Pastoring churches for 42 years, my husband always served wherever God put us. We once pastored an extremely small church in an extremely small community for eight years. The community had a total population of about 100—counting the dogs, cats, and horned toads,as the locals loved to quip! The nearest gas station and grocery store were 21 miles away. Because the church was so small, so was our salary.
To supplement our income, Richard, who had been raised on a farm himself, drove tractors for the area farmers and served as the church janitor. We had three children—a son in second grade, another in kindergarten, and a one-year-old daughter. To help with finances, I babysat a schoolteacher’s little girl who loved to play with our daughter. But even with my husband and me working extra jobs, we were not able to keep up with the bills and the cost of raising a family. We still owed the hospital and doctor bills after the birth of our daughter. On our small salary, we couldn’t afford health insurance, and the church didn’t provide it.
When we began getting past-due notices on our gasoline cards, I began to pray more earnestly for God to help us financially. But there was no answer to my prayers. Our family had grown, and the church had not given us a raise. God seemed far away.
One Sunday evening during a business meeting at church, a discussion arose over the $40,000 CD the church had in the bank. Some members voiced the opinion that the church should use the money for God’s kingdom work rather than keep it in the bank. Other members countered with the argument that the church needed to keep the money in case of emergencies. Nothing was decided that night, but the group disbanded with the words of one member ringing in their ears: “If the church doesn’t use that money, God will take it away!”
The following Tuesday, November 15, 1983, was a beautiful fall day. My husband had gone to town to ride with another pastor to attend a pastors’ meeting in a neighboring town. The boys were in school, and I was at home taking care of the girls. A sudden crackling sound drew me to the kitchen window which overlooked the carport. I saw flames skipping across the ceiling of the carport toward the back door. Shutting the door quickly, my mind raced to know what to do next. The only water hose was outside the back door, and I couldn’t get to it! I went to the phone and started calling everyone I could think of, but no one was home! All the farmers were in the fields harvesting their crops. I grabbed up the two girls, ran out the front door, and just stood in the yard, not knowing what else I could do.
It wasn’t long before smoke was billowing out the windows, and people, seeing the smoke from a distance, started gathering. First among the arrivals was the schoolteacher whose little girl I was babysitting. Clutching our daughters in our arms, we watched helplessly as the fire destroyed everything. The volunteer fire department in our small community had one outdated firetruck, but the volunteers were all farmers! Richard soon made it back home, passing the neighboring town’s firetruck on its way to assist with the fire.
A couple in our church invited us to stay with them until we could decide what to do. We realized that all we had left were the clothes on our backs. The department store in town stayed open after hours to allow us to get some clothes and things we needed, and the church graciously paid for everything.
God took good care of us through the generosity and kindness of church members and townspeople. The church found a small trailer for us to live in, and they opened a bank account to receive donations from people who wanted to contribute money. A reporter wrote up the story for the newspaper, and it was printed in our Baptist state paper. Soon money started coming in from all over the state of Texas!
With the money we received, I was able to pay our bills—every one of them! Before we bought furniture, clothes, or anything, I paid bills. It was such a blessing to get out from under the weight of debt. And the church did something amazing! I’m quite sure it was the fastest any Baptist committee has ever worked! Using the $40,000 which had been kept for emergencies, plus insurance money, they purchased a prefabricated house, and within one month—by December 15—had it up and equipped so that our family could spend Christmas in a new parsonage.
That Christmas is one we will never forget. We didn’t have much in the way of decorations for the tree, so I strung popcorn on thread and hung it on the tree. Each year I still use that popcorn string to decorate our Christmas tree—a reminder to us all that God is in control of everything!
After the fire, it was interesting to listen to various members’ explanation of why it happened. Personally, my husband and I didn’t even question it, perhaps because we were too busy getting our lives back together. But it was noted that between the cost of the ready-built house and what the insurance covered, the church owed $40,000! Some members said, “See, the Lord took that money away,” while others said, “We can be thankful we had that extra money or else we couldn’t have bought the new house.” I’m not sure how God saw it, but I know in my heart that God is sovereign and is always in control!
And it was an answer to my prayers! I had been praying for a year for God to help us financially. It may seem strange that losing everything was the way God answered my prayers. But God often does act in ways that seem mysterious to us. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord (Isaiah 55:8).