Last month we had to say goodbye for now to one of Bethel’s saints, Barbara Hale. As I prepared for her funeral, I was reminded of a story that Barbara told me a number of years ago. The story stuck with me and it’s a powerful reminder of the providence and provision of God. I offer this story as a tribute to Barbara, and I hope you’ll be inspired by her story, as I was.
Barbara told me that when she was 12 years old, she felt like God was leading her to go to college. She said, “The Lord gave me a strong impression that I was supposed to go.” Barbara said that there were a couple of problems with the Lord’s plan. One, she didn’t want to go to college. She didn’t like school or studying. The idea of going to college didn’t appeal to her one bit. Second, there was much more of a practical problem. Barbara’s dad died when she was two and she and her mom were on their own until her grandmother came to help keep her so that her mother could work. Money was really, really, tight.
Time passed and Barbara’s senior year came along so, in accordance with God’s plan, Barbara applied to Westhampton College. She still didn’t want to go, but she told me that she had to yield her will to God’s will. Barbara received an acceptance letter from Westhampton, and she said she was actually excited about going. She even cried with excitement. At this point, her mom gently reminded her, “Look, don’t get too excited or get your hopes up. I just don’t see a way; we don’t have enough money to send you.” But Barbara trusted in what the Lord told her when she was 12. Barbara said, “Well mom if the Lord wants me to go, he’ll make a way to send me. God will provide the money.” In other words, if God calls you to it, God will get you through it.
Barbara was in her last semester of high school, and she had enough credit to get out of school half a day, so she used that extra half-day to work at a magazine company as a secretary. That job allowed her to save enough money to pay for her first year of college. At the end of that first year, she began looking for another job. She decided to apply at Woolworth.
The woman she spoke with at Woolworth told her, “Look I’m busy, I’m taking inventory right now and I can’t do anything for two weeks.” Barbara thought that meant, “Come back in two weeks and be ready for work, but in reality, the lady was just trying to get her to leave the store so she could continue doing inventory. Two weeks passed and Barbara said, “I went into Woolworth wearing a cotton dress and carrying a brown paper bag with my lunch.” She was ready to work! Well, Barbara got the job and started working that day. The lady at Woolworth would later confess to Barbara, “I felt so sorry for you that I had to hire you.” Barbara backed her way into a job at Woolworth’s.
She worked there all summer and on weekends during the school year and full time during the holidays and again full time in the following summer. This went on until she had one year of school left, but there was yet another problem. The problem was she only was able to save enough money to pay for one semester of school. Where would the money come from for the last semester? She had done her part, she worked hard, saved, and God helped her by providing these opportunities to earn money. Certainly, God would provide a way for her to finish, and God did provide.
That year Congress passed a law that if your father was deceased and you were still in college you could continue to receive social security benefits. The social security benefits she was receiving had stopped, but this new law allowed the benefits to continue. That law paid for her last semester in college. Barbara told me that the law was to benefit all college students, but she felt God moved all of congress just for her. When she graduated college Barbara did not owe one penny. She went on to teach elementary school for 36 years and loved her job.
Jeremiah 29:11 says, “I know the plans I have for you,” God says. “Plans to prosper you, to give you a hope and a future.” God had a plan for Barbara. Barbara was reluctant at first, but she followed that plan and look at the results. Countless people have been touched through her life, because of her faith in Christ. Barbara Hale’s faith is an inspiration to me, and I hope for you as well. As we go forward in faith, let us continually seek God and His plan for our lives. Let’s follow that plan and place our trust in the Lord for provision. Our God desires to guide, provide, to lead, to bless and love you through it all. Thank you, God for the gift of Barbara’s life, for her witness and her legacy. May God bless the Hale family and may God bless Bethel Baptist Church. Amen