This is a story of two people with different outlooks on life and trust in God.
In the mid-1970s, my ex-husband (Let’s call him Walter) and I were missionaries with an Independent Baptist mission board raising support to go to England and start an Independent Baptist Church. Unlike Southern Baptist missionaries who are paid a salary, Independent Baptist missionaries had to travel from church to church, present their mission plans, and if they approved (liked you) churches donated anywhere from $25-$200+ monthly to support a missionary family.
Whenever we visited a church to present our family, our plans, and the need for missionaries in England, we were given a “Love Offering” from the church to help us with the expenses to travel to the church. There was no set amount for the love offering, so we might get any amount. The lowest amount we ever received was $9 and the highest was around $250. We usually received around $25-$50.
Sometimes a church would pay for a motel room for the family, and other times we stayed with the pastor’s family or a church member. We usually had to cover our food expenses on the way to and from the church. In the one year and half that we traveled to raise support before we left for England, we were on the road visiting churches almost constantly. We did not have a place to live, but we were based out of a city in Tennessee and stayed at an old motel owned by the mission board when we were in town. In October that year, we stayed in a different city every night but one.
Walter and I had three pre-school aged children: the youngest less than a year old when we began, the next one three years old, and the oldest was five years old. Our children were cooped up in the car all day long until we stopped at a motel for the night. Before bedtime, we searched for a park and took the children to play and stretch their legs before putting them to sleep.
On this particular trip I will describe, we traveled about three hundred miles to visit a small church in a small town in Tennessee. There were no more than 20–25 church members present on the Sunday evening when Walter preached and presented our plans.
After the service, the pastor handed Walter an envelope with the Love Offering inside. I don’t recall the exact amount of money, but it was just enough for us to get back home.
To conserve money on these trips, we traveled with bowls, spoons, and boxes of cereal so we didn’t have to spend money on breakfast. After breakfast, we loaded our bags in the car and began the drive back home. Before we left town, we filled the car with gas.
It was an old Chevy with more than 100,000 miles on it. It had bald tires, no air conditioning, and it used a lot of gas.
The kids played games like counting the number of red cars we passed or played with their toys. They were often bored. We sang songs or played 20 Questions to pass the time. At noon, we stopped at a grocery store and I went bought baby food, bread, a package of bologna, a small jar of mayonnaise, drinks, plastic silverware, and a roll of paper towels. We made our sandwiches and ate in the car.
Then we got back on the road.
I noticed that the gas was getting low and expected Walter to pull into the next gas station we came to, but he passed two or three stations without stopping. We were now on a stretch of 2 lane highway between cities. I saw that we were dangerously near the E on the gas tank.
“We need gas,” I said. Why didn’t you stop for gas in the last town?”
Walter didn’t answer and changed the topic. I kept looking at the E.
We kept driving for another half hour. Then, Walter, without saying anything, pulled the car over on the side of the road and stopped.
I asked him, “Why are we stopped? What’s wrong?”
He answered, “We need gas, but we don’t have the money to buy it.”
Surprised, I asked, “Why not? We had enough money this morning after we bought gas and we spent very little on the food for lunch. We should still have some money left.”
Walter looked down and away from me and said, “We don’t.”
I was confused. I knew the love offering had been enough money to get us back home.
Of course, I asked again, “Why not? What happened to the money?”
It took several minutes before he admitted that we still had some money, but then he said, “The money that’s left is for the tithe.”
We always tithed 20% of what we had, not just 10%. Our monthly support would be in the bank within two days, so I said, “We can pay the tithe when we get our support.”
“No,” he said, “I promised the Lord that I would put him first and trust Him to meet our needs.”
“So, you plan to sit here until He sends us money?” I asked.
He answered, “Yes. Pray. The Lord will answer our prayers.”
Walter read a Bible verse and prayed. Then he leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes.
I am of the persuasion that a Christian should “Do all you can to solve a problem and then trust God to do the things you cannot do.” Sort of like locking your car doors and then praying that your car won’t be stolen.
Walter liked to put God to the test. Once before, at the end of a revival at a church where he had presented our mission, he put all the money we had in the offering plate “by faith” and we had no other money. We were supposed to leave the next morning to drive to another church in another state. We needed gas and money to eat on the way, but Walter had put all our money in the offering plate.
He believed in the “The more you give, the more God will bless you” theory rather than the “try harder to raise support by calling more churches and ask them if you can come and present your mission” theory. The couple we had stayed with saw that he had given every penny. The next morning, after services, the church gave us a check that was enough to get us to our next destination. This experience convinced him to give more money and expect God to provide.
Meanwhile, the three preschoolers in the back seat were bouncing around like a the meatl balls in a pinball game. They were bored. They were hot. (Remember, we had no A/C) They were hungry. They began fighting. Walter made no attempt to quiet them because he was praying.
An hour or two passed like this and still we sat there. Walter was determined to sit there by the side of the road until the Lord sent him enough money to buy more gas without spending the tithe money.
I was fuming. This test of faith was totally illogical to me. God didn’t send a bill for the tithe that had to be paid by a certain date. I saw no problem with paying the tithe after we received our support check and using the money in Walter’s pocket to get us home.
I felt thought Walter was being foolish and impractical. He thought I lacked faith. I knew the Lord could provide our needs, but I believed that he already had provided.
It was late afternoon and would soon it would be dark. We were nowhere near a town. Cars had passed by many times and no one stopped.
The baby had finally fallen asleep, but the other two kids were still complaining and saying they wanted to go home.
Walter refused to budge. He was convinced that a Good Samaritan would stop and offer to help if only we had enough faith.
I tried to accept Walter’s test of faith, but it made no sense to me. As the sun began to set, I finally could stay silent no longer.
“It’s not safe for us to stay here once it’s dark. We need to go home. Just start the engine and try to drive to a gas station,” I begged.
Walter did not want to admit defeat. To use the money in his wallet to buy gas would be a failure of his faith, but eventually he recognized that this was not a safe place. It would be hard to see our car parked on the shoulder in the darl. He blamed my lack of faith and my overly practical mind for his prayers not being answered. He probably still believes we were only moments away from a miracle if only I had not doubted God.
Finally, he agreed to drive to a gas station, buy gas and go home, but this experience caused a chink in our relationship. I lost faith in Walter because it was more important for him to put God to the test than it was to provide for his family. He was waiting for God to supply something we already had. I am sure he still believes I was the cause of our failure to experience a miraculous rescue.
So was this faith, foolishness, or a lack of faith?