Tommy Thompson Bio 11 Anchorage

CHAPTER 11 Anchorage

Anchorage sprang up in 1915 first as a tent city around a landing at the mouth of Ship Creek. The federal government had selected the site for the headquarters for the construction of the Alaska Railroad. It was no sooner founded when suddenly there was a population of 2,000 people. Anchorage has been an expanding boomtown ever since.

By the beginning of the 1960s, defense spending to develop Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson Army Post had caused the population to grow exponentially: more than 40,000 people had moved to Anchorage over the previous two decades. The greater metropolitan population today approaches 300,000 people, nearly half the population of the entire state. Anchorage has been the largest city in Alaska since the late l940s,

Anchorage’s population is cosmopolitan. It has always acted like it was a city three or four times its actual size. However, since its economy is based on the military, and industries like fishing, oil, and tourism, it is a very transient place and this made for instability even in the Lord’s work.

When we moved to Anchorage, at first we rented a small cabin and started reaching out to the community with the gospel message. True to his word, John Martin helped us get the piece of land on which we later made our home.

“I know that you live by faith,” he said. I had never told him anything about my support. “Whatever the Lord gives you as a deposit on the land, I’ll accept.”

I saved up $100 dollars and he gladly took this. The Lord enabled us to pay him the remainder within a year. Being familiar with the Army surplus operations I purchased a quarter of a surplus wooden building from a man who bought a whole H-shaped building with heating and plumbing in the center. I bought the 20 x 14 ft bare piece that he cut off the end, no windows, doors, or insulation just an empty shell. I got it moved onto our property for $150. It was with gusto we worked on this project and soon the building was livable, but without water or sewage. We made do in ways we had learned while living in Chitina.

Of course, money was tight. We committed our needs to the Lord. I still drove up to the Alaska interior to visit the villages with the gospel. On one trip on my way back, the fuel gauge in my car displayed “empty.” I prayed to the Lord to get me home, which he did. Sadie met me with a big smile. “Guess what’s in this letter?” she asked, waving an envelope back and forth in her hand. “1 don’t know,” I said, taking the letter to read it.

A certain Mr. Champ from Canada had sent a gift of $400, an enormous sum especially in those days. In the accompanying letter, he wrote about having heard about us, but none of the resources for communicating funds knew us or listed our address. Mr. Champ had persevered for several weeks until he learned where we were and he sent the gift “hoping it would meet your needs”.

Meet our needs it did. We installed windows and siding for the outside of the house, (both essential in Alaska winter climate). We were able to put in a floor oil-heater. This we felt made the house more respectable looking to invite people to Gospel meetings.

I started to dig a well for water in our front yard. It proved tough going because of ‘hardpan’ so I had dug only waist deep in half a day! It was nearly as hard as cutting logs for our cabin in Chitina!

John Henry Graham, our neighbour who owned some apartments next door to our house, came and asked me what I was doing digging in my yard. When I told him, he laughed and said, “Just dig under my apartments and hook into the water system.” His well was 75 feet deep with really good water. I was so happy to do so. I made a watertight wooden box of planks wrapped in plastic, and insulation with a thaw wire around the copper pipe. Soon we had water in the house. From then on, whenever we used the water even for a cup to drink, we thanked the Lord who had provided an Elim indeed.

I also dug a sewer system in the back garden, making first a large 9 x 9 ft hole 12 ft deep. I then cut logs 9 ft long and made a cess pool and lowered this into the hole. Then I made a ditch for the sewer pipe and all was ready to have a flush toilet. I went over and brought the old bathtub from the Chitina cabin. I found some used plumbing parts at an old abandoned Air Force base building up in Tok area. When I went to pay John Henry each month, he told me to keep the money. “The water costs me nothing,” he said. “Use as much as you need!”

When natural gas was made available in the city, many people switched to using it instead of oil for heating. A man called Gene owned a trailer park and converted everything there over to natural gas. While I was picking up his daughter for Sunday School one morning, Gene approached my car. “Do you have any use for my old water boiler?” he asked. I accepted the whole unit and hauled it to our house. My experience in past jobs came in handy and I was able to install the boiler. I gathered some old pipes from a disused Army barracks. Soon I had the boiler supplying hot water heating throughout the whole house. It also supplied hot water through the faucets for cooking, bathing, dish washing and such things. How good is the God we adore!

Having shepherded the Indian saints after they left Chitina, I gathered those who lived in Anchorage and began with gospel meetings in our home. The Lord blessed and we saw souls saved. I then felt free to gather the saints who had come from Chitina, and we also began the Breaking of Bread and all the other services in our home. Greatness is not the place or numbers but the presence of the Lord in the midst (Matthew 18:20). The Lord blessed increasingly.

