Miss Beulah’s Children
By Sandra Fischer
She could have been called "Miss Mighty Momma", but she was known simply as "Miss Beulah". She spent her life working with young people in our church and after they had all grown up she still taught them in Sunday school.
I remember the first time I met her when I attended her class. That lesson was about David and Goliath and from my pre-teen stature, she could have been Goliath’s sister. She was tall, with dark hair and deep-set brown eyes that flashed when she looked at you. She seemed to peer right into your soul. She had a commanding voice that resonated when she spoke your name, making you want to click your heels, salute and say, "Yes, Ma’am!" The whole class looked pretty much like the intimidated Israelite army, ready to surrender. I soon learned, however, that there was more beneath that tough veneer and that Miss Beulah was on God’s side.
Miss Beulah was well known in our small town for three reasons. She had polio as a young woman, had never married and was totally devoted to teaching young people about Jesus Christ. She rounded kids up like a rodeo cowgirl and expected to see them in class each week. She used all kinds of motivational means, including special rewards and party events, for those who were faithful attendees. I garnered a nearly complete collection of "crystal" glassware before I graduated from high school, and while that may have appeared to be my motivation, I really didn’t want to miss her class.
She had the biggest class of any church in town and it wasn’t just the rewards that enticed us. She had a way of making Bible stories come alive with her dramatic rendering of the scriptures. She wanted us to understand that young people like Joseph, David, Daniel and Mary were real. Like us, they faced challenges in their young lives. By trusting God, they learned to place their faith in Him to see them through their troubles.
"You’re gonna have trouble in life," she’d say. "It’s a promise." Then she’d quote John 16:33 and ask us to repeat it.
"And who’s gonna overcome that trouble…if you let Him, if you ask Him? That’s right – Jesus!"
And, just to be sure we understood what troubles were, in case we didn’t have any yet, she would take us to the County Home to see folks who had no families to care for them. This was well before the time when it became the norm to send your old folks off to a nursing home. Most people were cared for by family and kept home until they died or had to be hospitalized for their final days.
The County Home had people of different ages who had various problems – some physical, some mental, some emotional. Visiting them was a "wake-up" call for many of us, who, although we had aging grandparents, had never encountered those who were either forgotten or forsaken.
Yet, the presence of young people brightened their dull eyes and caused sagging jaws to turn upward into smiles. We would sing hymns and read scriptures and they would join in as best they could. Occasional "hallelujahs" and "amens" would punctuate their responses to our visit. Miss Beulah, in her God-given wisdom, knew well that experience was a good teacher.
Miss Beulah was also the organist and the choir director at the church, so when the Christmas and Easter seasons rolled around, you could just as well count on being in whatever program or pageant was planned. She always had a job for each person in our class, and you were never asked, you were assigned.
"Charles, you will read the opening scripture for the candlelight service, and Joyce, you will be Mary in the nativity scene, and, Paul, you will sing "Away in A Manger…" and on and on she would go until everyone had a role and was required to be there. There were no excuses for missing, either. You would have to be near death or someone close to you actually passing that day to miss, and that someone could not be your cat or dog, it had to be a person.
The interesting thing was that no one seemed to resent being expected to participate. In fact, thinking back to Easter sunrises and Christmas Eve candlelight services, I recall how special they were in giving me a sense of personal involvement in the life of the church family. Even if you forgot your cue or sang off key or got the giggles, Miss Beulah would say you did a good job and how the program would not have been a success without our class.
While Miss Beulah could let down her guard occasionally, her mission was to train us to be responsible, respectful adults. This meant that we were not to poke fun at others nor waste her time by not paying attention. She had a way of making us think beyond the present.
I recall one particular instance when she singled out an offender.
"Mr. Paul David Pearson", she articulated the name loudly and clearly. She always used an undeserved title and a person’s full name when she wanted to make sure everyone, including the upstart, had her attention.
"Mr. Paul David Pearson," she continued. "You need to hear every word I am saying this morning. You need to pay very close attention to this lesson. Do you know why?"
Of course, neither Paul David, nor any of us knew. It could have been for a variety of reasons, so, in silence we would wait for her to tell us. I remember well the answer she gave to Mr. Paul David Pearson.
"Because, Mr. Paul David Pearson, you are going to grow up and become a leader in this community and most likely an elder in this church, so you need to learn as much as you can by paying attention in this class."
Some teachers may have given up on the likes of us teenagers, but not Miss Beulah. She saw potential in us; she prodded it, encouraged it, believed in it. When I first entered her class I had thought of her as Goliath’s sister, but as time passed, I realized that she was more like David’s sibling. She was taking on a giant challenge by training up adolescents.
Like David, she was an unlikely candidate. She had no training, was fairly young and unmarried. Yet, like David, she loved the Lord, wanted to serve Him, and trusted Him to use her in her willingness to do what He asked of her.
She touched so many of our lives and a measure of the faith I have today was a result of her faithfulness in obeying God. Miss Beulah is still serving the Lord – worshiping at His feet in heaven now, and, because Miss Beulah had no children, she left no heirs, yet she left a precious legacy in the hearts she so lovingly taught. We were Miss Beulah’s children. Many of us have grown into the responsible adults she nourished – some became community leaders, some teachers, some writers, and, oh, yes, one became a church elder – Mr. Paul David Pearson.
Sandra Fischer taught high school English in Indiana before owning a bookstore for several years. Most of her writing is devoted to stories from her experiences growing up in the Midwest. She has been published in Guideposts and several trade journals. Having retired in 2001, Sandra lives in South Carolina with her husband, Craig, where she continues to write. You can write to Sandra through the Letters page of this magazine.
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