Bertha Lee (Blunt) Dunlap preaching at Morgan Corner Church, Butler County, Missouri
For the next several years, my spiritual journey continued. I began teaching pre-schoolers in Sunday School when I was eleven. I occasionally played piano for service -- under the tutelage of my Mother. I viewed these acts of service as important steps toward spiritual maturity. In those days, action counted for everything. Not much attention was given to more intrinsic aspects of spiritual life.
Then one December night my life changed forever. We awoke at 2 AM with the house afire. As flames closed in, all four of us escaped the building by jumping from a small second story window to subzero temperatures outside. We were barefooted clothed only in pajamas. My little sister spent months recovering from her burns and subsequent skin grafts. My Dad broke his heel from landing on the solidly frozen ground. I suffered burns and an appendicitis attack a week later. But my Mom died two weeks later from third-degree burns over 75% of her body.
With my Mother gone, my spiritual journey kicked into high gear through sheer necessity. The realization that God listened to me personally occurred that summer following my Mother's death.
We spent the summer at my Grandmother's house in town. The church there sent kids to Youth Camp for a one-week intensive spiritual enrichment program. I desired t oattend with the desperate thirst of a desert traveler for water. However due to the losses from the fire, we didn't have th emoney for the week's tuition. Several people volunteered to pay for me, but my Dad wasn't "accepting no charity."
As departure date approached, I became fully convinced that I would be able to attend. My Dad noted my cheery positive attitude and warned me repeatedly, "I'm not changing my mind about accepting charity."
With a confidence born from my mother's and grandmother's faith, I responded, "That's okay. God has called me. He'll provide."
My Dad, an unbeliever, would shake his head and mutter something unintelligible to me.
The bus to camp was to leave Sunday after morning service. Friday night I went to bed depressed, afraid that my Dad could really prevent my going. In my mind the only hope was for him to change his mind. But by Friday night, my faith was weak since my Dad's resolve remained staunch, unbendable.
Lying in bed, I was crying softly when suddenly a sense of peace spread through me. I can't say I heard an audible voice, but the voice in my head was clear, "I will provide." My faith response was immediate. I relaxed and fell happily to sleep.
Early next morning, I packed my suitcase. At breakfast my Dad reminded me yet again, "If you think I'm changing my mind about accepting charity, you have another think coming."
"I just know that God told me he'd provide," I replied confidently.
He just shook his head.
Just then the mail arrived.
A few minutes later my Dad walked into the kitchen with a dumbfounded look on his face, an envelope in one hand and a small piece of paper in the other. "Well," he said slowly. "You must have the faith of your mother. Here's a check for your tuition."
I didn't look up from washing dishes.
"This is from the County Watershed Committee," he continued. "They've paid me this month's stipend even though I didn't make the meeting. Get Linda Lou to take you to cash this." he handed me the check. "It's all yours."
The money covered tuition and an extra $5 (unheard of riches to me) for spending money. Somehow this confirmed God's care for me. I became totally convinced of His reliability, even his understanding of human resistance. I was amazed that God would use a method of provision which would be acceptable to my Dad: it was a legitimate "paycheck," not a donation.
That week at camp was an epiphany for me. For the next several years, an annual visit to camp provided a spiritual oasis that I desperately needed in those dark times following my mother's death. I would return from camp with faith and energy to face the rigors of the next twelve months. Thus the watershed stipend became a spiritual watershed for my life.