Nehemiah’s generosity in chapter 5 reminds me of family stories that I heard growing up. Nehemiah sacrificially gave of his time and resources. He had a heart to care for people in need and restore them to health. Similarly, my great-grandparents, Robert and Wilhelmina Nielsen had a passion to care for the needy, especially orphans, during the Great Depression.
Robert grew up as an orphan where life was hard, lonely and disconcerting. Wilhelmina was so impacted by the tragedy of prostitution in Los Angeles, that she took a job as a receptionist at a brothel where she prayed for each girl who entered and eventually led many of them to the Lord. When the couple married in 1918 they were determined to work as missionaries overseas; providing homes for orphans. After graduating from the “Bible Institute of Los Angeles”, they started their family and soon discovered that children were not allowed on the mission field. So they sought the Lord’s guidance and instead turned their energy towards caring for orphans in their own community.
In 1931, the Nielsen family, along with 8 or 10 kids (according to the Nielsen Family History Book) arrived at “The Ranch” in North Escondido. There was one small house, one old barn, and one well, but no electricity, telephone or in-house water. The boys slept in one of the barn rooms while the other was used for the schoolhouse. Robert, Wilhelmina and the girls all slept in the small house. Life was challenging but the family trusted in God’s provision and all worked the farm together to care for their ever increasing needs. As the Great Depression continued to devastate the country, one family after the next came to the Nielsens and asked them to care for their children just so that they could survive. By 1940, The Ranch had housed 51 orphans. The Nielsens taught their foster kids about God’s love, and took them to church, which eventually became EFCC. One Sunday they discovered that they only had enough gas to drive to church, so they prayed for God to provide a way home. Following church, they went to their car, hoping for a miracle, and there on the steering wheel was a $1 bill; plenty to buy gas for the drive home.
Evenings often involved a hike to the “Bear and Cub” which are large boulders that can still be seen on the west side of Interstate 15 when heading south into Escondido. The large family would hike up the hill, climb the boulders, lie on their backs looking up at the stars and sing out hymns of praise to God. Robert and Wilhelmina spent their lives giving generously. Life was simple and they didn’t have much, but they had all they needed and with that, praised the One who provided for their every need.
Director of Counseling and Soul Care