Tommy Thompson Bio 8 Beyond Chitina

CHAPTER 8

Beyond Chitina

Using Chitina as our center of operations, we reached out to other villages. Tetlin was about 150 miles away on one of two reservations in Alaska. We had to drive to the Alaska Highway, and then hire a bush pilot to fly us to the village. Jimmy Henry, who was saved many years before through Harold Richards’ preaching, lived in this village. It was Jimmy who wrote and invited us to come.

Peter Joe, the village chief, greeted us warmly. “You are welcome,” Chief Peter said. “I am happy you are bringing church to my people.”

He opened his cabin for gospel meetings and allowed us to sleep in the cabin belonging to the Episcopalian bishop. We had Bible school every day with the children. During the gospel meetings the people gave good attention. A few professed salvation.

The chief came during the day and we had long talks. He would tell the story of his people as far back as 400 years, and it was most interesting. I told him my story of the Son of God and His love in coming to die for our sins. I used imagery he could relate to, such as “trail” instead of “the way.” One day Chief Peter declared, “I’m on the right trail now!”

He seemed to have a grasp of the gospel of Christ and I feel certain he got saved. In subsequent visits to Tetlin, Chief Peter showed he was truly saved.

Once I noticed he only brought in one log at a time to burn in his heating stove. “Why do you bring in only one log for heat at a time?” I asked. “I have to stack up many logs for my wife to use.”

“Only need one, for I might die,” was his answer. “But, if you die, what will your wife do?” I wanted to know. “Oh, she can get her own,” he said with a smile. I laughed. That would have never done with my Sadie.

When the Lord works, the devil is busy trying to hinder. But many times, those who are supposed to be Christian workers put up enough roadblocks and engage in turf wars over the gospel so that all Satan has to do is sit back and watch.

School was out early, so I had children’s meetings each day and gave them memory verses to learn. The bishop wrote me forbidding me to enter ‘his’ area again. I wrote back suggesting that he should be ashamed to admit being in that area for so long yet even the chief was not saved, but now he and others were.

Another time, I arrived and the first cabin I visited belonged to Alfred. He looked sad. I asked him what the matter was. “We have all fallen out of the nest,” Alfred said, glumly. He meant that there were many villagers who lost their salvation.

Further inquiry revealed that a Pentecostal preacher went into Tetlin, again. He had sowed seeds of doubt in their minds. I opened my Bible to Hebrews 7:25 and asked Alfred to read it.

“Who is able to save?” I asked Alfred. “God,” he said, looking at the passage.

“Do you know what ‘uttermost’ means?” I asked. I explained that it means salvation is assured right up into heaven. The joy returned to Alfred and others who were saved but had been discouraged. I heard that Alfred would tell others about being “saved to the utmost.”

We made many visits to Tetlin. One winter Harold Richards and I were there. We got news that our airplane could not come to pick us up. We decided to walk the 14 miles out to the Alaska Highway. Jimmy Henry went out the night before and we were to follow his dog-sled tracks. He left a good trail, even breaking branches at points where the trail divided so we would know which path to take. We made good time. Harold and I took turns in the lead and that seemed to help our progress.

Coming to the river, Jimmy’s sled tracks appeared to cross over it. Unknown to us the river was open along its edges. Gingerly, Harold stepped on the frozen river. He hadn’t taken more than a couple steps on the ice when it gave way and he sunk up to his knees in the icy water. I was close enough to pull him out before he went any further in, but his lower legs were soaking wet.

We prayed for the Lord’s help. “Lord, you took the Israelites over the Red Sea and the Jordan,” I prayed aloud. “When we find a safe place to cross, give me the peace (Col 3:15) of assurance in my heart.”

Harold followed like one of the mixed multitude. I cut down a tree branch for testing the ice. We traveled quite a way downriver when I finely felt assured we could cross at a certain spot. With my rod-of-Moses tree branch, I tapped and walked, carefully but with faith, out onto the frozen river. About halfway across, I turned around to check on Harold. He wasn’t behind me. I looked in the distance and saw him on the river bank, looking anxious.

“That is scriptural, too, Harold,” I shouted. “The Israelites stood still on the banks of the Jordan, but God brought them over. Come with me, because the Lord told me to cross here.”

With concern painted across his face, Harold took a deep breath and crossed over in my footprints. We both made it across, safely this time. But then we had to make our way back upriver to catch up with Jimmy’s tracks from the night before. With no path outlined “we walked by faith”. It was a difficult trek. Finally, we came to Jimmy’s tracks.

We were both physically spent; Harold especially so. We hiked on. We arrived at Midway Lake. As we started crossing over the frozen lake, we began to feel very tired and sleepy. This was a sign that hypothermia was setting in. I foolishly took out some prunes and ate them with snow. This was like throwing cold water on a fire because the energy consumed by my mouth to melt the snow actually decreased my body temperature.

We couldn’t walk more than a few yards at a time before feeling compelled to sit and rest. As we rested, we felt like falling asleep. We were in a very dangerous and potentially perilous condition. We were sitting by the trail dozing off again, when I felt someone shaking me awake.

“Thompson, wake up! Brother Richards, wake up!” It was Jimmy Henry. He had been on his dog sled looking for us all day. When he saw us, he came and loaded us both on his sled and his powerful dog-team pulled us to his cabin. Before long we were wrapped in blankets sitting by the roaring stove in his cozy cabin, drinking hot tea while our wet clothes dried. I could not help but praise God who had saved Jimmy’s soul and then used Jimmy to save our lives. But not only that, Jimmy gave us a gift of $5 out of his earnings from his fur trap-line.

