Footprints of Providence


A cry rang through the quiet village, startling its inhabitants from their evening meals. "The army is coming, the Swedes and Russians. Flee! Flee for your lives!"

Wailing people erupted from the cottage doors to see the refugees pouring into the village. "They're burning, killing, as they go. If you don't flee, you'll surely be destroyed."

"How soon will they come?"

"We don't know. They aren't far behind, and they're coming swiftly. Those who don't flee they murder. "

A bitterly cold night in January began to settle on the little province of Schleswig. Frightened people gathered a few belongings and streamed out of the village and down the road toward the capital city. In one small cottage Bertha Schmidt looked at her grandson. "Shall we flee, Karl, or stay?"

Karl stood by the door of their home, watching weeping women and children and grim, silent men hurrying past. His bride of a few months, white and shaking, clung to him. When he turned to Frau Schmidt, his face was rigid. "There's no use in running. Most of these people will freeze tonight before they can reach shelter. We might as well remain here in our home and await our fate."

Bertha Schmidt put out a wrinkled hand to grip his arm. "We won't perish, Karl. God will be our protection."

He didn't answer. He pulled the two women inside and bolted the door. Piling all the furniture in the little one-room cottage in front of it, he stood back and surveyed the barricade. "We might as well do what we can to protect ourselves," he sighed, "but it's flimsy protection against an army. Besides, they have only to set the cottage afire."

Mona sobbed silently, her whole body convulsed with fear and grief. Karl put his arms around her, and she hid her face against his shoulder. "What shall we do, Karl? Oh, what shall we do?" she cried. His strong arms held her to him, but he had no comforting words to offer.

"Why do the Swedes and Russians attack us?" she questioned.

"They're angry with our government for siding with Napoleon," Karl explained.

Frau Schmidt had taken her Bible from its resting place on the shelf. "Come, my children," she said. "Come and worship. Our God is strong enough to deliver us. Don't be afraid."

She gathered them around the fireplace. Since the chairs formed part of the barricade, they sat together on the floor before the fire. She opened her worn Bible and began to read: "The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them. ... The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles.... Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivereth him out of them all."

Turning from passage to passage in the Psalms, she read to them the strong, comforting promises. Her voice rose in holy confidence: "In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me."

Raising her eyes to her children, face aglow with assurance, she declared, "God will build a wall of protection around us and preserve us from our enemies!"

"Now, now, Grandmother," Karl protested. "Do you really expect God to erect a wall around our poor hut strong enough to keep out an army?"

"Haven't you read," she replied, "that not a sparrow falls to the ground without His notice? Did not God turn back the mighty Assyrian? And didn't Elisha see horses and chariots of fire surrounding him to protect him from his enemies?"

Karl shook his head. "But, Grandmother, that was centuries ago. Have you heard of God working in such a way today?"

"And why would He work a miracle for us?" Mona put in.

But Frau Schmidt would let nothing discourage her. "God never changes," she insisted. "And if He so cares for the sparrow and the grass of the field, should He not much rather care for us?"

Silence fell on the little group by the fire. Each seem absorbed in his own thoughts. Hours crept by. Outside, a storm whistled and roared its rage. At midnight the wind stilled somewhat and the chimes of the great clock on the steeple drifted through the night. Just as it struck twelve o'clock the faint strains of martial- music reached them.

The fatal hour had come.

In the distance they could hear tramping and shouting. Nearer and nearer came the frightening sounds. They huddled together on the floor. The fire had gone out, unnoticed. Almost inaudibly Frau Schmidt whispered, "Build, 0 Lord, a wall around us."

Horrible, muffled shrieks pierced the night, and there was the sound of crackling flames. Violence and destruction surrounded them. Yet no intruder disturbed the peace of the little cottage. The uproar ebbed and flowed, then drifted away. Still no one stirred.

Silence reigned. After a time Mona raised herself. "I can't understand it," she puzzled. "Why didn't they come in?"

Karl pulled her back down. "Be quiet. Be quiet," he whispered. "Who knows if there are still soldiers near."

So they rested, huddled together, until the morning. At last Karl got to his feet. "This is truly a mystery!" he exclaimed. "They must be gone by now. We haven't heard a sound for hours. How did they miss us?"

Frau Schmidt looked up, her face radiant. "The wall. The Lord built the wall."

"But how? How? That's what I'd like to know. I wonder what's left of our village? Are we the only ones who survived?

"Shall we open the door and look out?"

"I think we'd better crack the shutters first." Karl loosed the latch and put one eye to the slit, and then he threw it wide open.

"Praise God, Grandmother! Here indeed is your wall!" he exclaimed. He waved his hand at the open window.

Outside stretched only the solid whiteness of snow. During the night it had drifted entirely over the little cottage, hiding it from the eyes of the invading army.

Frau Schmidt looked at the glistening wall, her eyes full of tears. "Faithful is He who hath promised: He also hath done it," she declared.