Book 1, Chapters 1-2 Summary
The Griffiths family, consisting of father Asa, mother Elvira, oldest daughter Esta, oldest son Clyde, and a younger boy and girl, set up their preaching post on the streets of Kansas City. Surrounded by the skyscrapers around them, the Griffiths prepare to reach out to the passersby on their way home. Esta sits at the small organ and accompanies the family as they sing hymns, hoping some people will stop and listen to their message. The entire family gives the appearance of being “unimportant,” as Clyde thinks, although the mother has some appearance of strength and commitment that her husband does not exude, no matter how he feels. Clyde, at twelve, is described as more pagan than religious and clearly does not have any interest in what he is doing. Some passersby comment that such a young man should not be forced to participate when he clearly does not believe.
Clyde resents what his parents do for a living. For years he has submitted to teasing because of the over-religiosity of his parents. He is poor and resents that he has not had opportunities other children have had. The family has moved from placed to place, his father believing some other city was a more accepting “field” for his mission work. Thus, the children have not spent any time in school, and Clyde feels the inadequacy of his education. He has not been trained toward any career, and he cringes at having to go into “common” labor in a factory.
The family lives in a storefront building that also serves as their mission headquarters. With a few family rooms in the back, the home is often where the downtrodden of Kansas City can be found. It is also where Clyde’s parents pray in their constant need for food or finances. Despite their trust that “the Lord will provide,” Clyde does not see much evidence of God taking interest in the Griffiths family. His mother, Elvira, grew up the daughter of dirt farmers, without much thought of religion. When she inexplicably fell in love with Asa, she naturally took up his interest, especially once she discovered she had some talent of voice and persuasion. She was the strength of the family while Asa was the emotional center, a trait Clyde inherited. But as he grows into his teen years, Clyde is pulled more toward the opposite sex than to the works of the Lord.