Chapter 2: Marcala

Chapter 2: Marcala


If Joy had not promised God to go anywhere He opened a door it is unlikely that she would ever have considered going to Honduras. Why, it was Latin America! There were plenty of Latin Americans in California and she was not attracted by them. She certainly had no desire to go and live among them. Furthermore, she had not wanted to belong to a denominational mission even though it was evangelical. The 'faith' missions appealed to her more, with their principle of trusting God to provide the necessary finance and making no public appeals for funds. But she had said 'Whatsoever door...' and hard on the heels of that vow had come the specific invitation from the Friends' Mission, followed up quite unexpectedly by the verse 'The Lord will bless you, and prosper you in everything you do when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you.' (Deut. 28.8.) She picked it out at random from a promise box in a friend's house where she had been invited to lunch, and it spoke directly to her in a way she could not deny. The evidence was clear. Honduras was the land the Lord was directing her to, with the Friends' Mission. The friend who had offered to help support her in Africa was willing to be responsible for half her required income in Honduras, and the remainder of her required support was made up by various organisations of the church she had always attended. Within four months she was embarking on the passenger boat that was to take her to her destination, after saying goodbye to the group of friends, Ann blinking back tears among them, who had come to see her off.

'After I left that sight of our friends standing on the shore waving their handkerchiefs until distance swallowed them up, I realised that the break was made,' she wrote back to them. 'How can people continue to live their lives apart from the power and salvation of Christ when they know that some day there is to be a parting from pleasures, from friends, from home, from honour, from every human and material thing, and they must go out across the bar -- alone...?' Then she went on to give vivid descriptions of the voyage, from sitting on deck in the evenings 'to watch the moon play intricate and gorgeous patterns on the dark water with her golden shuttle' to going ashore at a Mexican port and seeing people 'huddled in little makeshift shanties along the road, sleeping on their dirt floors and wallowing in dirt and filth... The market place seemed to be a rendezvous for children, diseased cats and dogs, smoking women, drinking men, flies, dirt, everything.'

Irene and Arthur Schnasse, young workers like herself, were her travelling companions, with Mrs. Cammack, superintendent of the Friends' Mission working in Honduras, in charge of the party. She was a real sport, reported Joy who shared her cabin, and after trying to hold daily classes in Spanish for her younger companions eventually gave up when she realised how tired they were, and took them on sight-seeing trips ashore whenever possible. It was she who awakened Joy, very early on the morning of the tenth day aboard, to get her first glimpse of Honduras.

'Look, Joy! Honduras!' she called, and Joy jumped out of bed to run to the porthole. The boat was moving slowly into the Bay of Ampala among islands so brilliantly green they looked like an emerald necklace. On one side of the boat the moon flung a metallic-like silver pathway along the waters of the estuary, while on the other side the rising sun cast her prisms of light into the sky 'with such an effect that it looked as if she were pouring out jewels of opal, ruby, diamond and pearl...' Joy did not lack words to paint the picture in glowing colours, nor did she miss the humour of a breath-taking launch trip between the islands in a rainstorm made hilarious by Arthur's chivalrous efforts to protect three women with a raincoat held out with one hand and a big black umbrella uplifted in the other. Impressions and descriptions came tumbling off her pen as she re-lived the seven-hour journey inland on the springless wooden seat of a road-worn bus, with its compensations of beauty, green hills everywhere, and a gorgeous sunset. 'I think of Carrie Jacobs Bond's poem,' she wrote.

Dear God, how kind you are to me, To give me all earth's beauties free!

On arrival about midnight Tegucigalpa the capital looked very unattractive by contrast. A crowded little city with narrow cobbled streets bounded by gloomy, windowless walls, it had a prison-like aspect. 'I must confess I was a little disappointed. I don't know why, but I had always connected foreign mission work with the open fields.' But disappointment was soon swallowed up in the excitement of welcome. 'We immediately went into church and had a prayer meeting -- in Spanish, of course, except for us newcomers. We are the foreigners here, and green ones too, I can assure you... It is good for us to get the tables turned. They sang a song which tells about the time when those from every nation will be gathered Home, and one line says that even the white people will be there. So take hope!'

