October 16, 2023

The Valley . . .

Reflecting on God’s quiet protection

Marvene Thorpe-Baptiste
Photo by Liane Metzler on Unsplash

Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”

The decision to move must have been made prayerfully and carefully. We were leaving our home in the city and moving to the country, more specifically “the valley,” with lush green vegetation everywhere.

We kids viewed the move as an adventure, but for our parents it was a necessity.

 The house we moved into was located near my father’s job, the church school, and the college. In terms of space, the house was big enough to accommodate a large family, and the fact that it lacked a few amenities didn’t bother us kids in the least. We were viewed as the “outsiders,” coming into a village in which practically everyone was related. And, unknown to us, the villagers did not expect us to remain for any period of time.

“Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

Our home boasted an adequate vegetable garden, and was surrounded by every fruit tree that our young minds could imagine. We went wild tasting and staking out our favorite fruits, which ranged from different types of mangoes, guava, plums, oranges, grapefruit, and cherries to tamarinds, bananas, limes, and lemons. There was even a cashew tree from which a few lessons were learned—namely, that the juice produced a terrible stain, and the nut, which grew at the top of the flower, would cause terrible blisters to the fingers or mouth if eaten unroasted. Being able to climb all these trees was a must, so I learned—
from my brothers.

 To add to this veritable “Eden” was the nearby river with various pools, where we enjoyed many an early-morning bath, much to the dismay of our mother, who always fussed with Dad for taking us out at 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning to bathe in the cold water.

As the summer ended, we discovered just how fortunate we were to live opposite an elementary school. On the first day of classes it became obvious that the previous occupants had made different snack items and sold them to the schoolchildren. My mother, who was quite industrious, realized what was expected, and quickly learned to make such treats as Popsicles, guava candy, peanut butter fudge, pickled plums and mangoes, and tamarind candy—to name a few items. This provided additional income for the family.

To quote Dickens, it was truly “the best of times . . . [and] the worst of times,” especially for some of our family members.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

One night I was awakened by what felt like an earthquake. The queen-size bed I shared with my younger sister was shaking violently! Sitting up, I discovered my little sister huddled in the corner of the bed, terrified, eyes popping out of her head, teeth chattering, hands clutching the blanket so tightly I had to physically pry her fingers open. Being so young, she was unable to say what had given her such a fright. Unfortunately, this was not a one-time incident. This “fright night” continued over a prolonged period of time—each following a  familiar pattern. Ultimately, it became a cause for concern for my parents.

Coincidentally, my younger brother complained that something was scaring him at nights. My older brothers joked and accused him of eating too late at night, thus causing nightmares. He shared a large room with four other brothers. The older boys had partitioned the room by installing a heavy navy-blue curtain. However, they were all in the same room, so why did he not feel safe?

We finally took him seriously when one morning the boys discovered a huge slash in the curtain. Upon questioning, our youngest explained that almost every night he saw what appeared to be a large hand coming toward him as though to strangle him. Therefore, as a form of protection he started sleeping with a pocketknife under his pillow. That night in question he decided to strike out at “the hand,” thus slashing the curtain.

What was scaring these children? Why the two younger ones? And why only at night? These were just some of the questions that swirled in our heads.

Slowly the pieces came together.

In relating the various incidents to our nearest neighbor, Mom discovered that the original owners had often engaged in occult practices and rituals, holding lodge meetings and séances at late hours in the night. The neighbor told stories of different individuals coming and going at various times of the day and night, and of strange, sometimes terrifying, otherworldly sounds coming from the house.

How naive and innocent we had been! There was so much that we didn’t know.

When we first moved in, we never knew what those drawings on the walls, of circles with crosses and other frightful-looking animals in the middle, meant. We simply erased them and removed the strange-looking artifacts found in and around the house. Nor did we understand why our neighbor was so emphatic when she told us to throw away and never, ever, open the many bottles filled with red-, green-, and blue-colored liquid that we uncovered while “digging for treasure” around the house.

 It was always a mystery to us why the house seemed to be a haven for all creatures “great and small”—from bats and owls that made their nocturnal rounds inside the house to occasional snakes, as well as many scorpions and house lizards, that acted as if they owned the place, not us. We, however, took it all in stride, thankfully never being hurt by any of these creatures, especially the scorpions. Somehow we thought this was normal country living.

 “For thine is the kingdom . . .”

The drawings, the vials of colored liquid, and the various creatures all meant something, but only to those who fully engaged in the other world.

I thank God my parents did not fall into that category. They never raised an alarm—or gave a name to the terrifying incidents. They realized that we were not wrestling against “flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers . . . in high places” (Eph. 6:12, KJV). They decided to intensify the spiritual atmosphere in the home; we would be awakened very early every morning, rain or shine, for family worship, and end the day with more of the same, especially on Friday evenings.

 My parents had an awesome, powerful, personal prayer life in which they presented each one of us before the Lord. My dad would have his personal devotions around 4:30 a.m., and Mom at some point during the day when we were at school. Their prayers, like a huge blanket, cloaked us, the innocent, who had been exposed to the elements of evil. This led to the inevitable triumph over the powers of evil, for in a short time the “fright night” and “nocturnal visitations” declined in frequency and intensity, until they ceased altogether. In fact, things became so normal that my youngest sister was born in that house.

These unpleasant experiences, however, did not dampen our enjoyment of living in a setting in which we were free to roam, explore, and enjoy the bounties of the earth—if only for a short time. By God’s grace the younger ones, to this day, have not suffered any ill effects from having lived in “the valley.” My mom summed it up best when she said, “It was truly God’s mercy and His blessings that brought us through those difficult years.” “ . . . and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen” (Matt. 6:9-13, KJV).