On a cold evening in December 1932 in East Texas—in a very large and mostly empty farm house—a young, sixteen-year-old mother-to-be awaited delivery of her first child. The only heat was from a fireplace and a wood stove. The doctor, elderly and patient, slow and not to be rushed, delivered a loud and healthy child, Bobbye Jean Blizzard.
A couple years before this, in southern Louisiana, another young mother-to-be awaited her first child. The child was born healthy and strong. Chester and Inez Wendell welcomed twelve-pound Kenneth to the world.
Years passed. In 1949, a skating rink was built in Vivian, Louisiana. Kenneth Wendell was now a tall, dark, and handsome young man—the floor bouncer at the skating rink. Bobbye and Kenneth met, fell in love, and skated away to be married on August 23, 1949—the football player and the cheerleader. He was eighteen; she was sixteen. Their marriage was blessed with four children.
But life happens, and as their lives began to fall apart, it was a denominational pastor who told them about Pentecost. In this broken condition, they began a turnaround toward truth and later, a call to missions.
One day, the boss where Kenneth worked notified Bobbye: “Kenneth is sick; take him home.” But where was home? Bobbye tried to be strong, tried to sing, but brokenness fell over her. She could not sing. There was no song. God gives the song. Without God, there is no song. There was no money, no job, no home. Kenneth was very sick and required constant care.
Very early one morning, Bobbye awoke and saw lights in the kitchen windows of the little church by their home. She walked over and observed ladies working with love and happiness, making donuts—praying and singing—at 3:00 AM.
Again, on Saturday night, the lights were on. There was activity. The lights were drawing her in. On Sunday morning, Bobbye saw the Pentecostals gathering. Suddenly she started getting things ready for church. With their children ready and Kenneth coming, even though so very sick, they began walking down that narrow, muddy road.
They were welcomed by the pastor. The old-fashioned, up-front platform choir started singing Brother A. L. Clanton’s song, “My Thanks to Him.” Conviction like a river and a weariness of the world fell over Bobbye; she ran to the altar, with Kenneth close behind her. She received the Holy Ghost that morning. They were baptized that evening and Kenneth received the Holy Ghost the next evening.
The Lord began a healing process in their lives over the following two years and placed a call upon them to minister as missionaries. They worked, prayed, sacrificed, gave, and worked some more to give money to missions.
After several years of growing in the Lord at their local church, they were able to attend Texas Bible College. Travel to the college was made possible by a miracle offering that came with a knock on their door—enough money to get to Houston and pay half a month’s rent. From there, God provided. They were appointed missionaries to Ethiopia in October 1966.
Brother Wendell arrived in Ethiopia first and stayed at the YMCA where he met some students who were helping the poor and needy. He became aware of an area where the lepers lived.
It would be impossible to fully describe the conditions of those who were the “untouchables.” The lepers crowded together in submission to their rejection by society. They were born; they lived, married, gave birth, and died just as humanity does. They created for themselves a culture and society of their own acceptance of each other. They were branded by their disease. Some slept in holes dug into the ground, some in shacks made of cardboard and pieces of tin and wood. They truly were rejected by society, but God saw them, loved them, and had a plan for them. Brother Wendell became a part of the group who would attempt to improve the living quarters of these tragic people.
When Sister Wendell arrived in Ethiopia, Brother Wendell wanted to show her the project he was working on. They drove to the area. She stayed in the vehicle while he went over an embankment and out of sight. People began to gather, pushing close to the open window. They had white, gauzy shawls around them and across their faces. She noticed they had deformed hands or no fingers and sometimes no hands, only stubs at the end of their arms. She was frozen with absolute fear when the shawls were lowered; some had disfigured faces, no eyebrows, and noses almost gone. She had never seen anything in her life to prepare her for this!
Brother Wendell came to the car and tried to tell her what he was doing, but she just wanted to go home. He looked at her and said, “We are home, Bobbye. We prayed for nine years to get here. We are home, and these people are those God has given us to start with. If there is a church in Ethiopia, it will start here.”
Sister Wendell was awake all night, visiting the rooms of her children and asking God and herself, “What have I done?”
The next day, they tied huge plastic buckets on top of their Land Rover Jeep. The buckets were for collecting food scraps from the back door of the Hilton Hotel—food to feed the hungry people.
They arrived at the assigned place. Planks were laid over sawhorses to make tables. The buckets were placed on the tables. The people began to line up. Their food containers were tin cans, dirty rags, and plastic bags—whatever they could find. They pushed against each other to be some of the first in line to ensure there would be something for them to eat. The noise was terrible—shouting, pushing, children crying, everyone making noise of some kind.
The Wendell daughters, Angie and Jeannie, were to dip out the food with large spoons. They looked so beautiful that day, with their long hair around their faces and tears washing down from fear and pity. Not one word was spoken all the way back home. Even Chet, the youngest, who was only nine, said nothing. The eldest son, Mark, quietly sat sheltering his little brother.
Upon their arrival at the house, Sister Wendell started talking, trying to make the atmosphere lighter. She told them she would make a special supper. They each said, “I do not want anything to eat. I just want to see my Mamaw and Papaw.” There was no evening meal. That night, there were many tears.
Closed off from the bedrooms to prevent disturbing their children, Sister Wendell cried and prayed through the night. Several times, she visited their beds, gently laying hands on each one and praying, “None of these diseases. Oh Lord! . . . None of these diseases!”
The Ethiopian Orthodox was the State Church. In order to perform a religious work, the Ethiopian government required the Wendells to do a project, either social or educational, in order to remain in the country.
