Feeling that it was her duty, because of the acute need for school teachers, Miss Haven responded to a call to finish out the year in a little rural school. She had had little or no experience with rural schools and felt great need of wisdom.
Each morning when she arrived to open the little schoolhouse, as she placed the key in the door, she whispered, “Dear God, another day lies before me, and I feel so much need for Your help. Please be with me and forbid that I should do anything to bring reproach to Thy name.”
Then entering the room with its four rows of marked and scarred desks, she attended to her blackboard work, tidied up her desk, and with a glance at the clock, thought, Just time enough for a little prayer before the first youngsters begin to arrive.
Humbly she knelt before her chair, buried her face in her hands, and in the quietness of the room, with only the steady tick tock of the clock and the snapping of the fire in the background, she talked—really talked—with the Great Teacher.
But there was one late April morning that this regular program of devotions was interrupted. On her way to school, the teacher overtook some of her pupils who had decided to come to school a bit earlier than usual; so she stopped her car and asked them to ride along with her. As she chatted with them and placed the key in the door, her thoughts were not upon her great need. And as she went about her routine of board work, tidying her desk, and other little tasks, the children were sandwiching in conversation about a new baby that had been born in the little village, a new dress that Hazel had been given, and other such overnight news that means so much to school children. So it was that the little talk with God was crowded out entirely.
During the opening exercises, however, as the children repeated their Bible verses and said the Lord’s Prayer, Miss Haven remembered her neglect and said, “O dear God, forgive me. And please help me today.” Little did she know the experience in store for her.
Since it was such a warm day in April, a number of the neighbors were mowing their lawns and burning leaves. Adjacent to the school grounds and just over the fence from the play yard there was a grove where the school children had habitually thrown paper bags, wax paper, and other trash from their lunch boxes. This had become an eyesore, and during the three weeks that the new teacher had been at the school, she had been anxious to have it cleaned up. The children had assured her that it was all right to throw their trash out there, but on inquiring of the chairman of the school board, she had learned that he desired to have the practice stopped and the ground cleared.
The morning studies were over and the regular time for the Friday afternoon civic group meeting arrived. Miss Haven spoke to the children about the matter of cleaning up the grove. Gladly they responded, and bands were formed and set to work, so that in seemingly no time the waste material had been brought into the center of the schoolyard and piled for burning. Orders were given for two pails of water to be brought, brooms and sticks were sought out, and with six of the older boys on guard, the fire was set. Within a very short time the waste had become ashes, and water was poured over the remains. It was too early to dismiss school, so the children were summoned into the schoolroom to finish the afternoon with a program of songs and speaking. Two of the older boys volunteered to clean up the ashes that remained in the center of the yard and carry them away. In short order, they were back to join in the fun.
About a half hour later an agitated neighbor burst into the room and announced, “Do you know that the woods down the road are all afire, and there’s not a soul to help fight the blaze? Instantly, the teacher gave orders for the little folks to be taken care of while she, with a group of older boys and girls, armed themselves with brooms and sticks and hastened to the scene.
The dump where the boys had disposed of the ashes was at the edge of the woods. Undoubtedly, the ashes that had been disposed there had caused the outburst of flames that now was traveling in all directions and endangering the farmhouse across the field.
“Boys and girls, do your best—beat the flames with your brooms, and be careful not to get burned,” the anxious teacher shouted. Then she rushed away to see what other help could be found. However, there was a war at the time, and all the men were eight miles away, working in the shipyard. Realizing how helpless the situation was, she recalled that “man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” She rushed into the little schoolhouse, threw herself down before her swivel chair, and cried out in anguish, “O dear God, please send help. Please don’t let the fire get up to that farmhouse. I’ve made a terrible mistake, been so unwise. Please forgive me, and please, God, check this fire.”
Then she arose, looked out the window, and as though to defeat her courage, the flames seemed to be reaching higher and angrier than ever.
Again she sank to her knees and cried, “Dear Father, You are able to do what I have asked. Please grant my request in such a way that those boys and girls down there who are beating the flames will know it was You who put it out.”
This time as she looked out the window, she saw a man hastening down the road with a large hand pump and extinguisher. As she watched, she prayed. The efforts of one man and the small band of children seemed so feeble. The field was as dry as tinder and was rapidly burning!
Dear me, thought the teacher, can it be that God did not hear me, is not going to answer?
A third time she bowed in prayer, saying, “Dear Father, I leave it with You. I know nothing is too hard for You. And now, dear Father, if it be Thy will, let these children know that Thou art able to do great things.”
Was that the door opening? Yes, and in came her little band of boys and girls, smeared with smoke, flourishing their brooms (some of them by now mere broomsticks). They crowded around their teacher and shouted, “All out!”
“But,” added Charlie, “we never could have done it if we hadn’t known you were here praying. One of the boys peeked in the window to see why you weren’t down fighting the fire with us, and he came running back and told us you were fighting it on your knees. He told us, ‘Teacher’s up there praying so keep fighting.’ ”
Tears welled up in Miss Haven’s eyes as she bowed her head and said with a choking voice, “Thank you, dear God, for helping them.”
My Favorite Prayer Stories, Joe L. Wheeler, ©2015, 73–75