The people delighted her. 'Whatever my difficulties may be on the field, I know that one of them will not be the difficulty of loving these people. I love them till it hurts. They have such sweet faces...' though their customs gave her some trouble, such as the gesture for waving goodbye. 'You turn your hand upside down and manipulate your fingers in a way that makes you feel foolish.' Then the women's method of greeting she found easier to master. Instead of shaking hands they embrace warmly, with a pat on the shoulder. 'Now that I am getting accustomed to that form of greeting I nearly made the break of greeting one of the men that way. I didn't do it, but I nearly did.

The indomitable Mrs. Cammack was all for getting her young workers on their feet as soon as possible, and encouraged them to memorise Bible talks and even prayers in Spanish, and deliver them at the appropriate times. 'Worse than walking on stilts,' was how Joy described doing this. She always preferred the informal approach and a little later essayed to give a talk without first memorising it. The experiment was not a success. She made 'three awful breaks' and was so overwhelmed with shame and embarrassment at the realisation of what she had said that, as she explained rather primly in her letter home, 'I have not had the desire ever to bring the subject up, not even to the missionaries.' When mistakes were too bad, the simplest way to deal with them seemed to be to ignore them altogether.

Being of an out-going temperament she started trying to converse in Spanish very early, and although her efforts usually ended in general merriment, in which she joined, she was not deterred. Her readiness to laugh at herself always endeared her to people, and the young American Senorita who played the accordion so enthusiastically in street meetings, and had a smile for everyone, became quite a popular character in the town.

She lived in the capital for a year, and although after a few months Arthur and Irene Schnasse moved to take charge of the mission work in the little city of La Esperanza, some days' journey away, Joy remained on. Mrs. Cammack was glad to have with her the energetic young worker who entered in so heartily to the round of open-air meetings and visits to hospitals, and had an unquenchable expectation of seeing penitents come to the front at the 'altar call' in the chapel evangelistic meetings. Joy was eagerly ready for anything, and, even when she was feeling thoroughly ill with jaundice, accompanied her on journeys to remote villages that started on jolting, overcrowded buses bulging with people and merchandise, and ended on mule-back as the trails led farther and farther away from the few roads intersecting the country, up into the mountains.

One of these expeditions led them through the township of Marcala. In years past missionaries had lived there, but now the little group of believers, most of them poor and uneducated, was left without a leader, a handful of despised Protestants in the midst of a community riddled with corrupt Roman Catholicism. Some of them came smilingly to meet the two Americanas, the Senora and the Senorita, so glad to talk with these respected teachers of their own religion, so happy to see them come, so sad to see them go.

'Will you come back this way?' they asked wistfully, and as Joy travelled on with her indefatigable leader she was strangely reluctant to leave the little town.

Marcala, Marcala. Something about it seemed to be sending out indefinable, invisible cords that were winding around her heart, tugging at her memories of those gentle, meek faces, those dark, eager eyes, drawing her mind back to think of them, those people of Marcala, and to pray for them. After the crowded days of special meetings in La Esperanza, where Joy, feeling thoroughly ill, nevertheless managed to face a full chapel for a daily Bible study in Spanish -- 'God worked a miracle, I was conscious He was doing that' -- they passed through Marcala on their way back. Again there was the deep sense of rest at being there, as though she belonged to the place, as though it had a claim on her. Back in the capital, which for all its narrow dreary streets and dark robed populace, its dilapidated adobe houses and crumbling colour-washed churches seemed very sophisticated compared with the townships in the mountains, the memory of Marcala persisted, and as she prayed the impression deepened.

The upshot of it was that she asked Mrs. Cammack if she could be sent to work in Marcala. She felt that God was calling her there.

'Everyone wants to go out, not stay and work in the city.' sighed Mrs. Cammack. 'And anyhow, it wouldn't be safe for a young woman to be alone in a place like that. As likely as not there'll be another revolution before long, and then what will you do...? You haven't seen a revolution yet, you've no idea how alarming and dangerous they can be.'

