It was in the early 1930s and my grandfather, George Elbert, was finishing up milking the cows and the other barn chores on one particular evening – and dreading what he had to do next.
Grandpa had to go into town and see the bank president, whom he had borrowed a lot of money from years earlier when he had bought his farm. Now, Grandpa, along with his wife and three way-young children, were in dire financial straits.
This time period was known as “The Great Depression.” Many people out in New York had committed suicide in 1929 when the stock market had crashed. And in the years that followed, many more had killed themselves because of their terrible financial conditions. The U.S. had never seen such a terrible economic collapse in its history.
There were large numbers of people in this country unemployed and half-starving to death. Farmers producing food, whether it was milk, meat, grain or something else, almost gave their produce away. Oftentimes, they didn’t receive enough for their produce to cover the cost of production.
Bankers were having it really hard, too. They had lots of money loaned out to people, like my grandpa, who couldn’t make the payments on their loans. And the investors who had money in the banks were scared they were going to lose it with so many people defaulting on their loans. So the banks started to foreclose on a lot of farmers and homeowners.
With the financial crisis so severe, Grandpa’s banker was working all day long and well into the night to keep his bank going. So the banker had set up a late-evening meeting with my grandpa to talk over his situation.
As Grandpa took his team of horses into town that evening, down inside he knew it wasn’t going to go good for him.
The banker got right to the point. “George, you’ve got two large loans: one on the farm and one on the personal property. You’re delinquent on both, and with the financial conditions in the country and at this bank being what they are, we are going to have to foreclose on you.
We will be out tomorrow, and you will have to then move off of that farm. I’m sorry.” My grandpa pleaded with the banker to let him stay and work the farm the best he could, but the banker said, “No.”
Grandpa left the bank with an extremely heavy heart. It was dark out as he took his team of horses and started on his 5-mile trip back home. What would he tell his wife and children the next morning?
He had no other place to take his family; he had no other job. Even his team of horses wouldn’t be his by the next nightfall.
It was very late by the time Grandpa got home that night and put the horses in the barn. He then went to the house and found everybody in bed sound asleep. What could Grandpa do?
Commit suicide like so many others had done? No. Killing oneself is a terrible choice. Suicide wasn’t an option, and it really isn’t for anybody. And if he did make that terrible choice, what would happen to his wife and their young children?
Should he wake up the family and tell them how bad they have it? No, that wouldn’t help anything. He did the only thing he could do; he got down on his knees by his bed and prayed to his Heavenly Father.
He prayed, “Father, I’m asking you that if there is any way you can keep us here on this farm, that you do it – in Jesus’ name, amen.” And with that, he went to bed and went to sleep.
Wow! What a prayer to pray. But he did what the Bible commands. God says, “Cry out to me in the day of trouble, and I will hear you.” So Grandpa did what God said and went to sleep.
It sure wouldn’t have helped if Grandpa would have worried a lot about it. Actually, it would’ve hurt – because God says in 1 Peter 5:7 that we are to cast all our cares upon Him, for He careth for us. So that’s what Grandpa did and trusted God to do what he couldn’t do.
So what happened the next day, you ask? Well, Grandpa, along with his family, got up like normal and went out and did the farm chores. They worked on that farm all that day – and the banker never showed up.
It was obvious God had heard my grandpa’s prayer. But what had actually happened? Sometimes the truth is extremely hard to believe, but history does bear out the facts.
That night, after my grandpa prayed and went to bed, the banker also went home and to bed. And in his sleep that night, he died of natural causes. With the bank president now dead, the bank was in a huge crisis.
The federal government or the Federal Reserve stepped in immediately and shut the doors on the bank and studied the whole situation. After going through all the paperwork, and talking to the other bank in town, they decided to merge the two banks into one and make the other bank’s president the head of the new bank.
So now Grandpa started praying for favor with the new bank president. Several days later, he had a meeting with him. The new bank president said, “Mr. Elbert, you have a beautiful farm out there, and I can see you’re working hard on it.
I know times are very difficult and that you owe this bank a lot of money. A lot of farmers are in the same position you are. I’ll tell you what I’m willing to do: If you will continue to work hard and take good care of that farm and pay me what you can whenever, I’ll let you stay on that farm and work with you.”
To say my grandpa readily agreed to that would be an understatement. He left the bank that day walking on cloud nine and thanking God.
The years that followed during the Great Depression weren’t easy ones, especially with a number of severe droughts, but Grandpa and his family kept working hard and trusting God. And God blessed them and saw them through.
About 15 years after the first banker told my grandpa that he would have to move off of that farm, Grandpa made his final payment to the bank and owned his farm debt-free. How my grandfather rejoiced and thanked God for hearing his desperate prayer and seeing him through.
All of us in time come to impossible places in life, just like Grandpa did, but if we cry out to God with a right heart and spirit, God promises to hear us and see us through.
His answer may not be exactly what we expect – Grandpa never expected the banker to die that night and for the banks to be merged – but He will answer us. We have His word on that. PD
Tom Heck, his wife, Joanne, and their two children own and operate a 35-cow dairy farm in Wisconsin. Email Tom Heck or order his book at Life on the Family Farm.