To fulfill the governmental requirement, they rented an old building on a large compound and repaired the broken walls with a mixture of dirt and straw. This building would house the Leper Workshop and Training Center. They hired teachers for cloth weaving, basket weaving, and rug weaving during the day. The workshop also housed the chapel used for daily devotions before classes.
Those victims of leprosy began to line up at the gate of the workshop chapel, asking for entrance into the program. How did they find out about the workshop? No one knew, but they came, sometimes lining up and down the hill to the river, awaiting an opportunity to come in.
Brother Wendell designed a prosthesis that strapped onto the palm portion of the hand enabling the wearer to hold a tool with which to work. However, one woman who begged for a place in the school had no hands, only stubs on her two wrists. She could not wear the prosthesis. The front parts of her feet were gone, leaving only the heel and ankle area. She could only shuffle instead walk. In order to keep balance, the woman stuffed the front parts of old boots with rags.
Brother Wendell told her she could come to the chapel and church services but could not be in the training school. She began to weep and look around. She begged for someone to bring her a broom. They all stood there, awestruck at her intensity. She clutched the broom between her arms and began to stab at the ground with it in a sweeping motion. She slid her feet forward in the clumsy boots, not lifting the boot for fear of it sliding off. Slide … slide … sweep … sweep … crying and saying, “But sir, don’t you see, I am worth something.”
And she was—as is any creation of God, even those who are lepers. And there were hundreds and thousands of these people. For this woman, an exception was made. She had a place at the workshop. Later in a church service, she asked if she could sing. Her nose was deformed, and her speech was affected. But she sang, “God is So Good to Me”—not the song written here in the USA. She made up the song as she sang.
After many months of ministering to the lepers, teaching them skills, preaching in the chapel services five days a week, making meals and serving them, washing and binding up their wounds every day, still no one had been baptized. There was no spiritual breakthrough. The longing for harvest in the land of their calling became unbearably heavy. Something had to happen.
Because many things on the mission field are primitive and require much manual labor, it was essential to have help in their home. When Brother Wendell drove in one day with a bright-smiling lady in the back seat of the vehicle, Sister Wendell knew help had arrived.
Her helper would start in the kitchen, and as she turned to enter the kitchen, Sister Wendell saw a huge ulcer on her leg. She called Brother Wendell to the back room and asked, “Does she have leprosy?” He looked squarely at her and said, “Yes.” She was horrified! In the house, with the children? This cannot be! She emphatically said, “You have to take her away. She has to go.” He said he could not; she had no place to go. He said, “You can take her … here are the keys. But I ask one thing: Will you go by Calvary on the way taking her back?
Sister Wendell was numbed. She thought, Doesn’t he know that I have been to Calvary? But it had been to take a soul to Calvary, not to lead one away. With tears falling, she took the keys, grabbed her prayer shawl—a nice pink and green shawl made by someone in Alexandria, Louisiana, and given to her as a gift, one she used every service in the chapel church—for a good reason.
Something had to happen. This was the day. She hurried out of the house—without the bright-smiling helper—and headed for the chapel. It was Saturday. They had no service on Saturday. Only the guard was there—the guard with very little nose left on his face, with sad eyes, and who kept his ulcered hands behind his back.
The building was the same—nothing had changed. The sameness was the smell. There was a cloying, clinging odor that permeated the area. The smell never went away. Soap, disinfectant, and cleaners just added to the strength and tenacity of the smell. The smell of dying flesh.
Sister Wendell tells it like this: “I took my prayer shawl and spread it on the floor. I would kneel on it, pray, and when I got home, I would throw it in the washer before using it again. I hoped it would last the length of our first term.
“I started to kneel and quite firmly announced to the Lord that I had come to be ‘broken.’ With that announcement, I went to my knees and started to pray. The smell was terrible that day. I prayed and nothing happened. After a while, the Lord spoke to me and said, ‘If you really wish to be broken then remove the prayer shawl.’ The thought of my flesh actually touching that floor was overwhelming. Some of the lepers walked barefoot daily over the floors, the smell of their infections entering the plank flooring. I could not do it. I would pray on. The voice came again, ‘Move the shawl.’ Finally, I moved the shawl. But the Lord was not finished with me yet.
“The Lord spoke again: ‘Get down.’ I stooped a bit. The Lord spoke again, ‘Go down’ and I stooped lower. Finally, after the third time, I tearfully asked the Lord, ‘I’m down. How much further?’ He said, ‘Until there is no further down.’ I went down and stretched out on my face and frontal body.
“I literally lay before the Lord with weeping. Something was happening. About three hours later, something like a dam broke on the inside of me. Fear of disease and strangeness and filth poured from me. From the lower regions of my body to the flowing out of sounds and words from my mouth, the Lord delivered me. That day, on my way out, I spoke with the guard whose hands were behind his back, ‘Let me see your hands.’ I took hold of those ulcered hands for the first time. He would never need to hide them from me again. I would never be the same again. There would be a harvest. There would be a church and a people.”
The foundation of the enemy’s resistance was broken that day. Revival came. Amazing and powerful revival—revival that started with those lepers, who were rejected by society but rescued by God through the sacrifice of His servants, Brother and Sister Wendell.
Sister Wendell is back in North America. She travels extensively, telling her story. God has used her ministry to reach into the hearts of thousands of believers—the message of brokenness. God’s will is accomplished the same today as it was on that floor in Ethiopia. It is through the brokenness of our earthen vessels. It is painful. It is denial of self. It is to go by Calvary!
Today, we are humbled to be in the presence of this great woman of God. To be able to honor her in this small way could never, ever even begin to do justice to the honor she deserves.
Sister Wendell, we love you and thank you for giving yourself to the work of God. It is a privilege and blessing to have you with us.