Needing more room for visitors I approached the American Legion about use of their large hall. They granted permission to use it on Sundays from 6 am. to 2 pm. Going from door to door with invitations to Bible Class and Sunday School the attendance increased, with some parents attending. We continued using the American Legion hail and our home for the assembly meetings until we built our own Gospel Hall.

As door-to-door visitation continued, the witness became better known. All the believers in the assembly began reaching out, too. A girl named Rebecca became our first convert - she was brought by Alice Billum, a Chitina believer. Everyone worked together and soon young men from the Army & Air Force bases began attending.

Air Force Sergeant Robert “Bob” Denyer and his wife Esther were a special blessing to the assembly. They put their hearts into the work. Bob was treasurer and cleaned the Gospel Hall; Esther was an excellent young children’s Sunday School teacher.

On Friday nights, we went downtown and conducted open-air gospel meetings after having the children’s meeting. We preached to crowds of people who were there to “cruise the bars and have a good time” as they called it. One night a big man lumbered up to me as I preached and swung his fist at me. “Shut up!” he bellowed. I neatly ducked under his arm and kept on preaching, using him as an example of the type of people God’s grace can save. Well, this enraged the big man. But, suddenly, another man intervened and warned the big man to leave. With barely a murmur, the big man spun on his heel and disappeared. So did the other man. I have wondered since if the other man was an angel. Perhaps!

Happy days of fellowship were blessed by the Lord with a good number of souls being saved. Psalml33:1 says, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” Unity of saints commands a blessing by the Lord.

We needed a place more convenient for the assembly work that was taking place. I heard about a suitable piece of property located near the intersection of Northern Lights Boulevard and C Street, just a couple blocks from our house.

When passing through Chigago, Mr Bill McCartney, an Ulster man who founded the Stewards’ Foundation, told me they would help with a building if needed. Application for their help was made to Bill, and it was graciously granted. The Lord enabled us to repay the loan in a short time.

I made a bid for a surplus Army building, but lost the bid by a slender margin. In a way, we were relieved because we really did not have the money in hand to cover the bid. We were a bit mystified about God’s timing when, just a day after we lost the bid, we received a significant monetary gift that would have more than covered it. Then two days after the bids closed, we got a call from the Army. “Mr. Thompson,” the officer said, “We apologize for the mistake. You actually won the bid. Your bid was $6 above the other bid.” Faith was honored by the Lord. That two-day “lapse” was a mystery no longer. Now we had the money to not only cover our bid, but enough to pay for moving the old surplus motor workshop to our lot on Blueberry and Northern Lights Boulevard.

Bob Denyer was allowed by the Airforce to have leave for non— profit work. He and I worked day and night with help from some of the other saints when they had time. The assembly soon moved into an attractive Gospel Hall. Our young Billy and Brian did what they could. Bob Denyer and I made a good team on a number of projects. In his spare time Paul Hammon contributed his skills as a carpenter. Without a doubt, the Lord was working in and through His assembly.

We continued to have a good response to our door-to-door outreach efforts, most of the time. Knocking at a door just three houses from the Hall, a man opened the door and aimed a gun at my face. His face was ugly with hate: “Getaway from my door or I’ll shoot you.” I was frozen with shock at first, but God delivered me, one shaken preacher!

The Lord saved a good number of people from all kinds of ethnic backgrounds. One was Dick Washington. Dick, who is black, was born and raised in College Station, Texas. As a young man, he and his cousin drove to Alaska to seek their fortunes. He found his fortune by opening one of the first dry cleaning businesses in Anchorage. He called it Peacock Cleaners. Its motto was “The cleaner with a thousand eyes”. By the early 1960s, Dick was making good money and was a popular person. He drove a big expensive white car. He smoked cigars and was “a real man about town”. The Washington children began attending our children’s meetings. Dick’s wife, Ethel, started coming, too. She would say, “Pray for my Richard.” She was saved as a 16 year old girl. Soon she came into fellowship.

I tried to visit Dick, but had no success in getting an audience with him. Then I learned that on Thursday evenings Dick climbed into bed early with a half-gallon of ice cream and a big cigar, and settled in to watch “Gun-smoke” on the television. I timed my arrival just as his TV program started.

“Is your Daddy at home?” I asked when his daughter Jackie answered the door. “Yes,” she exclaimed, excited to see me. “But he is in bed!” I went into his bedroom and there he was, nestled in for his entertainment. I deliberately positioned myself between him and the TV set. As he leaned from side to side to get a clear view past me, I just kept moving between him and the screen. “Mr. Washington, I know you are a man of your word, and I don’t want to stop you from enjoying ‘Gun- smoke,” I said to him. “So, I’ll be going if you promise to come to the gospel meeting on Sunday night to hear Gordon Reager and me preaching.” Well, needless to say, Dick quickly promised to come to the meeting. I left him to enjoy his show. I don’t think I was in his bedroom more than just a couple minutes.

