Poverty Unthinkable

The following is an excerpt from "The Almighty and Us" by Arnold White.

As I come to this chapter on poverty at Shiloh I realize I have already included references here and there to this astonishing part of the story, startling because suffered by people capable of making a good living for themselves and their families, and because endured in the midst of plenty about them.  In the year of Mr. Sandford's incarceration (1912) conditions grew almost unbearable. (See Doris White's Diary)

Mrs. Fred Caillat's story in 1906 revealed appalling conditions to the public. In reading these old newspaper accounts I am startled by the reminder that there were thirteen and a half years which things grew from bad to worse before the State authorities finally stepped in with an ultimatum to the parents of minors there. That I had seen the light and left before that 1920 dissolution of the community provides today little consolation for the embarrassment of a perplexing question--how could my mind reject disturbing proofs and remain under the captivity of religion's authority so far into adult years?

The confident assurances of the Word of God ("My God shall supply all your need," and "consider the lilies of the field," etc.) apparently did not mean what we had been taught they should, or else were not of divine origin. The granite foundation of Scriptural promises to the devoted Christian crumbled into the dust of unthinkable poverty. But the idea of learning by experience was no part of our Christian fundamentalist philosophy; we must never "let God down" by doubting in the slightest degree those immutable promises, come what may. Nor was it any part of the fundamentalist status of intelligence to entertain a question as to our limitations in understanding the values of the sixty-six books of Ancient Writ. Hadn't God committed Himself through that "Word" to lead us "into all TRUTH?"

When our family moved to Shiloh in October of 1902 nobody was really suffering for lack of food--unless nutrition experts could rightly claim that the children were not getting a proper variety. The adults were provided two meals daily and the children were given, in addition, one slice of white bread with molasses, at noon. True, such delicacies as sugar and butter were rare, and we seldom had any dessert. For breakfast oatmeal with only milk, sometimes no milk, other times cornmeal porridge.  Cornbread baked in the huge brick oven gradually took the place of white bread. though for awhile white bread with, or mostly without butter, but helped down with cocoa, was a weekly treat for the Saturday breakfast served in the suites. Occasionally, when there was a little extra money, the big bakery pans turned out thick gingerbread which was cut into generous individual squares. Even could the funds have permitted, coffee and tea were taboo. For a while bread crumbs or again wheat bran roasted to a burn provided a breakfast "coffee," but even that petered out. Once a week there was pea soup, and on another day baked beans (no pork, no molasses) and brown bread. Mr. Sandford believed in the desirability of the legumes because "pulse" was part of the fare given Daniel and his three companions who came out in a test "fairer and fatter" than those fed on Nebuchadnezzar's recommended ration. We became accustomed to the term "Elijah fare" which consisted of bread and meat brought to the Elijah of old by the ravens. The words soon became a mockery; however I recall that, until the funds would no longer permit purchase of meat of any kind, we had canned meat each Thursday, since no cooking could be done until after three o'clock. Thursday was considered the day on which Jesus was crucified, so religious service was constant from nine o'clock through the six hours of His suffering, thus commemorating His death weekly. These hours were too sacred to permit any ordinary work, such as cooking food, on the Hilltop. When Mr. Sandford left the Free Baptist pastorate he gave what savings he had accumulated during six years as salaried pastor to missions, and launched out upon a "life of faith." He considered he had a definite contract with the Almighty backed by the Bible promise that if we seek first the kingdom of God our physical needs shall be filled. Matt. 8:33.

When young people applied for admission to the Bible School they were given to understand that if they gave all they possessed as was done at Pentecost they could henceforth expect that God would take care of their creature needs -- so long as they continued to fulfill the Bible injunction to seek first God's interests. Whether or not these people were always intelligently led into paths of service to God's best interests on earth, it could never be said they were not "seeking first" to please the Almighty. And they could rely with confidence upon a scriptural assurance. "When He the Spirit of Truth is come, He will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13), thus leaving no loophole for error.

With this combination of Bible promises people at Shiloh, and wherever sent by the Shiloh leadership, went about their business, unworried about what they were to eat daily, or what they needed to wear. The people at Pentecost in the book of Acts could expect the common treasury to be concerned about all their needs, but as the system worked out at Shiloh the "all things in common" applied only to food. "Distribution was made unto every man according as he had need," did not picture the Shiloh experience.        chapter 34, p 302-304