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Woman spends five months among buffalo herders

By Virginia de Leon

At the age of 83, Myrtle Kaul traveled in 2008 to India and lived briefly among migrant buffalo herders in a remote area of South Asia.

Myrtle Kaul
Myrtle Kaul holds photo of her with her late husband, Lasa Kaul.

Aware of the needs of people there, desiring to serve them and still curious about the world, she decided there was no reason she couldn’t go to help.

“I’m not on medication. I can walk. I can see. I can hear. I even have my own teeth,” said Myrtle, who lives at Rockwood at Hawthorne, a retirement community in North Spokane.

Because her late husband, Lasa, was from South Asia, that area has a special place in her heart.

Now she shares her love of the country through presentations to community groups.   She shows images of snow-capped mountains and the rugged environment of South Asia, as well as photographs of the families and communities who live there.

She also tells a love story—how she served as a missionary in India for nearly 15 years and met the man of her dreams.  Then she tells how they had to wait more than 20 years to marry in 1976 when he was 67 and she was 51. 

In 1998, they had spent a month in India visiting old friends.  In 2002, he died at the age of 93.  Myrtle never thought she would return without him.

In 2007, she wrote to organizations with ties to India. The organization sends people to serve in business, community development and other services in that part of the world.

Myrtle spent five months living in a hut with a grass roof and dirt floors, without running water or electricity. 

Although living conditions were difficult in the desolate region, she quickly adjusted to the physical and emotional challenges.

Because she was a missionary from 1949 to 1964, she knew living in another culture demands patience, flexibility and willingness to embrace the unknown.

The team she worked with had lived in South Asia several years, helping impoverished herders improve their standard of living by providing education and medical training.

When they learned about her, Myrtle said, they were delighted to have her stay with them.

Because she already spoke a language they understood, she was able to communicate with the nomadic herders. 

She learned their customs, invited them to tea and spent hours visiting with families. She earned the respect and affection ofthe herders, who started calling her “Nani,” “grandmother” in their language.

Her presence brought down some barriers that often exist between visitors and the buffalo herders, who sometimes don’t understand why foreigners come to live with them.

Myrtle said her goals were “to convey peace and respect to these impoverished people, learn about their lives and show solidarity.”

While there, she prayed often and found motivation in Ecclesiastes: “Whatsoever your hands find to do, do it with all your might, with all your heart, and to the honor and glory of God.”

Born in 1925 on a dairy farm on Five Mile Prairie, Myrtle was the second youngest of seven children and grew up helping care for cows, chickens and other animals.   Her father, Wilbur Barden, gave up the dairy for a few years to become a grocer.  In 1935, he bought land on the outskirts of town and dozens of cows, and went back into the dairy business..

With the motto, “Quality you can taste: You can whip our cream, but you can’t beat our milk!” the family became known for delivering fresh milk.

As a teen, Myrtle committed to Christianity during a youth rally at Grace Baptist Church. While she and young people from Central Baptist spent a week in Dover, Idaho, leading a vacation Bible school, she realized she “wanted to do something for Jesus.”

After graduating from North Central High School in 1943, she went to Northwestern Bible College in Minneapolis.

When her three brothers joined the military in World War II, she returned to Spokane to help her father with the dairy.  She learned the former Central Baptist pastor, the Rev. Arthur Sanford, was in India as a missionary.

He often sent letters to the church and stories of their new life.  Myrtle’s brother, Phil Barden, also had worked north of Calcutta while in the Army. Both described a country full of beauty and interesting sights. They told of the people’s kindness and generosity, and about Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent struggle for justice.

In 1949, she applied to work in India with the Baptist Foreign Mission Board and Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) International.  Myrtle had taught after-school Bible classes to Spokane children through local CEF.

“I committed my life to serve wherever God wanted me to go,” said Myrtle, who was based in Pune, southeast of Bombay, and later in Allahabad, between Calcutta and New Delhi, working with Sunday school teachers.

She learned Hindi and a little Hindustani, a mixed language. She made many friends and quickly adapted to a new way of life.

In 1953, she met her future husband, Lasa Kaul, a Hindu who had converted to Christianity. He owned a farm called “Naga Boni,” which means “place of the spring.”   There, with two missionaries from the United States and England, he cared for children left by their parents.

The group became known as “The Naga Boni Miracle Family,” because they saved seven children from lives of destitution. 

Myrtle and Lasa fell in love and became engaged in 1961, but when she returned to the United States in 1964 because of health problems, Lasa couldn’t leave his home and the children.  For 14 years, they corresponded. They saw each other only in 1972, when Lasa was granted a visa to visit her in Spokane for several months.

While he cared for the children, she started a new life, taking classes at Whitworth, buying a house and working at the Department of Social and Health Services.

She found solace in his letters, prayer, and Bible verses she underlined and memorized.

“India was part of me,” she said. “Lasa was the only one for me, and the Lord gave me patience.”

In December 1976, Lasa was granted permission to move to the United States. A week after his arrival, they married.

The couple, who attended Central Baptist, became foster grandparents to several children who were adopted from India by American families.

On Lasa’s 90th birthday, six of the seven children of Naga Boni visited.  Myrtle has written, but not published, a book on “Memories of Lasa Kaul” and is working on another book about their life together, “The ‘Twain Met.”

For information, call 467-2514.