George Washington Carver: From Peanuts to Presidents

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vein conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interest, but also to the interest of others.”  Phil 2:3 & 4

The boll weevil, a nasty beetle that reproduces at an alarming rate, was making its way across the Southern United States in the early 1900’s. There was nothing farmers could do to stop this pest from decimating their cotton crops.

However, a very forward thinking agricultural professor in Alabama was determined to do something about it. What was unusual, especially at this time in America’s history, was that he was black.

George Washington Carver was born to slave parents in 1864, a year before the Civil War ended. He found himself an orphan, with frail health, so his white owner, George Carver, put him to work in his home instead of the fields. Mrs. Carver taught little George how to read and encouraged his natural curiosity for learning.

Since blacks weren’t allowed at the local public school. George, at the age of ten, walked sixteen kilometers (10 miles) to the next community that did. It was around this time that he prayed to receive Jesus, and as a result, developed a deep appreciation for God’s creation. He could draw and paint plants with studied detail. George even made his own paints out of local plants and berries.

ARTIST TURNED AGRICULTURIST

George studied art but was soon encouraged to go to Iowa State University and study botany. He became Iowa States first black student and then their first black professor. He believed that his faith in Christ helped him effectively pursue and perform the art of science.

By the age of 31 George was considered an expert agriculturist and was invited to Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, an all black school, to be one of their professors. It was at Tuskegee that George made a discovery that changed farming, but even more so, helped his own people.

COTTON WAS KING!

After the Civil War ended in 1864 many blacks in the South became share croppers, working the land and growing cotton – the staple crop of America at the time. By 1902 George could see that the crop was depleting America’s soil. He also knew the boll weevil was fast approaching. He wanted to help them but cotton was king in the South!

So, while the poor share croppers worked their cotton fields from sun up to sundown, George worked in his lab at Tuskegee. He knew their salvation would be found in a lowly legume – the peanut. A plant that could withstand the voracious pest and also add nutrients to the depleted soil.

A NEW KIND OF SCIENCE

George came up with over 300 uses for the peanut in the form of soaps, shaving cream, soups, axle grease, paper, ink and so much more. He was on a mission. He published scientific papers, printed bulletins, all in an attempt to convince people of the benefits of planting peanuts. He traveled around the countryside educating black farmers.

However, not many were open to change – until the boll weevil arrived in Alabama.

By 1915 it had eaten its way through all the crops and by 1920 had made its way completely across America. This was the perfect time to introduce America to a new crop!

In 1921 George was asked to speak (for only ten minutes) before congress on the usability of the peanut. Congress was so impressed with his expertise on the subject that they encouraged him to continue – for an hour and a half! This was unheard of for a black man.

Within a few years peanut crops began spreading across the States. Today, 50,000 peanut farms thrive, mostly in the South. Because of George’s work, a new science called “chemurgy” was introduced. This is the process of discovering industrial uses for agricultural products. He also discovered over a hundred different uses for the sweet potato and the soy bean.

IN RECOGNITION OF…

Throughout his lifetime George received much recognition for his work. Amazing when you think of how most black people were segregated and treated as non-persons.

In fact, in 1939 he was given the Roosevelt Medal (named after President Theodore Roosevelt), which read, “To a scientist humbly seeking the guidance of God and a liberator to men of the white race and the black.”

In 1941, Henry Ford collaborated with him to develop ways to use the soy bean in making parts for his vehicles.

Thomas Edison offered George a six-figured salary to work for him, which he turned down and continued working for much less at Tuskegee.

A year before his death, at age 77, George met Franklin D. Roosevelt, in person, and was recognized, by the president, for his many accomplishments.

It is easy to say that George Washington Carver was a brilliant scientist but he was also a man of great humility and faith. Every accolade or award he received by giving credit to God, first and foremost. He also donated $60,000 (over a million dollars today) of his savings to create a foundation for agricultural research at Tuskegee.

George was recognized for his commitment to bettering the lives of his fellow man. The current Dean of Agricultural Science at Tuskegee University, Dr. Walter A. Hill, summed up George Washington Carver’s life by saying, “He was able to look around him and see raw materials and then see the human need that was out there and bring the two together.”

What an example of ‘doing nothing out of selfish ambition’ and ‘putting the interests of others above our own’ as Paul writes about in Philippians.