God would protect her, Joy asserted, and Mrs. Cammack had nothing further to say along that line, She knew quite a lot about God's protection herself. The Marcala congregation was certainly in need of leadership, and there was property waiting to be occupied. It was not like going to a place where a house would have to be obtained, and where there were no believers to help in practical ways. But unless there were a reliable person to go with Joy, someone to do the housework and marketing, someone who knew the customs of the country and would protect the gullible Americana from crafty money-makers, Mrs. Cammack said she could not agree to the idea. Joy could not go it alone.

In a way, Joy never had to go it alone. All her life there were to be people who came alongside to do the things she couldn't do, without whom her projects would never have got off the ground. If she had no outstanding intellectual ability or academic qualifications, she possessed a certain quality which was to prove of greater value than either. She inspired others. She made friends and kept them, combining an unaffected, wide-eyed appreciation of their talents and achievements with a shrewd recognition of how those talents could be put to good use. When her greatest need was the right companion for Marcala, Cruzita appeared on the scene.

Not many people would have considered Cruzita fit for the job at all. She was only nineteen, she was illiterate, and she was a 'toughie'. The cowboys could control animals no better than she, nor deal more effectively with recalcitrant human beings, either. Arms akimbo, feet astride, she would stand her ground against anyone, giving as good as she got in the way of confident assertion or spirited repartee. Cruzita was afraid of nothing, and no-one -- except God. Towards Him her attitude was one of faith mingled with wholesome awe. She was learning to read, and her reading sessions were prefaced with earnest prayer lasting for as long as half an hour, beseeching the Lord for His help and enabling for this difficult and tedious task. There was no doubt about Cruzita's spiritual sincerity, and her lack of education combined with fearlessness could be an asset. She would be on the same social level as the vast majority of the people of Marcala, but more than a match for any who might try to take advantage of herself or of Joy. So with the redoubtable Cruzita to accompany her, Joy set off for Marcala.

The arrival of the American Senorita created quite a stir in the town. Unlike the capital, where embassies and trading centres drew a number of people from other countries, Marcala rarely saw a foreigner. Apart from two or three German shopkeepers Joy was the only one, and when she appeared in the streets on Sunday, complete with accordion and Cruzita with a tambourine, to hold an open air meeting, a crowd soon collected. Even the raucous sound of gramophone music issuing from the bars was stopped as the men came out to look and to listen. The members of the little congregation took fresh courage as their new missionary, constantly rejoicing because nothing, nothing, nothing was impossible to her God, urged them on to do and to dare for Him. Prayer meetings increased in number and fervour, and when she suggested that a few days should be set aside for men and boys to come and get some intensive Bible study and training in evangelism, several of them showed a desire to attend. But it meant leaving their work, and that meant losing money, and as they were very poor they wondered if they could afford it.

'Trust God -- remember that the Lord Jesus said if we put God's Kingdom first, and act rightly, all these material things we need will be given us,' Joy assured them. As for the meals they would need while they were studying on her compound, she would supply them. She did not know how, for her monthly salary certainly did not run to it, but she would trust God, too. He had made the widow's cruse of oil and handful of flour last for many days, He had made five loaves and two fishes enough food for five thousand people, so He could feed her and her little company on the compound in Marcala just as easily.

Things began to happen very soon. There was the remarkable healing of Juan, her cook's son, for instance. The boy was sick in body and tormented in soul, and his mother was in despair about him.

'Don't despair -- rejoice!' was Joy's attitude. 'We must pray and praise! Rejoice that he is ill -- rejoice because it is an opportunity for us all to see what God can do. God can heal his body and save his soul.' So they prayed and they praised, and the demented Juan was healed. His mother could scarcely believe what she saw and heard. Juan, cheerful and sane, was eager to work now, and it seemed the most wonderful thing that could happen when the Schnasses in La Esperanza said they needed a house-boy, and were willing to give Juan a trial. Off he went, to remain a trusted servant for years.