I have spoken before of the interference we received from those who were ostensibly supposed to be helping the local population. It happened in Tetlin, too. Once in late autumn, the village schoolteacher scheduled a movie to be shown at the same time as our previously-scheduled gospel meeting. We decided to go, too. The machine would not work. We all waited for quite a while as he fussed and fidgeted with the movie projector, trying to fix it. Finally, I told him, “This machine will not work.” I announced that we could all go over to Chief Peter’s house for a gospel meeting.

During this same visit, I went to see a native family. Inside their cabin, the young daughter had open sores nearly three inches in diameter. My heart went out to her. I sought out the schoolteacher who, as the U.S. government representative, had access to information and resources that might bring some relief to the sick family. I wondered whether it would expedite things if we flew the child out with us for medical care.

“Leave her alone,” the teacher said rather gruffly. “Her father died with tuberculosis and so will she.”

I went to Chief Peter with my idea to evacuate the little girl. He had no problem giving me permission. In spite of the teacher’s antics, I asked him to fly the mother and sick little girl out to the highway. He grudgingly agreed to do so. On his return, I asked him to take us out, too. After he had taken off with us inside, he turned around and, over the noise of the engine, said, “New winter rates today!”

He charged us double the price. I warned him that the money we used was really the Lord’s money, but he didn’t seem fazed by that We paid the double fare and he flew us to the highway The good news was that the sick little girl got the help she needed.

Unfortunately, after the schoolteacher returned to the village, after leaving us at the highway, he crashed his airplane and was forced to make some very expensive repairs. Can a man rob God? The schoolteacher found out that the answer is “no”.

The Indians had dogsled races in the winter. I would go to the races and conduct gospel meetings at night afterwards inside cabins. We had some good meetings. I slept in a tent and used a Yukon Stove for heat. Taking another lesson from the native ways, I weaved evergreen branches like a carpet and put them on the floor. It was almost comfortable.

Mentasta Lake was another village in which I ministered. In 1955, Sadie, the children and I made our first visit there and were received kindly. This village was 200 miles from Chitina and six miles from the main road.

We started off conducting gospel meetings in Katie John’s cabin. As a mother and grandmother, Katie John was a well-respected  village elder. The meetings were very well attended - too well, in fact. I soon saw that we needed a better place to have meetings.

I made a proposal to the village men. If they would harvest the logs - easy for them to get - I would supply everything else and we would build a combination schoolhouse-Gospel Hall. The natives were thrilled with the prospect of a school in the village. Like all cultures, Alaska natives love their children. Until then, the Mentasta Lake children had to leave home and attend a centralized school for that area. As the children entered high school, they had to go as far away as southeastern Alaska.

I approached the territorial government’s educational authorities with the proposal. Since there were more that 10 children in the village, they agreed to a school. A teacher whom I led to the Lord had a current teaching certificate. He gladly went to teach. So, it was not long before the proposed building took shape and became a reality.

It was a good building and quite warm in the winter, too. We bought an old trailer and placed it next to the building to stay in when we visited. God blessed even further when the government authorities said they would pay us $400 per month to rent the school. I turned over this income to the village leaders to be used for their needs.

God worked in the salvation of several women, including Katie John. Some men were saved, too.

One day before eating my lunch I went for a brisk walk. It was 30 degrees below zero. Suddenly, a little girl ran out of her cabin with her clothes ablaze. Apparently in an effort to get warm, she had gone too close to the stove and her clothes caught fire. I immediately rolled her in the snow and extinguished the flames.

I remembered that earlier some men had been drinking tea from a pail. I rushed and grabbed the pail, steeped a pair of long- john underwear in the tea, and wrapped the girl inside the long- johns. I called out to the men to get one of their trucks started, not quickly or easily done in sub-zero temperatures. Katie John held the child and I marshaled the men to climb on the truck i: with shovels. It had snowed about 10 inches since the last time the road was cleared. When the truck got stuck in the snow, the men got out and cleared the way.

We reached the main road six miles away and went into Mentasta Lodge. I phoned Dr. Pinneo in Glenallen and he agreed to meet us at Chistochina Lodge further down the road. We made good time, except a large moose lumbered across the road and we missed it by inches. At Chistochina Lodge, the lodge owner kept her electric blanket turned on all day. She let us use her private, warm bedroom. It was only minutes before Dr. Pinneo and a nurse from a Christian mission came. I hugged them as they took over.

After examining the injured girl and administering some palliative measures, the doctor made contact with the U.S. Army.  They were having winter training near that area. The Army mobilized a helicopter to the lodge and flew the child to Anchorage. By 6 p.m. that same evening, the little burn victim was in good hands.

When we finally returned to Mentasta Village, I conducted a gospel meeting. A man and his wife were saved. After I finally climbed into bed, I could not stop crying tears that were a mixture of relief and praise to the Lord.

On another of my visits to Mentasta Lake, I went to see some natives who had set up a camp while they were trapping for muskrats. One of them, Oscar, an elderly Christian man, told me he would come to the gospel meetings. “I come,” he said, “after I visit my trap lines.”

I asked him if I would be bringing his wife to the gospel meeting. “I don’t know, Thompson,” he said. “She don’t hear good.”

After Oscar went off to check on his trap line, I went to his cabin to introduce myself to his wife. As I spoke to her, I was surprised to find that she seemed to hear me just fine. I invited her to the gospel meeting and she came.

Later, I told Oscar that, contrary to what he told me, his wife did not seem to have any hearing problem that I could discern. Oscar responded by quoting John 5:24. “He that hears my word, and believes on him that sent me, has everlasting life,” Oscar said. “You see? My wife, she don’t hear good!” I laughed and finally understood. Oscar meant that his wife was not saved.