel’s death from cancer in 1992, Dr. Kietzman became President of the Totonac Bible Center board in the United States. Increasingly, the support activity focused on other tribes, following Manuel’s vision. As a consequence, in 1996, the Board voted to change the name of the corporation to Latin American Indigenous Ministries (LAIM) –www.laim.org – and today LAIM is continuing the vision by helping the Totonac people and the work among this tribe which is now being spearheaded by Totonac Christian leader, Felipe Ramos.
On hearing the news of Dr. Kietzman’s death, Tim Aschmann, the son of Herman P. Aschmann, posted on my Facebook page, “Dr. Kietzman is a man who will be remembered for his dedication to help indigenous people to see and interpret God through the eyes of their own culture. His vision will continue. He was very vital in continuing my Father’s work.”
Latin American Indigenous Ministries is now being headed up by his grandson, David Andrés Kietzman.
Now, I have to let you into a secret, and that is that it was Dr. Dale Kietzman who sponsored myself and my family – Norma, and our two sons, Andrew, and Peter – to move to Southern California back in 1982, so I could work as media director for Open Doors USA, the ministry he helped to start for Brother Andrew.
When we felt the call to start ASSIST Ministries, and later the ASSIST News Service, it was again Dr. Dale who helped us with the non-profit papers and became our first Board Chairman. As I mentioned before, he helped Corrie ten Boom in her move to Southern California, and my son, Andrew, even worked with him and Corrie for a while.
It was Dr. Dale who also helped me to visit North Korea with his friend, Dr. David Cho, shortly after the death of Kim il-Sung, and he was also instrumental in helping to arrange the historic visits to North Korea of both Billy Graham and Jimmy Carter, which began during one of his visits to North Korea.
Dale had four children, Ruth, Mark, Robin and Pamela. The two girls were living with him and were caring for him at his Pasadena home. He also has three grandchildren, David, Laurie, and Scott, and two great grandchildren, Marco and Daniel.
A memorial service is being planned at a future date for Dr. Kietzman at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, where he had been a member for many years.
Note: If any of you have memories of “Dr. Dale” that you would like to share with me, please send them to Dan Wooding at email@example.com, so I can include them in a further story.
1) Dan Wooding with Dr. Dale Kietzman during his 90th birthday celebrations
2) Harriett Kietzman and her children at Wycliffe Lima House, enroute to Brazil, 1956
3) Dr. Kietzman with Dr. Andre Talla, head of the Dale Kietzman University, with Dan Wooding
4) Dale with his grandson, David Andrés Kietzman, who now heads up LAIM.
5) Manuel Arenas (Photo: Dan Wooding)
6) The Wooding family pictured at Heathrow Airport in London on June 28, 1982, on their way to a new life in America. They were sponsored by Dr. Kietzman