Knight, Martha (Nelson) – CSA

John Hendy* offered no rewards other than the great privilege of his attention to a little girl, maybe five years old. And his insistence on holding me on his lap, in the back seat, while we sped to and from gospel meetings. The worst times in the car were the trip home, in the dark. Many days he would take me on walks–Show me the chickens! Show me the calves! Shall we go and find John? (his younger companion was John Deniker). “I know where John is–” I would start, but we would be on the path to the barn or elsewhere out of sight.

I remember that I was punished for having said I did not want to sit on Hendy’s lap. My mother thought that was so terribly unappreciative of me, and rude even if he didn’t hear me say it. As for declining to take a walk with him, well, that was not to be thought of. An honor like that! After one outing he told us all at supper, “Marta (my nickname) and I showed each other lots of things! But they are secret things!” And everyone was supposed to think that this meant we had been playing a fun game and he had been entertaining a little girl like a wonderful uncle, using lots of imagination. Such patience, to spend time with a little one! How loving and kind!

I think he believed his way of talking about his attention to me would even convince me it was fine and dandy. But I knew John Hendy was a villain. Now I suppose that knowledge had been the first inkling that workers could lie, and they could do wrong–at least that one did–and little by little I allowed myself to notice other discrepancies.

At that point I still revered my aunts who were in the work, and assumed that Sister Workers Nettie Miller and Inez London, so celebrated by the initial converts in our parts, including my grandma, were superior beings. I thought Alec Givan and Elliott Hammond, who had converted my mother and her sister, were too.

I survived due to a strong dose of Kant, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Ingersoll and Emerson. At least, that was what freed me from fear of the God depicted by the 2X2s, a demanding, judging, petty tyrant.

Also, there was a growing rage at the arbitrary prohibitions, in my case rules first against playing the “wrong” music and then playing piano at all. There was cold fury over being prevented from using my scholarships–based on worker preachments and hearty member acceptance that “worldly knowledge” was worse than useless, it was corrupting. In fact, intelligence was suspect. “Look what happened to Solomon” was one mantra I heard often.

Then there was my determination not to be married off to any of the 2X2 boys or young men sometimes suggested to me, or who had made tentative overtures at convention. No! The suggestions made by numerous sister workers, when I was younger yet, that I should listen for the call to the work and yield my heart as soon I heard it, had ceased, for it was fairly clear that I wasn’t very good at conformity.

There was not one 2X2 role model I could relate to or wished to emulate. I had ceased to trust male workers because of John Hendy’s fondling; I had no admiration for the “worker class” in general for I saw them as lazy, ignorant about many things, greedy and eager to exploit. They leeched off our farm family, while we worked hard and did without a lot, living from milk check to milk check and earning every extra dollar we could to augment the losses of drought years–yet visitors demanded gasoline or to be driven here and there, and wanted to be taken shopping (and the host was expected to pay for the purchases) and expected to eat better than we did.

What I didn’t know then was that my dad had not bought the 2X2 line for a long time, but had been following the party line so as to keep peace in the family. Surrounded as he was by hearty 2X2s, mother, wife, elder daughter, siblings (three in the work) and almost everyone our family socialized with to any degree, he needed more courage than I did to break free. He did so after I had left, but that fact was kept from me for a long time. Who would tell me?

In his case, he did not rebel as to his lifestyle, did not take up worldly practices other than getting a “record player” and records and a radio to boot, did not smoke or drink. Later he told me that letting me be brought up as I was, in subjugation to 2X2 dogma, was the greatest regret he had. “I guess your sister has always accepted it and is happy in it,” he said. “I knew it was terrible for you.” Well, as to my sister’s happiness, I’m afraid he was mistaken. But she has not attributed that to the 2X2, even though the system’s machinations surely have done her great harm–and still do.

Outsiders did influence me! Teachers, my piano master, my business partner (a necessity for I was too young to exercise certain adult prerogatives), other musicians, many others. They didn’t discuss beliefs with me, but encouraged and assisted me in various ways as I grabbed for all the gusto I could get and pursued my interests.

I did not tell my parents. I was sure no one would believe me. I don’t remember how long that “mission” was, several months I believe, with gospel meetings several nights a week but moving around from country school to Grange hall to other school, etc. Also, the two workers stayed at different homes, days at a time in each, coming back to ours several times. Wherever they stayed I would see them at every meeting, Sunday morning and all the gospel meetings. John Deniker was nice, I thought. He would get me to play for him and would sing. I could play piano some before I went to school and took first grade at home from my mother (whose mother and sisters were former school marms and who had the necessary books and skills).

John Deniker had a trick he used to entertain children–clasping his hands together and squeezing the palms in a way that would make a squeaky noise. Then he would have us peek into a little opening he made between his hands, and we would see a tiny white “eye”–a rivet on his pocket knife. Since then, I have wondered so much whether he knew about his companion

There was a strong tendency in my family, not just in my home, to harshly blame women and girls for any sexual misdeeds we heard about. A girl who got pregnant before marriage was spoken of with strong disapproval, but the other party to the behavior was not. Sometimes it was almost as if the girl had wronged him! If he married the girl, he was said to have been trapped. If he didn’t, there was speculation that he should not “have to.” How did he know it was his? And so on.