Then there was Don Pedro. Don Pedro was a prosperous shoe-maker, and although his morals were no better than most of his fellow townsmen's he wasn't a drunkard, and he did not run up debts in the gambling houses, and he was not quick with the gun in the usual way even if it was rumoured that he had committed one murder under provocation. He had lived more or less faithfully with his latest mistress for several years, supported her and their children quite creditably, and altogether was regarded with some esteem.

His attitude towards Joy was friendly and respectful, and although he did not come to the chapel himself he could sometimes be seen standing at a distance listening at the open air meetings, and one or two of his children came regularly to the children's meetings. Had she been a man, Joy would have made a point of calling in at his shop to talk to him about Christ, but her awareness of the proprieties prevented her from doing so. There were limits beyond which, as a single woman, she could not go without providing an opportunity for suggestive remarks and evil talk. When Arthur Schnasse came over from Le Esperanza on one of his rare visits, however, she seized the opportunity to draw his attention to the man.

'Arthur,' she said, 'I've got a feeling about Don Pedro. I feel he might be ready to be saved. Would you go and have a talk with him?' Arthur went, and that same evening Don Pedro, for the first time, entered the missionary's home to find out if there were any way at all whereby a sinful man could do penance, make sacrifice, in some measure at least expiate his own wrong doing, his wrong being...

It took Joy and Arthur a long time, and much forceful argument to prove from the Bible that there was nothing he could do, try as he would every moment for the rest of his life, to put things right between him and his Maker, but that, wonder of wonders, it had all been done for him, nearly two thousand years ago, when the Son of God had died on a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem. At last, however, Don Pedro agreed that there was no reason at all for Jesus to die unless it were as a sacrifice, that such a holy sacrifice alone could atone for the sins of the world, including those of Don Pedro. Yes, he saw that. Yes, he wanted to confess his sins to God, and ask His forgiveness. Yes, he realised God was here, in this room, the Almighty One who could never be confined to the confessional box. Yes, he would kneel now, come to Him.

They knelt together in the plain little room, the three of them. Joy and Arthur prayed aloud, as was their custom, uninhibited, praising God for His Spirit's work in the heart of this man, praying that he might be truly born of that same Spirit. They waited for Don Pedro to pray, but he was silent.

'Don Pedro, have you accepted the Lord?' they asked, and when Don Pedro lifted his head his face was aglow.

'Have you accepted the Lord?' It had not seemed like that at all. It had not occurred to him that he was in a position to accept or reject. It was quite the other way round. His answer was one Joy never forgot, as with the expression of one who has been released suddenly from bondage he said, 'He has accepted me.'

* * * * *

The conversion of Don Pedro created a deeper stir in Marcala than had the arrival of the Senorita, for he was a well-known character, and when he openly associated with the Protestants, standing with them in the open air meetings as well as going in to their chapel services, the news got around very quickly. Even more amazing was it that he was soon known to have done with immorality. He separated from his mistress, and although he continued to support her and their children, he never lived with her again, nor was his name ever associated with any other woman.

Such behaviour was unheard of, and evoked a good deal of comment, since this was a new type of celibacy to the people of Marcala. Their priest, of course, had taken vows of celibacy, but in his case they were understood to have meant he would give no woman the protection of marriage and no child the privilege of bearing his name. Exemption from these responsibilities left him all the freer to take his pleasures where he would, and he did not hesitate to make his demands where he chose. Many a boy or girl was referred to covertly as 'the priest's child', and many a husband had to accept the situation, for the priest held a unique position in the neighbourhood, apparently having all the authority of the Church of Rome behind him.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the changed attitude of Don Pedro which merely provided the people of Marcala with a topic for speculation and conversation, incensed the priest to the point of fury. He had been up against the Senorita from the time she arrived in the town. She had seen his thin, angry face as he passed her in the streets, his black robes flying as he strode along. Her presence was an affront to him, an open challenge to his position as the spiritual power in the whole area, and he warned the people in the strongest terms he knew to avoid her. Now it was known that a man in a fairly prominent position in the town had not only listened to her preaching, but was openly aligning himself with the Protestants, the priest made no secret of his animosity. Her life was in danger, and she knew it. The mayor of the town might make a show of providing protection if she, as an American citizen, claimed it, but it was well known that the priest had a hold on him, and that he would do nothing to prevent trigger-happy, hired ruffians from attacking her on the quiet.