“When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.” George Washington Carver

Horatio Spafford’s “It is Well with my Soul” hymn

Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30

You are probably a little familiar with the story behind the hymn, It Is Well with My Soul, written by Horatio Spafford, but, then again, maybe not.

Life is filled with difficulties and even tragedy. This is not heaven! We often have so many questions. “Why?” being one of them. How can we possibly cope? I thank God for His Word.

The Spaffords lived in a pleasant home on the north end of Chicago during the late 19th Century, with their four young daughters: Annie, Maggie, Bessie and baby Tanetta. The family was described as ‘deeply religious’, though their religion was ‘a matter of joy and not gloom, as was often the religious teachings of the day’. In fact, Horatio’s convictions were at odds with many, including friend and preacher, D.L. Moody, who prided himself in ‘shaking people over hell to make them good.’ Instead, the girls were taught about a loving Savior and had an amazing grasp of Scripture for their age.

Then, one day, the Spaffords world changed.

On October 8, 1871, the Great Fire, as it was later called, swept through the city of Chicago, leaving 90,000 homeless and killing 250. The Spafford’s were safe and so was their home, but Horatio lost his law office and his real estate investments. Despite this the family got to work helping those that had lost everything.

However, Anna’s health was suffering. It was decided that the Spaffords would take a much-needed break and go to Europe to visit friends. At the last moment an important business deal delayed Horatio’s departure. He would have to join them in a few weeks. He waved good-bye to his family as they slowly disappearing from view on what was considered the foremost pleasure ship of the day, the Ville du Havre.

Then, on November 22, 1873, at two o’clock on a cold, calm night, as the ship crossed the Atlantic, it collided with another ship. The impact was enough to stop the ocean liner, throwing people from their beds. Anna quickly took her girls, dressed only in nightgowns and coats, up to the deck where passengers ran screaming hysterically in every direction. Many pushed and shoved their way onto lifeboats that were firmly stuck to the deck with dried paint. Others jumped overboard with life preservers and seat cushions.

The girls clung to Anna.

The great ship careened to starboard. Little Maggie looked at her mother and said, “God will take care of us.” Then Annie, the oldest, reassured them, “Don’t be afraid. The sea is His and He made it.”’ Within twelve minutes of being struck, the Ville du Havre sank, taking with it 226 passengers, including Anna and Horatio’s four girls who were aged ten, eight, five and two.

Somehow Anna was among the fifty-seven survivors.

They had been picked up by the ship they had hit. Poor Anna. Her little girls were her life and now they were gone. How could she possibly go on without them? She tried throwing herself overboard to be with them but was stopped by other survivors. Grief threatened to swallow her sanity as she and the others were taken to Wales. However, as reality set in she knew her girls were not lost to her, but merely separated for a time. When they arrived in Wales she sent a telegram to her husband.

“Saved Alone. What shall I do?”

Upon receiving the news, Horatio spent the night in deep anguish, searching for an explanation. Was it his sin? Was he being punished? As he searched the Scriptures on his way to New York and its harbour, he chose not to give up his faith, but trust in the goodness and love of Christ. While on the ship that took him across the Atlantic the captain took him aside and informed him, “A careful reckoning has been made and I believe we are now passing the place where the Ville du Havre was wrecked.”

The water was estimated to be three miles deep.

But Horatio did not think of his beautiful little girls in the cold Atlantic Ocean. He saw them in the loving arms of their Savior. His burden of sorrow was lifted. When he went back to his cabin he pulled out a sheet of paper from a Chicago hotel and penned the words that were imprinting themselves upon his heart.

When peace like a river attendeth my way,                                                                            When sorrows like sea-billows roll,                                                                                          Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say;                                                                        “It is well, it is well with my soul.”

godupdates hymn it is well with my soul story behind 3

How could this man, who was acquainted with so much sorrow and grief, write the words to what would become such a famous hymn? Unless –

Unless, he understood that the Lord is actually ‘gentle and humble of heart’, longing to carry our burdens for us. With Christ comes an unexplainable comfort and assurance, even in the midst of pain and sorrow, for all those who come to Him.

(I appreciate this part of their story, however, upon digging a little deeper into their lives I found that this was not the end of their tragedies. They returned to Chicago and had three more children (a boy named Horatio and two girls named Bertha and Grace). However, little Horatio died of scarlet fever when he was four and they experienced more business losses. People in their church thought their must be sin in their lives to warrant all these difficulties. So, the Spaffords left the organized church and started their own ‘house church’ with some strange teachings, attracting more than a few followers.

