I was raised in a home where both my parents believed in God but never spoke about it. I don't remember ever seeing a bible in our house or seeing my mother or father praying. Up until I was seven years old I had no idea who God was or what our duty was to him. At that time Santa Clause had more of an impact on my life than God, I just did not know. The only religion I could see were two wooden Idols in the form of Mary Magdalene and some other lesser known saint which my mother kept on the refrigerator. We were very poor and even at that tender age I wondered why they never helped. I started to believe that maybe there was no God. But that was about to change when I started second grade in Hammonton Public Elementary School in the fall of 1953.
My second grade teacher was named Mrs. Augustine and she seemed to be in her late fifties with dark black hair which was turning grey up front and dark eyes. She had a very thin face which seemed to always be smiling as she introduced herself to the class. She began the class by having us say a five minute prayer for the town and each other. Since I had never prayed or seen others pray, I kept my eyes opened to see what it was we were supposed to do. She called me forward and asked me why I was not praying, I told her I didn't know how to pray. She spoke to me very kindly and said it was very easy, just speak to God as you would any other person and tell him what you want to see happen. I went back to my seat and folded my hands as I had seen the others do and said a prayer. This prayer thing happened again in the afternoon and this time I was ready.
The next day when class started we said the five minute prayer and then she took out a bible and started to read from the book of Genesis. She read for fifteen minutes and then went on with the class. The next day the same thing happened, but now for some unknown reason I could not wait to begin praying so she would read to us from the bible. I loved the stories in the bible, but the bible seemed mystical to me because no one else had a bible except Mrs. Augustine. This might have been because everyone in Hammonton was Catholic, the same as my family. I never knew if Mrs. Augustine was Catholic, but if she was, she was the only one with a bible by her side.
This was not a religious school it was a public school and with today's laws she would be fired from her job or taken to court for doing what she did. After several months of praying and reading the bible she had us memorize a Psalm every month. I memorized Psalm one and Psalm twenty three along with Psalm 138 plus the Lord's Prayer. This was to be her last year of teaching and at the end of the year she was given a party by the staff and the students, after this I would never see her again. But in one year I had learned to love praying and reading the bible as well as history books which she read to us on occasion. Little did I know that she had planted the seeds of my destiny in that one year.
As time went on, I forgot all about the bible and praying. We moved to New York City where I became a truck driver, married and had a son. I also started reading more and hanging out with the wrong crowd which did not believe in God. Soon I fancied myself an intellectual and started to talk just like them, denying God and preaching revolution. From their I moved my family to Puerto Rico until I became bored and left my family for the mountains of Colombia where I would spend the next five years wondering around trying to find some sense to life. This was a time in my generation when everything was being questioned, but few people had any answers. I remarried and came back to Florida to start a new life as a farmer but the questions remained.
In 1988 as I lay on my back in a hospital room in Miami Florida waiting for the results of my test for massive migraine headaches, I heard the first words of the twenty third Psalm which I had not heard since second grade. They were coming out of my mind and I could remember them clearly. I said the 23, the 1 and 138, plus the Lord's Prayer over and over until the break of dawn. The seeds that Mrs. Augustine had planted thirty five years ago were still alive in my spirit and bringing me great peace. In the coming months I would start studying the bible all over again and praying as I had never prayed before. This would see me through one of the worst periods of my life. Even when it was over I was so grateful for Gods mercy that I made it a habit to read the bible in the morning and at night before I went to bed.
In my own life I could see the importance of reading the bible to a child as early as possible so that he or she has the seeds of hope and faith for the trials and tribulations coming their way. What is spoken into the heart never dies especially if it is God's word. As a child the word had found fertile ground in me, the seeds lay dormant waiting for their time to bloom. Had this never happened I don't know how I could have handled what was to come. Without this Godly woman, I would have never heard or understood who God was and that he was there to help in times of trouble. Over the course of thirty five years of hard living I had given up on God but he had never given up on me. When I needed hope and faith the seeds were there, planted in my childhood by a woman who loved God and had planted his word in hundreds of children.
What is planted at an early age is never forgotten whether it is good or bad. If a child is taught to pray at a very young age it would be a habit that would be hard to forget. If he is taught the scriptures when he is young and has the time, they might be what saves his life when he is older and full of problems. Children today see and hear so many nasty things, even while still in their mother's womb that it's a wonder they don't rebel at the age of two. What was planted in me at the age of seven today at the age of sixty-five has bought a harvest of faith in God, a love of the scriptures and writing about them.
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