A Mother’s Faith

We help families tell their stories.


This story was told by Joseph Kern about an experience he had when he was 11 years old, around the year 1900.

He lived with his family in Lichtental, Russia, near the western shore of the Black Sea.

His grandfather and grandmother were farmers.

They had a beautiful daughter named Johanna Carolina. She raised her own large family in the same farming community that she grew up in. You can see Joseph and his beautiful mother tending the horse by the hay.

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Lichtental had a community garden where everyone had a section that they farmed.

Joseph and his brothers were sent by their mother to get some watermelon from their garden. They would take a horse and wagon.

They felt important, hitching the horse and wagon and driving it by themselves to the edge of town.

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The garden was guarded to make sure that people harvested only from their own patch. On this day, the guard’s young nephew was at the patch, showing off a new gun.

He came over, strutting about with the gun. He felt important too, imaging that he would be a hero, guarding the garden from robbers!


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Joseph and his brothers talked with him for a bit.

Then he demanded, “Get out of here or I’ll shoot you!”

Joseph angrily replied, “I don’t have to get out, this is my property, too. We are here for our own watermelon, and you can’t stop us!”

The boy shouted, “I could shoot you!”

Joseph challenged him, “You wouldn’t dare!”

Joseph didn’t believe the boy would shoot him, because they knew each other, and the boy knew that he and his brothers were not robbers. But Joseph didn’t understand that the boy wanted to use the gun, and wanted to be a hero.



two faces

Just then, Joseph heard a noise and turned. There was a very loud BANG! and Joseph felt himself pushed over by the force.

He was hit in the upper arm by a bullet that went through his arm, shattered into pieces and entered his side. Joseph dropped to the ground, screaming. The boy ran off.


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Others from the garden ran over and loaded Joseph into the wagon. His brothers hurried home with him lying in the back. The ride seemed so much longer now because every bump in the road caused pain. He worried that he would not get help in time.

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When his mother saw him, covered in blood, she let out a cry. She knew he needed to see the doctor. They left him in the wagon, and he was taken another 9 long and painful miles to the hospital. It was late in the day, hours after he had been shot, when they finally arrived.


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After examining him, the doctor said that the wound in his side would heal, but the arm would have to be amputated. He said there was no blood getting to it and that it would get infected and kill him. Even if he recovered, the arm would not grow, and would be shrivelled and useless. The arm should be removed now so that it didn’t get worse.

Joseph could not believe what he was hearing and that his life had changed so suddenly. He said to his mother, “Pray that I die, because I don’t want to walk around with one arm.”


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Joseph’s mother begged that they could wait until the next day before amputating Joseph’s arm.

The doctors said that they would wait until morning. An infection would not develop in the next few hours. It was late.

His mom fasted and prayed by his bedside all night long. That is a long time to pray, but she was desperate for her child, and she believed that her prayers would be heard by God.


5 Sick night

In the morning the doctor came to remove the arm. After examining it, he said, “We don’t have to amputate. Mrs. Kern, a miracle has happened.”

The bone in Joseph’s arm had not been hurt, and blood had started flowing to the arm below the wound.


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Joseph’s arm hurt badly for months. It took a long time to heal. But it did not become infected and it grew normally, was strong and there was no lasting harm. Joseph lived with that arm to be one month short of 101 years old.

His mother, Carolina, was known as a ‘healer’ and was often called for when people were sick. Her faith and prayers were a great blessing to many people.

Carolina Kern and Husband

This is a photo of Joseph’s mother, Johanna Carolina, and her husband, Johann Friedrich Kern. Joseph’s mother is much older in this photo than when the story happened.

Joseph & Pauline Kern

This is a photo of Joseph Kern and his wife Pauline. This photo was taken many years after the story when Joseph had children and even grandchildren of his own! He is 87 years old in this photo, and the arm that you see is the arm that was shot in the watermelon patch.


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written and illustrated by Ed Britton