In 1881 the group, headed by the Spafford’s, moved to Jerusalem to await Christ’s second coming. They were called the American Colony by the locals and would create much controversy in the six decades they were there. They would also come to be known for extending care and charity throughout Jerusalem’s tumultuous history. Their residence in Jerusalem became a famous hotel in 1902)

I pray that whatever may come our way, we would hold onto the One who is acquainted with sorrow, is gentle and humble of heart, and longs to carry our burdens.

Betsie ten Boom: Living in Community, Christ’s Way

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

Living together in community is not easy, even a church community. There are so many reasons to get offended by things others say and do. Then, of course, we ourselves say and do things that offend others. Is it even possible to take people from such a variety of backgrounds and opinions and live in community the way Jesus wants us to?

I appreciate the example of one woman who found herself living in the worst possible ‘community’, yet living the love of Christ.

Imagine being imprisoned, along with 35,000 other women, from all over Europe. You find yourself being beaten, stripped naked, laughed at, starved and made to work in the heat, rain and cold.

Betsie and Corrie ten Boom found themselves in Ravensbruck, one of Hitler’s extermination camps, during WWII, sharing a barrack with 1400 other women. It wreaked of every foul excrement that could come from a person’s body, and with so many women sharing such a cramped space, there were bound to be fights.

One night there was screaming and name calling – over an open window! Some were too cold, others were too hot. Betsie grabbed Corrie’s hand and prayed in as loud a voice as she could.

“Father, bring your peace to us. There has been far too little praying and the walls of this room are witness to it. For where You are, strife and hatred cannot be.” Peace did eventually come that night to Barracks 28.

However, Nazi cruelty was taking its toll upon poor fifty-nine year old Betsie.

One miserable, rainy day some of the prisoners had to shovel dirt along the prison walls. Betsie was exhausted and could only manage to lift a fist-sized amount of dirt. The guard grew angry and, in front of all the other women, made fun of her pathetic attempts. Instead of getting angry, after all, it was their own cruelty that made her incapable of working any harder, Betsie jokingly agreed with the guard. The other women laughed. The guard pulled out her leather crop and whipped Betsie over and over. Before Corrie could attack the guard, Betsie stopped her.

“Corrie,” she said, blood oozing from a wound on her neck, “do not return evil for evil.”

Ever since Betsie arrived at Ravensbruck with Corrie eight months before, she prayed for the Nazi guards. To her, they were caught in a prison far worse than she and Corrie. Their ‘hope’ in Hitler’s reign was misplaced and so temporary. But no matter how they treated her, she always responded with a kind word or look. In the cruelty and hatred of that place Betsie was like a soothing balm on an open wound.

When she eventually got so sick that she couldn’t work, it was one of the cruelest of the guards that made sure she was taken to the prison hospital, where she got some much needed rest.

However, one month later, Betsie died in that prison camp. Sad for her sister, Corrie, but for Betsie, she had gone on to be with the One who gave her the ability to love, unconditionally. All those months of imprisonment, Betsie never gave in to the bitterness and hatred of her surroundings.

What a challenge to us!

We, who live in community with other believers. I pray that we would be quick to forgive and show kindness and compassion to each other.

Check out information on my drama Impossible Faith? The Story of Corrie (and Betsie) ten Boom. I would love to share this amazing story with you if you haven’t experienced it yet.

Blessings as we serve our Lord together!

George Muller’s 50,000 Answered Prayers!

Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7&8

I am beginning a series called “The ABC’s of Scripture: Stories of Christians Who Lived Them”

So begins my first blog!

George Muller (1805-1898) was a man, who, by the grace of God, began seeking, knocking and asking the Lord for many things throughout his life. Through prayer Muller was able to provide food, lodging and spiritual care to over ten thousand of England’s orphans, with over three thousand won to Christ. He recorded 50,000 specific answers to prayer. 50,000 in his lifetime! He kept meticulous journals and dated the answers to his prayers. No request was too small or too big for God.

“Never give up praying until the answer comes.” George Muller

Never once did he fund raise, but made his requests known to God and God alone. As a result, the Lord moved on the hearts of believers and in his over six decades of ministry the provision of millions of dollars came in for the Muller Orphan Homes, Sunday schools, the printing and distributing of God’s Word, as well as the support of hundreds of missionaries throughout the world.