One night that is just what was planned. Joy's movements were closely watched, and it was observed that on certain evenings the daughter of one of the doctors came to visit her, and that Joy always accompanied her home. How easy for two men to lurk in the shadows, pounce on her as she returned alone through the dark, cobbled streets, and make a quick get-away after firing a shot! They stalked her as she walked along with Teolinda, saw her enter the house with her, knowing that within a few minutes she would emerge to make her way back to the mission home. It always happened that way.

But on this particular evening it did not happen that way. For the very first time Joy has been requested to spend the night in the house, since the doctor and his wife were going away, and did not want to leave Teolinda alone with their younger children. Neither she nor they knew anything about the two hired assassins, waiting impatiently in the street, wondering why she did not appear. She was peacefully sleeping inside. To some it might have appeared to be a coincidence -- but not to Joy, when she heard about it. 'God knew what was arranged for that night -- and He made His arrangements!' The story came out soon enough, for the men could not keep it to themselves. As day began to dawn they went into the bar for a drink, and having drunk themselves careless said angrily, 'There we were, sure we had her, and she didn't come back!' The story got back to Joy, and she was told who the two men were. It came as rather a shock to find herself face to face with one of them in broad daylight a short time later, as she walked along the street! The man looked sheepish, but she gave him a pleasant smile, made a friendly remark, and with a nod passed on. It was the best way she knew, on the spur of the moment, of returning good for evil.

The sequel to the story occurred with such dramatic suddenness that the whole town heard about it. Within a week the two men had had a quarrel, one had killed the other, then fled the country, never to be seen there again.

Joy had escaped unharmed, even unalarmed, and people looked with new respect at the Senorita. The God of the Protestants seemed well able to protect her. There must be something in what she was always talking about.

With Don Pedro, however, it was different. He came in for a bad beating up, and at the hands of the priest himself. All the town knew about that, too, and in the end it did the priest's cause more harm than good.

It happened during an open air meeting, when Joy was playing her accordion, a small group of her supporters with her, and Don Pedro, standing slightly to one side, was preparing to preach as soon as the singing ceased. Several onlookers were glancing idly in their direction, among them one of the German storekeepers whose attention was suddenly attracted to someone much nearer at hand. Standing in the shadows of his store was the dark figure of the priest, and in his hand was a revolver. It was trained straight on Don Pedro.

There were plenty of revolvers in Marcala, and a single shot followed by a quick getaway was no uncommon occurrence. If you chanced to be in the vicinity where it was about to happen you had to make up your mind quickly. Either you disappeared, to be as far as possible from the crime so that you wouldn't be implicated, or else you took the law into your own hands and tackled the assailant. The public-spirited German storekeeper, who owed no allegiance to the priest on the one hand or the Protestants on the other, instinctively took the latter course. He closed on the priest, and knocking the revolver out of his hand knocked him over into the bargain.

It all happened in a flash. The priest was down, but his blood was up, and not to be baulked of his prey he leapt to his feet and fairly flew across the narrow street towards Don Pedro.

'You're coming with me!' he shouted. 'You're coming with me to church,' and grasping the surprised man by the nape of the neck started dragging him along towards the ornate but dilapidated cathedral-like edifice that dominated the town.

The onlookers' interest quickened. Maybe there would be a fight in the street! With the priest involved there would be plenty of his adherents to come to his aid, and if the Protestants joined in it would be a show worth seeing. Street fights were common enough occurrences in Marcala, but this would be different, a religious affair with the two sides in open conflict. It might even be that the Senorita would take a hand.

