CHAPTER ONE

Ralph Moriarity deBit, the man who would be called Vitvan, was born in a second story bedroom at his parents' home in Council Grove, Kansas, on Christmas morning, 1883. He was the third child and the second son born to Katie and William Ralph deBit. In the next four years he would be followed by two sisters.

William deBit was descended from the French Huguenots. The first deBits to leave France left Paris in 1770. They migrated to Normandy and from there to America in 1804. Ralph's mother was the former Katherine Moriarity. Her parents had immigrated from Northern Ireland in the early 1800's. Kate was born in Kansas in 1860.

William worked for the Union Pacific Railroad. Kate was housewife and mother. The family was devout Methodist. The Bible was a family text; the children were schooled in it nightly. DeBit would proudly say throughout his life, "I learned the Bible at my mother's knee." His devotion to the Good Book never left him.

He said that he often played preacher for his brother and sisters and would extemporize lengthy sermons, replete with Bible readings. His audience would remain attentive until the novelty of his performance wore off. So on occasion it was necessary to exercise a more rigid control by sitting on at least one member of the small congregation to assure a finished recitation.

He was an energetic and active boy. He was skillful with tools, a competent carpenter and builder. He was fascinated by growing things and kept the summer garden. He was a crack shot and a good rider, but there was a meditative side to him. He spent long hours in solitary wanderings around the countryside.

He said later, "I used to wander a great deal when I was a boy, talking to God. I presumed a close, first-name relationship with the Deity and I used every opportunity to talk openly with Him, sharing the thoughts that were important to me at the time, and commenting on the state of creation--pro and con--as I interpreted it."

Church was an important family function and young Ralph enjoyed participation. However, in his twelfth year he precipitated a family crisis by announcing that he wished to be baptized in the Baptist Church "over across the tracks." He met with firm resistance from the family, particularly his mother. Eventually the difficulty was resolved and he was baptized at the Galilee Baptist Church of Council Grove, Kansas, in 1896.

He recalled of the matter later, "I felt that the ritual of baptism was of primary importance to a good Christian. I concluded that no one performed the rite quite as conscientiously as the Baptists--they didn't just sprinkle you, they totally immersed you, and that was for me. I emoted a great deal and stubbornly insisted on having my own way. It created quite a fuss but my father finally convinced Mother that even Baptists go to heaven. The deed was done, but Mother was ever afterwards uncertain about my standing in God's eyes."

Following the baptism Ralph was certain that the results of the ceremony and his basic knowledge of the Bible now entitled him to teach a regular Sunday school class. He approached the church fathers requesting that he be assigned to teach Sunday school. They moved against the application on the grounds of his twelve years and the fact that there was no room available at the church for an additional class. The following Sunday Ralph gathered his brother and sisters and eight neighbor children together in the barn and began his own class.

It is said that two carriages filled with church deacons and elders descended on him posthaste and demanded that he discontinue the sacrilege of preaching God's word in a barn. The young man countered that he saw precedence in the Savior's birthplace and that he would continue to hold his classes until more appropriate quarters were provided him. In a month an additional room was built on the church and Ralph began to teach under proper guidance.

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