When he was seventy-one he felt the Lord wanted him to share with others the impact prayer has had on his life and ministry. And so began seventeen years and 200,000 miles of travel where he preached in forty-two countries. One of them was Canada. Imagine doing that in the nineteenth century!

It was 1877 and George and his second wife, Susannah, were sailing across the Atlantic when the ship’s passage was being slowed by dense fog. George told the captain his need to be in Quebec the following Saturday afternoon.

“That’s impossible,” the captain replied and so George suggested they go down to the chart-room to pray.

“Do you not see the density of the fog?” the captain asked him. “My eye,” said George Muller, “is not on the denseness of the fog, but on the living God who controls every circumstance of my life.” Then he prayed.

Up until that moment the captain considered himself a Christian man, but that encounter with George Muller changed his life. It was such a simple prayer Muller prayed as they knelt together. Nothing eloquent or wordy.

“O Lord,” prayed George, “if it is consistent with Thy will, please remove this fog in five minutes. You know the engagement You made for me in Quebec for Saturday. I believe it is your will.”

When he finished the captain was going to pray but George stopped him. “Captain, you do not really believe God will do it. I have known my Lord for fifty-seven years and there has never been a single day that I have failed to gain an audience with the King. Open the door, Captain, and you will find the fog is gone.”

The captain got up and the fog was gone. On Saturday afternoon George Muller was in Quebec.

I would love to hear your stories of answers to prayer! Feel free to contact me.

Acting or Speaking in Public: Two Habits to Avoid

Are you being asked to speak in front of people? Perhaps it’s to share your testimony or a message in church; act in the Christmas or Easter play or just recite scripture? Are you nervous? When people are nervous they tend to speak very quickly. NOT a good idea! You may speak quickly just to get it over with – or, perhaps, you think people won’t be interested in what you have to say. You should never underestimate the power and influence your words can have and what God will do through them.

Then there are others who are so familiarwithwhattheyaresayingthattheyrushthroughitlikearunawaytrain! enunciating-stewardessThis is also NOT a good idea. Think of an airline attendant explaining how to properly do up your seat belt; where the emergency doors are and how to make sure your oxygen mask is on before you put it on your screaming child. I often have a difficult time understanding that whole schpeel because they say it so fast. However, this is important information, but how many of us pay attention to it?

What if the next time you have to announce something in your church, read a scripture, share a testimony or perform a drama, you take a moment to breathe? Take a nice deep breath and let it out slooooowly. Then pray, asking the Holy Spirit to help you be a clear communicator, so that whatever you have to share would be heard and received by your audience (whoever that may be). Then slow down and enunciate your words so that people can understand and care about what you are saying.

Another habit people develop is what I call a ‘lazy mouth’. Are you a mumbler? Many of us are. We just get a little lazy about using our mouth to speak. Sounds silly, I know, but try the following exercise and see if you might have developed this habit.

Exercise:

Say this tongue twister 3 x’s quickly, “Unique New York.” How did you do? I bet not so well. That’s because you barely opened your mouth when you tried it and you spoke too fast.

Now do it again. This time place a pencil horizontally between your teeth. Speak around the pencil, slowly and clearly 3 x’s.

Now take the pencil out of your mouth and say “Unique New York” 3 x’s again, taking your time. See how easy it was because you slowed down and used your mouth.

So the next time you are to act, recite or speak to a group, remember to slooooww down, take a deep breath, use that mouth of yours and believe that God wants to use what you have to say.

Being an Effective Communicator

Work on having an expressive voice

We’ve all heard them. The speaker who was so boring to listen to that you had to prop your eyes open with toothpicks. Their voice so uninteresting that you found yourself distracted by thoughts of whether you had turned the light off in the bathroom before you left home. It wasn’t that the content was boring. It was just how it was being delivered.

The key to having a voice that is interesting to listen to is expression. It’s the difference between lulling your audience to sleep or keeping them on the edge of their seats. Having an expressive voice involves energy, emotion and inflection.

Energy: It Keeps an Audience Alive

In my years of working with audiences I have noticed that they feed off my energy. If I’m feeling tired my voice becomes dull and tired and so does my audience. But if my voice is infused with energy, it flows through the room and into the listeners. It’s as if they’re all sipping on a good cup of coffee, without the caffeine! This energy also helps with the projection of your voice, making it strong and interesting to listen to.

