Lesson: The Tablecloth--God Works in Mysterious Ways

The brand new pastor and his wife, newly assigned to their first ministry to reopen a church in suburban Brooklyn, arrived in early October excited about their opportunities.  When they saw their church, it was very run down and needed much work.  They set a goal to have everything done in time to have their first service on Christmas Eve.  They worked hard, repairing pews, plastering walls, painting, etc.  and on Dec. 18 were ahead of schedule and just about finished.  On Dec. 19 a terrible tempest - a driving rainstorm - hit the area and lasted for two days.

On the 21st, the pastor went over to the church.  His heart sank when he saw that the roof had leaked, causing a large area of plaster about 20 feet by 8 feet to fall off the front wall of the sanctuary just behind the pulpit, beginning about head high.  The pastor cleaned up the mess on the floor, and not knowing what else to do but postpone the Christmas Eve service, headed home.  On the way he noticed that a local business was having a flea market type sale for charity so he stopped in.

One of the items was a beautiful, handmade, ivory-colored, crocheted tablecloth with exquisite work, fine colors and a Cross embroidered right in the center.  It was just the right size to cover up the hole in the front wall.  He bought it and headed back to the church.  By this time it had started to snow.  An older woman running from the opposite direction was trying to catch the bus.  She missed it.  The pastor invited her to wait in the warm church for the next bus 45 minutes later.

She sat in a pew and paid no attention to the pastor while he got a ladder, hangers, etc., to put up the tablecloth as a wall tapestry.  The pastor could hardly believe how beautiful it looked and it covered up the entire problem area.

Then he noticed the woman walking down the center aisle.  Her face was like a sheet.  "Pastor," she asked, "where did you get that tablecloth?" The pastor explained.  The woman asked him to check the lower right corner to see if the initials, EBG were crocheted into it there.  They were.  These were the initials of the woman, and she had made this tablecloth 35 years before, in Austria.

The woman could hardly believe it as the pastor told how he had just gotten the Tablecloth.  The woman explained that before the war she and her husband were well-to-do people in Austria.  When the Nazis came, she was forced to leave.  Her husband was going to follow her the next week.  She was captured, sent to prison and never saw her husband or her home again.

The pastor wanted to give her the tablecloth; but she made the pastor keep it for the church.  The pastor insisted on driving her home, that was the least he could do.  She lived on the other side of Staten Island and was only in Brooklyn for the day for a housecleaning job.

What a wonderful service they had on Christmas Eve.  The church was almost full.  The music and the spirit were great.  At the end of the service, the pastor and his wife greeted everyone at the door and many said that they would return.  One older man, whom the pastor recognized from the neighborhood, continued to sit in one of the pews and stare, and the pastor wondered why he wasn't leaving.  The man asked him where he got the tablecloth on the front wall because it was identical to one that his wife had made years ago when they lived in Austria before the war and how could there be two tablecloths so much alike?

He told the pastor how the Nazis came, how he forced his wife to flee for her safety, and he was supposed to follow her, but he was arrested and put in a prison.  He never saw his wife or his home again all the 35 years in between.

The pastor asked him if he would allow him to take him for a little ride.  They drove to Staten Island and to the same house where the pastor had taken the woman three days earlier.  He helped the man climb the three flights of stairs to the woman's apartment, knocked on the door and he saw the greatest Christmas reunion he could ever imagine.

Submitted by Pastor Rob Reid

Questions for Students

1. What events in this story can be classified as "acts of God?"
[  ] The church building being very run-down
[  ] The rainstorm (that caused the roof to leak and wall to fall)
[  ] The hole on the wall
[  ] The flea market sale
[  ] The snowstorm
[  ] The wife missing the bus

2. Which ones of these seem like simple human decisions?
[  ] The pastor choosing that tablecloth
[  ] The pastor inviting the wife to wait in church
[  ] The wife asking the pastor to keep the tablecloth
[  ] The pastor taking the wife home
[  ] The husband attending the Christmas Eve service

3. For those things that don't seem to be caused by God, are there things that seem too coincidental to be natural?
[  ] The hole on the wall being about the size of the tablecloth that's being for sale down the street
[  ] The snowstorm came, the wife missed the bus, the pastor invited her to take cover in the church building, and he pastor hanging that tablecloth at that exact time
[  ] The husband came to that church on that day--not before the wall fell, and not after the hole is fixed
[  ] You are in this class listening to this story that will change your life forever

4. So, what do you think led to this whole reunion?
[  ] A random set of coincidences
[  ] A combination of human decisions the result in the best possible solution
[  ] This is plan of God from the very beginning
[  ] God definitely has a hand in this, but some parts of it is done by people's own hands
[  ] This is a nice story, and nothing more

5. The title of this story is "God Works in Mysterious Way."  Is this way really mysterious?
[  ] Yes, for we wouldn't have associated a hole on the wall to a reunion in a distant land after 35 years
[  ] No, we're just following God's script
[  ] Yes, it seems that God intervened in many things in this event, and some of them are not so direct

6. Are we really in control of our own lives?  Or are we puppets in God's show?
[  ] We're just a show for God and angels
[  ] We have full control over our lives
[  ] We do our things, and God will do His when He has a reason to do something
[  ] It's a mystery that none of us can understand completely

Teacher's Notes

Discussion suggestion: Predestination vs. Free Will
 This could be a very difficult topic to cover, especially to pre-college kids.  I didn't get into it because my kids are too young.  Good luck to those adventurous minds...

Suggestion: find weird things in this story
 Such things include:
- putting a big cross on a tablecloth
- someone brought a tablecloth all the way from Austria
- the wife asking the pastor to keep the tablecloth

Suggestion: a flow "pictogram" of the events in this story and identify who's responsible for each one
 What you'll find is that God is responsible for quite a few of the "coincidences" that led to the reunion.  By the way, I drew simple pictures instead of writing, and that helped to convey the idea that many things are out of human control (e.g., weather, missing the bus, etc.).

The "human factor" in this story
 Identify every major human decision in the story.  What you'll find is that the pastor did almost nothing unusual.  He just did what he should do, and yet God used him to bring together the husband and wife.  We sometimes may not see the grandiose plan of God, but if we just do what we should do ("fulfill our responsibilities"), we can become part of a miracle.  The Christian life is exciting because we don't know what small things we do would lead to miracles.

This lesson was developed by George Huang.  Got a question or want to publish this lesson?  E-mail me.

Last updated: 11/12/2000