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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Guided to Greatness

The George Washington Carver Story


By Ken Horn
Aug. 25, 2013

"How can I be sure that I’m on the right road? ... ‘In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.’ Now you must learn to look to Him for direction and then follow, and you will never go wrong.”

George Washington Carver penned those words, and strongly believed them. He traveled many roads in his lifetime — at first because the opportunities for a black man in 19th-century America were few, and later because his opportunities were many.

Carver saw God directing his steps in both the times when he had to search for a road — any road — that would not reject him, and when the roads were so plentiful he needed wisdom to discern where God could best use his gifts.

Born a slave, and in poor health, Carver’s initial prospects couldn’t be high. But he would surprise everyone, including those who would hold him back simply because of his skin color. He would find a close relationship with a loving God, and that God would help Carver pour out his life in service to others. Carver’s life would become a walking sermon.

Carver was born in Missouri during the Civil War, perhaps in 1864, to a slave named Mary who was owned by Moses and Susan Carver. But after the Civil War and slavery ended in 1865, the Carvers took on the role of loving foster parents. They raised George and his brother, James, providing for the siblings’ needs and even their education.

While slavery had ended, racism had not; no local schools would take black students. It was Susan Carver who taught George to read and write, instilling in him an early hunger for knowledge.

Because of George’s poor health, Moses Carver exempted him from physical labor of any kind. Young George’s time was essentially his own. This one act resulted in immense blessing ... first to George, then later to mankind.

Listen to George Washington Carver tell his own story: “As a very small boy exploring the almost virgin woods of the old Carver place, I had the impression someone had just been there ahead of me. ... I was practically overwhelmed with the sense of some Great Presence. ... Never since have I been without this consciousness of the Creator speaking to me through flowers, rocks, animals, plants and all other aspects of His creations.”

(You can visit these very places today as they have been preserved at the George Washington Carver National Monument in Diamond, Mo.)

At this young age, Carver had discovered a great spiritual truth — what theologians call general revelation, God revealing himself through His creation. (See Romans 1:19,20.)

But Carver did not have a nebulous faith. He came to have a trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Some would call Carver nondenominational, but he was more interdenominational, in that throughout his life he found himself attending many different fundamentally sound Christian churches.

Carver’s faith in Jesus was expressed most in his relationship with the Creator’s expression through nature. Though he became a respected scientist, Carver rejected evolution. He insisted the universe was created by God, who put the laws of nature in motion.

Carver was an early practitioner of what today has been called “creation evangelism” — pointing people toward God through sharing the wonders of His creation.

But why is Carver’s name familiar in the 21st century? You should have had the word peanuts pop into your mind. No, Carver didn’t pen the famous Peanuts comic strip. Rather, he is famous for his work with the tasty legume.

Carver’s initial goal was to free African-American farmers from “the tyranny of king cotton.” He introduced crop rotation using peanuts that restored valuable nutrients to soil depleted from repeated cotton crops.

To make planting peanuts more attractive, Carver invented numerous creative ways to use them — in cosmetics, milk, oil, dyes, paper, ink, soap and more. He eventually identified more than 300 uses for peanuts. But life wasn’t just peanuts. He did much more.

People started calling Carver the “Plant Doctor” when he was still very young. Because he had been released from duties due to his poor health, he had time to explore nature and observe the day-to-day wonders of a 19th-century farm. He even tended a secret garden.

His relationship with nature — and with the God of nature — set Carver on a quest for education that was not easily won in the culture of that day. He faced racial discrimination, segregation and even violence.

It was notable that Carver graduated from high school, even more so that he was accepted at a college in Highland, Kan. Elated, he traveled to the campus in time for the start of classes, only to be turned away by the dean of the school, who said, “Highland College does not take Negroes.”

Once during Carver’s early struggles, he noted, “I lived on prayer, beef suet and cornmeal, and quite often being without the suet and meal.”

Though rebuffed at many turns, Carver eventually earned a master’s degree at Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. He parlayed this into one of the most remarkable human transformations the world has seen. George Washington Carver, born a slave, became renowned as a leading agricultural scientist, educator and humanitarian.

This all came about because Carver’s love for God’s creation powerfully expanded his world. Carver saw nature as “an unlimited broadcasting system, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.”

Any life was a wonder to him, and it never lost that wonder even as he learned deeply about it and understood its workings. Like earlier scientists, Carver saw the intricacies of nature as an argument for God instead of against Him. God had put these wondrous workings in order.

Carver nearly always sported evidence of this respect and wonder in his lapel, where a flower usually resided. He studied birds, plants, even fungi ... and was a student of God’s greatest creation, human beings.

Carver’s interest in people was far from merely academic. He garnered great knowledge, then turned that knowledge to the greater good, helping people profoundly along the way.

“It is not the style of clothes one wears, neither the kind of automobile one drives, nor the amount of money one has in the bank, that counts,” Carver said. “These mean nothing. It is simply service that measures success.”

Indeed, if an individual became a willing servant, helping people, Carver respected that as the highest form of accomplishment. And though he had multitudes of successes in his life, he measured up in the service category consummately. He practiced what he preached.

Carver also led the way in another Christian virtue. Though he had plenty to be proud about, he opted for a humble perspective. “I am no great person. I am no great scientist,” he said. “I have only been able to point the way in a few things. ... I am only the trailblazer.”

Tuskegee Institute in Alabama was one of the institutions created after the Civil War to educate African-Americans. Tuskegee President Booker T. Washington asked Carver to come there and teach. Carver spent most of his adult life in this role despite job offers that would have paid much more. (Thomas Edison offered him a $100,000-a-year position.) It was from Tuskegee that Carver blazed most of his trails.

And his humility was rightly directed. Every time Carver was honored for some breakthrough or service, he pointed to God as the source of everything he had done. “Without God to draw aside the curtain,” he said, “I would be helpless.”

People often wrote Carver letters with questions, to which he always responded, never thinking of charging for his time.

“If I know the answer,” he said, “you can have it for the price of a postage stamp. The Lord charges me nothing for knowledge, and I will charge you the same.”

Carver wrote many other letters, such as the one in 1922 to a student who gave him a gift. In the letter Carver offered as advice a list of virtues for “a lady or a gentleman”:

1. Be clean inside and out.

2. Neither look up to the rich or down on the poor.

3. Lose, if need be, without squealing.

4. Win without bragging.

5. Always be considerate of women, children and old people.

6. Be too brave to lie.

7. Be too generous to cheat.

8. Take your share of the world and let other people have theirs.

In closing, he advised, “May God help you carry out these eight cardinal virtues.”

How did Carver navigate all the challenges of his life and come out on top of the educational, scientific, and human compassion heap?

“The Lord has guided me,” he frequently emphasized. Carver’s favorite Bible passage echoed where his source of strength was: “I will lift up my eyes to the hills — from whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1,2, NKJV).

And he often said, “Without my Savior, I am nothing.”

Carver’s assessment of an individual’s reason for being is found in these words he spoke: “No individual has any right to come into this world and go out of it without leaving behind him distinct and legitimate reasons for having passed through it.”

When Carver died in 1943, his legacy clearly measured up to the standard he had set. His life had been used for breakthroughs in race relations, education and science. Carver’s accomplishments benefited mankind and unashamedly pointed the way to Christ.

KEN HORN is editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.


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