However, somewhat to the general disappointment, there was no fight. Don Pedro put up no resistance, but allowed himself to be hauled off while Joy, scarcely aware of what was happening but realising that a skirmish in the street was threatening stuck to the accordion, playing hymns with renewed gusto. Interest between the Senorita on the one hand and the priest on the other was divided, and not surprisingly, the priest dragging away the notable convert proved the greater attraction. Joy was left with a handful of supporters, composed mainly of elderly women, while the crowd followed the priest to the church, eager to see what would happen there. In through the door they surged, to behold the priest trying to force Don Pedro down on his knees before an image of the Virgin Mary.

'Bow down and worship Our Lady!' he demanded fiercely, and for the first time encountered resistance. Don Pedro's head refused to lower itself, and his knees refused to bend. He stood rigid.

'I worship only the true God and His Son Jesus,' he said firmly, his shoulders back and his head held high. The onlookers held their breath. What would the priest do now?

It was at this point that he over-stepped himself. He was so infuriated at his inability to force his will with his bare hands on this obstinate fellow that he looked quickly round for a weapon. His eye alighted on a piece of gleaming metal, his arm shot out, his fingers grasped it, and it came crashing down on Don Pedro's head.

There was a stunned silence, then a murmur ran through the crowd. The weapon the priest held in his hand was a crucifix.

A crucifix! This was sacrilege! Even if you were a priest, invested with mysterious authority from unseen powers, in close communication with the spirits of departed saints (the canonised ones), you didn't use a crucifix, of all things, to hit an unarmed man over the head because he wouldn't do what you told him.

The crucifix was the symbol of martyrdom, of patient suffering, of meek submission to cruelty and injustice. It was something to be venerated, bowed before, worshipped. Even the priest himself performed his genuflexions in front of it. Yet now, here he was waving it about as if it were a common or garden revolver butt, shouting angrily like any other man in a brawl. Why, he'd be brandishing the Blessed Virgin herself next...!

The changed atmosphere in the church communicated itself to the priest and he realised he had gone too far. 'Get out! Get out, and never set foot in here again!' he yelled to Don Pedro, then stalked off as rapidly as he could, leaving his victim to stagger away, his hand up to his head, the blood trickling through his fingers.

He knew where to go. Joy and her small band were in the chapel, praying for him.

'Don Pedro, you've had the privilege of suffering for your Lord,' she said, deeply moved, when she saw him. It was not the only time Don Pedro had that privilege. During one of the periodical revolutions which seemed to occur every two years, there was a fracas outside the chapel where special meetings were being held. A crowd of men rushed in brandishing revolvers and knives, and dragged off to jail the visiting evangelists as well as members of the local congregation. Some of them got a beating up before they were released the next morning, and Don Pedro did not escape.

Cruzita escaped, however. She was taken off with the rest of them but was soon let out, arriving back at the mission in the early hours of the morning. She was somewhat disappointed. 'I wish I could have stayed on in jail, to encourage the others,' she told Joy. So far from being intimidated by threats and danger, she seemed to thrive on them. Revolutions usually resulted in the mission compound being crowded with frightened people, girls especially, who crept in to escape the violence and the lust of the riff-raff who took advantage of the prevailing disorder. The American flag seemed to promise protection, but it did not always deter the excited, feverish men who rushed round the streets from besieging the mission home, pounding on the doors and shuttered windows demanding to be let in. Joy had her hands full, trying to soothe hysterical girls and urge the believers to faith and prayer in their extremity.

'To say the least they were tense days. I often thought what would happen if I should give way to fear for one minute. The poor people who had come to seek refuge, and there were many, some nights as many as forty spent the night here, only felt safe when they could be near me, to touch my hand, or beg me to pray for them to my God that nothing would happen. He kept me in peace.' Then she added,

'And my faithful, loyal courageous girl companion Cruz.'