Of course, a girl who got pregnant could not stay in school. Even if she married, she had to leave school, and it was not considered okay for her to come back. The exception I recall was the girl who had been raped by her father, who had killed the baby when it was born–so she was brought to live with relatives in our area. I am speaking of “worldly people” in the community.

A girl I had got to know at convention was not at convention the following year although her family was. I was told not to ask about her. Eventually a girl pal there told me what had happened. The girl had “got pregnant” and her family had sent her away. She was supposed to have the baby and give it away, then enroll in school there. She could not come back until she was out of school.

My friend told me that if such a thing happened to her, she would either run away or kill herself. I remember being so shocked–and telling her of course she must not kill herself! She said she thought she would have to. I told her she would go to hell if she killed herself, everyone said so. She said that was true, but you would also go to hell for having sex if you were not married. We both understood that if a man “did it to” a woman or girl, she got pregnant. No two ways about it.

I was a farm girl and knew from early childhood that the herd sire was highly effective–so far as I knew, 100 percent. Then when he was sold and we got into the artificial breeding program, so far aas I knew that was 100 percent effective too.

So, when I was raped by a different man, a sometime hired hand, by then working for someone else in the community, a few years later, I was convinced that I was inevitably pregnant. No, I did not tell my parents, but a family friend (not professing) who was a drilling contractor and who knew the man’s past, including previous crimes of that nature, did guess. He knew why I did not dare tell my parents. But he checked and learned that there was a warrant out on the man over the state line, and helped engineer his arrest on that charge, in a nearby town.

When that very man had been working on our farm and boarding with us, and had made remarks to my sister and me which we did not understand but repeated to our mother, we had been scolded for “hanging around” him and told not to “bother” him.

Defiled, somehow at fault, much in fear, after being raped I understood exactly what my little friend had meant, and what the only way out of my dilemma must be. Amazingly, I did not manage to die. Well, maybe partly!

When I hear of the children who have been molested by workers, those greatly trusted and admired people who were honored guests in the victims’ homes, and when I think of the many we have NOT heard about for reasons including the ones I have described, I wonder: What is the extent of the harm that has been done to those children? In addition to the obvious effects of such abuse, what has happened to their minds, emotions, spirits? How do they view THEMSELVES? Has anyone helped them to understand it was not their fault, and that their personhood and their worth as human beings were not changed?

Is the cult, with its emphasis on guilt, capable of letting its families protect their little ones–or, failing in that, of letting or even helping them support little victims toward recovery from such events? Think of Tim Severud’s first explanation of how he had come to molest the girl he was abusing when the father came upon that awful scene: THEY had had an inappropriate relationship; and SHE had initiated it. What, eight years old? How good it was that the father did not allow anyone to talk him out of taking action against Severud.** Seems to me he was persuaded to delay action until the head worker got back into the state.

Thinking now of Hendy–he remained in our state for some years but was not in another mission in our area for many years. I remember being at my parents’ home years later when he and a companion showed up for a meal. As always, he dominated conversation and ate like an animal. They left soon after the meal.

Years later when I was not living in the area, he and a companion were in the area for a while, and stayed with my mother, who was a widow then. She still had in her home (not the home I grew up in but the one she and Dad had had after selling the farm) many of the things she and Dad had owned and enjoyed, including their piano and organ and his accordion and his record player and record collection. The record player, a large portable, she kept in her downstairs bedroom, in the kneehole of an old desk, under some other items. She did not use it except when we came to visit her–my husband and kids and I.

Sometimes my professing sister and her nice proper 2X2 husband and kids came at the same time–they lived in the area. And we would ALL get out the record player and records. Those good 2X2 kids loved it! It was a novelty to them. But before we left, we tucked it all away again, out of sight

I learned a few years ago of the terrible pain John Hendy caused my mother, when he was staying with her. One day when his companion was out visiting someone in the area, Mother went to the nearby town to do some shopping. Doubtless, she was buying some extra goodies so as to prepare Hendy’s favorite foods. He was left by himself at her home, which was just up the road from the home of her widowed sister, whose husband, an elder, had died, but where Sunday meeting was still held because the lady was crippled by arthritis. Hendy snooped through the home (or may have been tipped off by someone?) and found the record player.

He wrote a note which he left on her dining room table, then packed his bags and decamped to stay in another home. The note told her that until she had got rid of the “phonograf” and the records, she could not have Wednesday night meeting in her home. She was in a rotation of three or four homes that took turns having that meeting. I was told that when she got the word, she wept for days. It was Wednesday night, and she did not go to meeting. I knew that the record player had disappeared from the home, and the records too, but did not learn why for years. She died before I heard of it.

Of all that man would have to answer for, I don’t know what would be worse than the horrible choice he forced on a widow, who still cherished the memory of her dear husband, and never tired of speaking of things he had done and said. Here his enjoyment of music and his collection of records–not one of them even slightly bad or particularly “worldly,” was being condemned as something so shameful, the evidence could not even be in the same structure where meeting was held. Out of sight, in a private area, but still permeating the interior with evil!

My source told me she thinks Mother did not give the record player and records away, but took them to “the dump.” To give them away would have been to pass on the evil to someone else? I would have loved to have them as keepsakes.

Martha (Nelson) Knight (“Marti”)
Pennsylvania USA
September 9, 2010

Born March 13, 1937 – Died September 5, 2021

*John Hendy on PA workers list in 1912.

**Report of Tim Severud on WINGS