Dick did attend, just as he promised. And he came back the next night to hear more. As he was leaving the gospel meeting, he shook my hand, looking me square in the eye and saying, “Tommy, I have done what you guys said.” Dick Washington had been saved. This turn of events was hard for Ethel to believe. You see, her husband was quite a man-about-town, and she was going to watch carefully to see if his conversion was true. Usually each morning Dick arranged four cigars in his breast pocket before he went over to his dry cleaning operation. The morning after he got saved, he went to work and left the cigars behind. Ethel brought them over to him at work. “Ethel, I don’t need them anymore,” he told her. “I’m saved.”

Since then, Dick Washington has become one of the most respected, faithful and well-loved brothers in the assembly. He never misses a meeting. Well into his 80s, he still runs Peacock Dry Cleaners and works from 6 am. to 8 pm. daily, except on Wednesdays when at 7:30 pm. he arrives for the Bible Reading and Prayer Meeting.

Another outstanding conversion was Joe Eskilada, one of the men I first met in the bottle-strewn abandoned rail car in Chitina. He got hurt in a car accident and was brought into the Alaska Native Hospital in Anchorage. With no chance to drink alcohol, Joe sobered up to the point where I could visit and speak to him about the provision God made for him in Christ, His Son, who died that we may live.

After Joe was discharged from the hospital, he came to the Anchorage meetings faithfully with his sister Hattie Mack who was also from Chitina and a dear sweet child of God. A young airman named Wally had recently got assurance of salvation while attending Gospel meetings I shared with Leonard Mullan, missionary to Japan. After one meeting Wally turned to Joe and asked, “Are you saved?” The weight of conviction became too much for Joe, and he broke down and cried out for God to save him. Joe became a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. I got him a job with a Christian builder named Carl Rylander. “I wish I had ten Joes,” Carl told me one day. “He is such a good worker.”

Many others were saved whose stories thrill my soul. Through circumstances, Master Sergeant Milton Rowcroft was appointed by a military chaplain to teach a Sunday School class. Milton was ignorant of any truth. His wife, who had been saved through our preaching, told him she could get a man to help him and called on me. “Don’t try to teach me that Jesus is the Son of God,” Milton warned me at our first meeting. “Could I then just tell you why I believe He is?” I said. “OK,” he said, reluctantly. Pointing out this precious truth from the Bible, I commenced teaching Milton the gospel of grace, and gave him lessons which he could teach his class. One night, I went to his house and found Milton weeping, his head bowed down on the dining room table. “I’m an unworthy sinner and don’t deserve to be saved!” he cried. God graciously saved him that night.

Another blessing was the conversion of Air Force Sergeant Dale reen and his wife, June. Years before, as June’s mother was dying  she made June put her hand under her hip (like Abraham ad done with his servant in Genesis 24) and asked her to vow ever to leave the Baptist church. Dale and June were heavy inkers. One day some Mormons visited her at home and confused her. A neighbour told June to send for me. I met the rtee1s and they both agreed to come to the Sunday evening ospel meeting. “Please come visit us,” Dale said after the eting. “I’ll be up tomorrow night.” I replied.

Monday night I went to their house and opened the Scriptures D John 1:10-13. Verse 13 says, “But as many as received Him, them gave He the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” The Lord used these words as I tried to explain to Dale and June how to be saved by believing rd receiving.

All of a sudden Dale said, “June, I just got saved!”

As he turned to his wife, his eyes flooded with tears. June began crying, too, and said, “And I was saved last night, and was afraid to tell you!”

They hugged each other and cried. The liquor was poured down the kitchen drain.

However remembering her vow, June called for the military thaplain, himself a Baptist. He advised her, “If you got saved here you should stay there.” So Dale and June entered the fellowship at the Northern Lights Boulevard Gospel Hall. After ie big earthquake of 1964 Dale’s unit was deployed back to Tennessee. The Lord increased the number in fellowship to 85. The judgment seat of Christ will reveal what was of God.

Our family increased too. On March 30, 1963, our fourth child, Brent, was born in Palmer, Alaska, on the day of our 17th wedding anniversary, and we rejoiced at the coming of another boy.

The old 1948 station wagon which we purchased in 1954 had us well. However it was nearing the end of its effectiveness. God again exercised John and Edith MacLelland to purchase another car through her brother Jim, and send it up to us. It was a lovely Packard. They had it driven to Seattle and I arranged for it to be driven up to Alaska.