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By Joan Hershberger

As a staff writer and page composer for special sections at the daily newspaper, I knew we had problems. In recent years, I watched the number of pages decline due to lack of ads. The advertising sales staff changed frequently as eager new employees quickly lost interest. With so many changes, new employees rarely stayed long enough for me to learn their names.

One night I prayed intensely before going back to sleep. I began praying every day. As I walked in each morning, I detoured through the advertising department and silently prayed for each salesperson by name, asking God to bless them. Nothing fancy – just a sentence or two for each person. Then I settled at my desk to write local copy for special inserts such as Back to School, Weddings, Veterans Day, Graduation and the weekly education section. Each depended heavily on ads for the number of pages published.

Management hired me with the admonition, “Fill the pages with local stories.” I asked God to provide the pictures, people and stories I needed to fill those pages. The first year I did the annual Newspapers in Education section, it was a twelve page tab – a half sized paper. Students from area schools designed ads for individual businesses. Elementary students wrote cute recipes, colored NIE (Newspapers in Education) pictures and wrote essays for contests.

The number of phone calls needed to encourage schools to participate and submit on time challenged my introverted nature. I had not trained to be a newspaper writer, or page designer. I learned on the job through trial and error. As I worked, I realized how heavily advertising influenced the number of pages published. As I prayed for the newspaper, more ads were sold for special sections, opening more pages for me to fill.

The ad manager tracked the number of ads sold. Through the years, the ads increased and the number of pages I needed to fill also slowly increased for each section. The 12-page NIE tab gained new ads every year until we peaked at 64 ads in a broad sheet special section. The graduation section left me gasping at the task of adequately covering all the county schools.

The weekly education news began with a couple pages. It expanded to four pages, six and finally eight pages. I scrambled at times to meet back-to-back deadlines until the manager said, “We won’t add more pages. It’s too hard on Joan.”

As my retirement neared, meeting those deadlines exhausted me. I asked to leave special sections and cover a beat. Without the pages to do, I did not think about ads as much nor did I pray as often for the advertising staff. The last year I worked at the paper, I overheard a conversation with the business manager and a sales person.

“How many ads have been sold for the Newspaper in Education section?”

“We sold 48.”

The manager’s eyebrows rose at the significant drop in one year.

God said pray. I prayed. Ads overflowed until my prayers faded.

In retirement, I noted the nationwide decline in papers reflected in my former paper. The weekly education pages shrank to one page and then disappeared. The NIE weekly paper returned to tab size with few participating students or schools.

After retirement from the paper, my focus changed to prayers for our shrinking church. Those prayers increased as the Covid-19 quarantine shut the doors and a new, inexperienced pastor entered the scene. Slowly, we have seen changes in staff, programs and attendance. Young families now dominate our once gray-haired congregation. The oldest serving elder recently said, “I looked around the congregation today and I did not recognize very many people. That’s a good thing.”

God answered prayers only as fast as the staff and elders could keep pace. As we acquire the skills and people willing to serve, He adds a bit more and folks serve a bit more – just as it happened at the newspaper. There was no way I could have initially managed all the work I ultimately did in special sections. However, since my work increased slowly, I acquired more efficient ways to interview, write and lay-out pages.

God had told me to pray. I thought He just meant for the newspaper, but He has shown me that the persistent, effectual prayer of the righteous avails much at work, church or anywhere He leads us to serve.

Joan Hershberger lives in southern Arkansas with her husband. As retirees, they travel to several states to visit their six children, 18 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren. She enjoys sewing for Operation Christmas Child, writing a weekly column for the area newspaper and encouraging participation in a weekly prayer group.