The courage of Cruz reached its peak on the night when a rabble of men were outside, banging on the door and shouting. Suddenly the door opened, and out stepped Cruzita, head high, eyes unafraid and indignant. Shutting the door behind her she stood there, her hands on her hips and in a loud stern voice cried,

'Stop! Stop I say! Stop that noise. Where is your general? I demand to see your general!'

The confident attitude of authority of the well-built girl who stood before them had a remarkable effect on the men. Perhaps they sensed, even though they did not see, that she did not stand there alone. They stopped their shouting and gaped at her, falling back as she moved towards them.

'I demand to see your general!' she said again, and instead of closing in on her they made way. Down the street she marched, to the headquarters of the local general, a man who in times of peace was usually drunk, but in times of revolution managed to remain sober. Cruzita strode up to him, stated the case of the beleaguered American Senorita, and firmly requested him to come and intervene. Within minutes she was on her way back, accompanied by the general, who wrathfully sent the rabble about their business.

Revolutions not only brought danger, they brought privation. Normal trading came to a standstill as people were afraid to venture along the country roads and trails to take their produce to market. With twenty or thirty people sheltering in the mission compound, all needing to be fed, Joy began to experience what it meant to rely on God for daily bread. She had read with admiration and avidity the records of George Muller of Bristol's work of faith among orphans, and marvelled at some of the things that happened in answer to his prayers when there was literally not enough food to provide for one day more. Now she had the opportunity of proving God in the same way -- in fact, she may be said to have had no option. If God did not provide, they would all go hungry. The life of faith in Him to send money and means as they were needed for the work He gave her to do struck deep roots in those days of revolution. There were times when she told the people who were with her that there was something to praise God for, something to rejoice about. 'We've got no food left. Rejoice! Rejoice that our wonderful God will hear us when we pray -- pray and praise. Somehow He will send us what we need.'

One such occasion had a particularly dramatic note about it, for after they had prayed Joy said, 'Now we must look for the answer. It must be on the way.' She glanced down the road, and then exclaimed, 'Why that must be it!' Coming down the trail was Juan, healthy and happy and driving a pack-mule. He beamed with delight at the welcome he received as he entered the familiar compound. Arthur and Irene Schnasse, in the midst of turmoil even more harrowing than in Marcala, had nevertheless remembered their lonely colleague and sent a load of stores from La Esperanza which arrived with almost theatrical timing.

Joy passed through two revolutions in Honduras, and in 1934 a third was just beginning when it stopped abruptly, and as far as Joy was concerned that happened because of Don Pedro's prayer. Official warning had been given that the revolution would reach the district around Marcala in a matter of hours. Once more lawlessness and plunder, looting and murder would disrupt normal life. Travel outside the city would be too dangerous and too uncertain to embark on, and the frequent visits made in remote villages for evangelism and teaching would have to cease.

Don Pedro's spirit was stirred. He was not prepared to accept the situation, and in an urgent prayer meeting he told God so.

It was one of the outstanding experiences of Joy's life, listening to Don Pedro talking to God the way he did that evening. He said, in effect, that this state of affairs must not continue, since revolutions hindered God's work. Preaching was held up. Visiting was held up.

'Thy people away up in the mountains suffer and we can't help them. They need encouraging, they need to be taught Thy Word and we can't go to them. The people here in Marcala are afraid to come out on the streets, so they don't come to hear Thy Word. Lord, this is not Thy will, and it's not ours either. We refuse to accept this situation. Satan is behind it, and we stand against him.' Then he went on to make it clear that he was looking to God to put a stop to it. His attitude was respectful, rather like that of a trusted servant explaining something to his employer in the assurance that he had gained a hearing and that his reasonable request would be attended to. When he concluded what he had to say he seemed quite confident that the matter was in hand.

