Most Viewed Stories
70 years built on communication with God as well as each other
LeRoy Hensyel was faced with an unusual dilemma in March of 1933. He could either marry his sweetheart Grace or find himself a place in the unemployment line.
Explained LeRoy, "I was working for the W.J. Miller sawmill in Bellfountain, Ore., along with my father Julius at the time. Only one man in each family was supposed to be working. So one day my boss came up to me and said he was sorry, but he was going to have to let me go."
So LeRoy asked Grace to marry him. She accepted, and the two were married the following Monday, March 13, essentially creating a new family.
"I went back in and told (my boss) I was married," LeRoy said. "He looked at me and then yelled at me to get back to work."
Getting married to save one's job is not exactly the kind of foundation one would expect a marriage of 70 years to be built on. Yet here the couple is, 70 years later, marriage intact and as strong as ever. They celebrated their 70th anniversary at a party March 13 in their daughter's Yuma home.
Perhaps more remarkable is the fact that Grace, shortly after marriage, discovered something about her husband that nearly ended the relationship before it even had a chance to start.
"We got along very well, except he was an only child. I was one of nine, and we talked all the time in our house," Grace said. "LeRoy hardly ever spoke.
'I was so much in love that I never noticed that he wasn't a conversational- ist until after we got married. After two weeks, I got so lonesome that we had to make a trip home. I couldn't stand the silence. I'd say, 'Talk to me, honey,' and he'd say, 'What should I say?''
Ironically, Grace said one of the keys to a long marriage is communication. "I've always thought that if people can communicate, they can solve almost anything.'
Some advice she received a long time ago has also served the couple well over the years.
"An elderly lady gave me the secret for a long and happy marriage," Grace said. "It was: If one of you does get upset - because we're not echoes of each other, we're individual people - the other should make a real effort not to get upset at the same time. That has mostly worked."
The newlyweds lived near Alsea, Ore., and Grace operated a small gas station in front of their home while LeRoy continued working in the mills.
In 1940, Grace felt God calling her into the ministry, she said.
"It's hard to explain, but it was a deep, deep conviction. I felt certain the Lord was calling me. It seemed like every time I opened the Bible, it came alive and would just speak to me."
So the couple embarked on "long years of missionary work and planning and building churches," Grace said. "We had churches in Montana, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California."
They spent six years pastoring in Montana before moving to Alaska to become missionaries in 1954. Grace had been wanting to do this for 14 years. She felt strongly that that's what God wanted. Unfortunately, LeRoy wasn't getting the same message from above, at least not initially.
Grace tried to subtly pique his interest for several years to no avail, until finally, in December 1954, he came up from the basement of their home in Montana and said, "Are you ready to go to Alaska? The Lord spoke to me.'
The couple pastored Pentecostal Church of God congregations in Craig and Klawock on Prince of Wales Island, northwest of Prince Rupert, British Columbia.
They were forced to move back to the mainland after six years in Alaska when their daughter, Judy, fell off a frozen wooden sidewalk, shattering bones throughout her body. She was hospitalized for four months and the family returned to Bellfountain, Ore.
While there, they began looking into going to Mexico to establish churches there.
"The Lord spoke to both of us this time, thank goodness," Grace said.
However, since both were older than age 50, they were too old to be sponsored by a missions board, and went without being supported by a particular denomination. Their first step was to move to Sacramento, where they worked at a church school and mission. From there they moved to San Luis, Ariz., and then to Yuma in 1962.
They helped establish more than 100 preaching places in Mexico, some churches, some just homes or ramadas, Grace said. LeRoy usually helped with building construction and maintenance, while Grace, with her outgoing personality and fluent Spanish, did most of the preaching and teaching. The couple lived in Yuma for the majority of this time, making frequent treks across the border to do their missionary work.
They left Yuma in 1991 and returned to Oregon to be with family when Grace fell ill. After her recovery, they headed back to Yuma.
Grace has written books about the couple's mission experiences as well as newspaper articles, poetry and children's stories. She continues to write to this day.
Although the couple is homebound now, they continue to work with the churches they established in Mexico.
"We've been very privileged to work with a man in Mexico for over 40 years," Grace said. "We haven't been able to go down for at least five years, but we still work with him doing things that we can do from the house. He comes and I interpret newsletters and other correspondence for the churches."
Grace said doing God's work has never been easy, but it's been tremendously fulfilling.
"We've been very happy in the Lord's work. God never called us to change people into our way of thinking, or into our customs, or into our nationality, but just to present the gospel. We've been very successful in that manner."
She said faith has also been instrumental in keeping her marriage intact for all these years.
"The faith has everything to do with it," Grace said. "It hasn't been easy. There's been some real trials, but God has never failed us."
Mutual respect has also been key, Grace said.
"There are times when God speaks to him first, and other times he speaks to me first. But we respect each other's opinion."
Matt Riehl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6851.