Footprints of Providence

8: A PRAYER IN THE DARK

Pastor Travis St. Clair turned restlessly in his sleep. He groaned and opened his eyes. Outside the storm raged through the night. Lightning flashes lighted the windows, and thunder rolled. But it wasn't the storm that disturbed the peace of his slumber. A pressing sense of emergency weighed on his mind.

He turned over and buried his head in the pillow. But sleep would not return. Rather the feeling of urgency grew. Sighing, he crawled out of bed and knelt on the rug.

"What's the matter, Lord? What do You want me to do?" He prayed intensely for a few minutes, but got no relief. The strange feeling that all was not well with two elderly members of his congregation haunted him.

"Lord, are You trying to tell me something? Is there something wrong with the Gabrielsons? They seemed perfectly well last Sunday. If they are in any kind of trouble, please watch over them." Feeling somewhat better, he crawled back into bed. The covers wrapped him in warmth, and drowsiness crept over him. He yawned and relaxed.

But the discomfort came again. Something was wrong with the Gabrielsons, something serious. With a deep sigh he sat up in bed.

Jenny turned over and opened her eyes. "Whatever's the matter?"

"I don't know. I can't sleep at all. And I feel like something's terribly wrong."

"It must be the storm. All that wind and rain and thunder's enough to wake the dead."

"No, I really don't think it's that. Storms never bother me. I think God's trying to tell me something. I have this strong impression that something is wrong with the Gabrielsons."

His wife rubbed her eyes and yawned. "Well, why don't you pray for them, then go back to sleep?

"I tried that. It doesn't work. I think I'll go over to their house and see if there's a problem."

"Oh, no." She pushed up on her elbow. "In this rain? That doesn't make any sense at all. Don't you think you're being fanatical? You really can't trust impressions, you know."

"I know, but I just can't help it. Since I can't sleep anyhow, I might as well run over and see if something's the matter."

"Oh, well. If you want to--but be careful." And she turned over and went back to sleep. Travis slipped out of bed and pulled his clothes on. The rain descended in torrents. Drenched before he ever reached the stable, he harnessed the horse to the buggy and urged him out into the rain. It did seem like a foolish errand. He hoped no one would see him out on such a night.

The Gabrielson home was all dark. He pulled the horse and buggy into a shed for shelter. Now what to do? Probably the old couple were sound asleep.

It would be silly to wake them. Still there might be some danger near. Maybe he should get out and look around.

Tying the horse, he walked around the yard. The rain had let up a little. All seemed quiet and in order. He started back to the shed, but the impression returned with new strength. All was not well, no matter how peaceful everything appeared.

He tiptoed up on the porch. Should he knock and awaken them? Surely they needed their sleep. Trying the door, he discovered it unlocked. Why didn't they fasten their door at night? It would be much safer.

Without really knowing why, he opened the door and slipped in. It seemed a ridiculous thing to do. What if someone caught him in here? He could just imagine the gossip—the pastor found at midnight in a neighbor's home! Even the sheriff might not understand impressions that got one up in the middle of the night and sent him prowling around in the dark.

But there in the living room he fell to his knees again. Without conscious planning he began to pray aloud.

"Father, I don't know why You sent me here. These folks seem to be just fine. But You know a lot of things that I don't. If there is any danger threatening these dear old people, please protect them and paralyze any hand lifted against them. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen."

Relief flowed over him. He had not realized how pressed he felt until the burden lifted. With a light heart he slipped out the door and back to his horse. Ever so quietly he turned the horse toward home. It had been a strange experience. He couldn't dismiss it entirely, neither could he understand it. All he could do was put it in the hands of God. Someday He would make it plain.

Months passed, and the memory of that night ride faded. The pressures of caring for his flock and of evangelism almost erased it from his mind.

One day Dale Nelson, a member of his congregation and a long-time friend, stopped by for a chat. After the usual pleasantries he came to the purpose of his visit. "Pastor St. Clair, I have a cousin who is in charge of the large prison at St. Andrews. He is deeply concerned about the condition of the prisoners. They have no spiritual help. Many of them are young and in prison for the first time. They might well respond to the gospel. Could you go over there and hold meetings for them?"

Pastor St. Clair sat, his chin in his hands. He had never thought of working for the prisoners. Perhaps hearts might respond there. Then he smiled at his friend. "Tell him I will come at the first opportunity."

So on a crisp morning in early fall Travis drove his buggy up to the prison at St. Andrews. Captain Hanks welcomed him pleasantly. "I'm so glad you could take time from your busy schedule to minister to the needs of these unfortunate men. Come, I'll show you through the prison and introduce you."

The great stone wall, iron bars, and long gray halls depressed the pastor. His heart filled with pity for the men who must spend years of their lives in such a place. Sinners they were indeed, but did not Christ pity and love sinners?

As Captain Hanks and Travis walked across the prison yard the prisoners crowded around the pastor, who stopped to talk to one and then another. As the captain had said, many of them were still in their teens. Most responded to a warm tone, a kind smile.

One older man in gray prison garb came up and gazed intently at Pastor St. Clair's face. "This is Claude Hanson," the captain told him.

"Pastor, I know you from somewhere," blurted the prisoner, still staring with a puzzled expression. Travis looked the man over carefully. "I'm sorry," he said. "I don't recall you at all."

A light dawned in the man's eyes. "No wonder you don't remember me, Pastor. You've never seen me, but I certainly can never forget you. Do you remember a night several months ago when you went into the Gabrielson house at midnight and prayed aloud for their protection?"

"I'm not likely to forget," replied the pastor.

The prisoner nodded. "I had heard they kept quite a sum of money in their house, and I went there that night to steal it.

"You drove up, and thinking you were Mr. Gabrielson, I intended to kill you. But you spoke to your horse, and I realized that you were a stranger. I followed you into the house and heard your prayer. Do you remember what you said?"

Pastor St. Clair shook his head. His eyes never left the man's face.

"You prayed that the old people be protected from danger and that any hand lifted against them might be paralyzed. Do you see this arm? He pointed to his right arm which hung unmoving at his side. "I have never been able to move it since. I left without doing anyone any harm."

The pastor could not speak for a moment. "How strange and wonderful are the ways of God," he exclaimed. "I never knew why He sent me there that night. And what about you, my friend? Perhaps He has taken away your arm that you might gain your soul."