The revolution came to an end quite soon after that, and whatever explanations the politicians or economists had to give in later years when the country entered a long period of peace in marked contrast to the repeated upheavals of the past, the little congregation in Marcala had no doubt of the real reason. Don Pedro had gone in before God to argue the case against revolutions in Honduras, God had heard him and acted according to his request. The opposition of the priest continued unabated, there were inevitable disappointments in the work which, as Joy expressed it, 'always has present this duet -- trial and triumph', but there was no more complete disruption of life. Violence and oppression were local affairs only, and there were times when the tables were turned on the culprits as when a noisy gang of trouble makers outside the chapel were throwing stones one of which hit full in the face the chief of police, who happened to be passing by at the time. The Gospel meeting proceeded in peace, while the gang spent the night sweeping the jail.

The mayor and council, too, did not find things going all their own way when they summoned Joy to appear before them and forbade her to hold any more open air meetings. Her spirited reply was that as long as the Catholics were allowed to have their processions in the streets she would not give up the privilege of preaching in the streets. The affair got to the ears of the Government, and to their discomfiture the mayor and council received a severe scolding -- 'So now we are freer than ever.'

Joy's letters home during those years were full of reports of what was going on -- trips to the mountains, the establishing in Marcala of a two-months' Bible School, visits to conferences in other centres which involved travelling on lorries -- 'going we went as cargo and coming back as baggage, to save on fares.' She gave names and thumb nail sketches of people who had come to faith in Christ, and mentioned also her little garden that she was too busy to work in herself, so had divided it up for church members to grow things in. 'I also have several chickens, a little turkey, two small ducks, a cow and a calf. Last but not least I have a cat and a parrot. They were gifts, so what can one do!' When her friends wrote to ask if there was anything she would like them to send her, her fertile mind produced suggestions of forty little items that would be useful for her girls' club, for the Sunday School, for handwork, for helping the poor -- old picture cards, second-hand clothing, pins, crayons, cuttings from newspapers that would provide illustrations for sermons... Offers of help were always accepted and when little parcels came pouring in she assured the donors that everything was useful and everything was welcome. 'Who sent me these lovely dresses and shoes? They got here the day before Christmas -- my other shoes were terrible. The dresses are so becoming...' She was far too busy to bother about her own clothes, and scarcely realising how it happened she found that her Heavenly Father had His own ways of looking after that aspect of her life. 'Oh, I feel so unworthy of the least of God's blessings and especially the privilege of being ambassador of the realms above.' Her letters breathed praise to God, more than anything for His evident working in human hearts. 'There is a fervent spirit of prayer and a number arise at 5 o'clock in the morning to pray for revival. The believers are personal workers, and are trying to win their comrades to Jesus Christ.'

She was so buoyed up by what was happening, with scarcely a week passing when there was not news of one or another having come to faith in Christ, that she paid no attention to her feelings of weariness, of nausea, her lack of appetite. She wrote frequently to 'my dearest Mrs. White', her doctor's wife in Los Angeles, and occasionally asked for some medicine for persistent digestive troubles, because they were a nuisance, but otherwise she just went on from day to day. There were too many people to visit, too many classes to prepare for, too many meetings to speak at, too many gatherings for prayer to leave her time to think about herself. She was getting thinner, her eyes were unnaturally bright, there was a nervous twitch on the left side of her face when she talked, but there was no-one to notice it until a missionary from the north coast came to Marcala on a friendly visit. Joy's appearance alarmed her, and she spoke urgently.

'Joy, you're ill. You need to get away from here and have a complete rest. You ought to see a doctor. If you don't, you'll crack up completely.' She spoke in a solemn voice, and added, 'And you'd better go soon. Something could be developing that would affect your health for the rest of your life. If you want to come back, don't delay.'

'If you want to come back...' The words arrested Joy. Of course she wanted to come back! She had no other desire in life but to be in Marcala. Yes, she admitted, she wasn't feeling too good, she was having unpleasant evidences that something might be wrong. She'd been away from home for about six years, so she was due for leave. She'd go as soon as it could be arranged, so that she could get back all the quicker.

She went back to Los Angeles in 1936, and did not see Marcala again for eight years.

Chapter 3: In the Beginning


Count it all Joy! / Capturing Voices - First published in 1978, this is a down-to-earth biography of Joy Ridderhof and the beginnings of Gospel Recordings.