Emotion: Don’t Keep it Bottled Up

An expressive voice is one that is able to tap into some kind of emotion. An actor needs to convey the emotion of his dialogue, whether it’s one tinged with sadness, disbelief, outrage or humor. In the same way you need to communicate to the audience that you care about your topic. This happens through the quality of your voice. Is there a heartbeat behind those words? Showing emotion causes the audience to believe in and care about what you are sharing. However, too much emotion makes people uncomfortable. You will need to find a balance.

Inflection: To Pause or Not to Pause

The dictionary definition of inflection is “the grammatical variation of words or the modulation of the voice”. Consider, for a moment, a roller coaster ride. Can you imagine one that only stayed level the whole way? How boring would that be? What makes a roller coaster worth the ride is the variation of heart-stopping heights, twists and turns, as well as the level ground it travels on. Think of your voice in this way. Sometimes you need to pause for effect; get louder for emphasis; or quieter to make a point.

Exercise: Go on and give it a try!

Say the line below with the following emotions: anger, sadness, excitement, pleading, nervousness. Remember to vary how you say it by raising or softening your voice, pausing between words and stressing a certain word. Change it up with each emotion.

“Is all of that really necessary?”

Now to sound really bored you would say it again but as flat and dull as possible without any inflection or emotion.

“Is all of this really necessary?”

Now, never do that again!

So make the most of your voice and remember that how you say something is as important as what you say.

Finding Your Purpose: The Story of Gladys Aylward

Have you ever wondered what your purpose is? I think everyone should ask God this question. “Lord, what have you purposed me for?”

Now, if your kitchen is anything like mine you probably have a drawer for your cooking utensils. I’m betting its not crammed full of just wooden spoons or whisks. You probably have an assortment; each one having a a specific purpose for which it was created. You wouldn’t grab a flipper to clean out the mayonnaise jar because you know a spatula would do a much better job.

If we humans have created things to fulfill a certain purpose, in order for tasks to be accomplished more effectively and efficiently, than it stands to reason that God created people to fulfill certain purposes, as well.

“The Lord has made everything for his own purposes.” Proverbs 16:4 (NLT)

Gladys Aylward, who left school when she was fourteen, merely thought her purpose was to love God, go to church on Sundays and work as a house cleaner the other six days of the week. She never saw herself as anyone but ordinary. However, her Heavenly Father saw much, much more than that. He saw someone that he had purposed for something special. At a revival meeting in London, England in 1924, God called this ordinary woman to the mission field of China!

FAILING

After feeling God’s ‘unction’ Gladys took the next logical step. She enrolled in the China Inland Mission Training Center; the one started by Hudson Taylor, famous missionary to China. Gladys studied hard but failed all the exams. They informed her she wasn’t suited to being a missionary! Gladys was so discouraged, yet the call of God did not leave her heart.

Her work ethic, desire to serve others and her love for God was something the Lord was pleased with. Despite all kinds of obstacles and setbacks Gladys did go to China, traveling by almost every mode of transportation possible in the 1930’s. Once there the Lord used her to help start an inn for muleteers, where the gospel was shared by telling Bible stories. She became a foot inspector during the time that foot binding became forbidden, sharing the gospel in every village she visited. Because the Lord was with her she was able to stop a prison riot, which also helped change the deplorable conditions in the prison. She took in orphans and during WWII rescued 94 by taking them over the mountains to safety.

“I wasn’t God’s first choice for what I’ve done for China…I don’t know who it was…it must have been a man…a well-educated man. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn’t willing…and God looked down…and saw Gladys Aylward…and God said – “Well, she’s willing.”    Gladys Aylward

ARE WE LISTENING TO LIES?

I think she was his first choice. Unfortunately though, many Christians listen to the lies in their head and hearts. Lies like: I don’t have what it takes; I’m not as spiritual as so and so, I’m just too busy or what can I do?

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Eph 2:10 (NIV)

I know I would have given up many times in what God has called me to if it weren’t for the example of Gladys Aylward. I can’t keep telling her story and not follow God’s purpose for myself. Her story has helped countless people see that if he can use someone as ordinary as Gladys to accomplish his purposes, he can use anyone. And God isn’t calling everyone to a foreign mission field. It may be to write that book the Lord put on your heart. Or reach out to your neighbors, seniors’ home, prison, high school or even lead a Bible study.

I for one, don’t want to be that utensil that sits in the bottom of the drawer, never being used. Hopefully you don’t either.