Tommy Thompson Bio 7 Trials and Triumphs

CHAPTER 7

Trials and Triumphs

October 1955

We lived as a family before men, and God used our testimony to confirm our message. It was nice to see natives from far- flung villages come to hear the gospel. A little assembly of 18 believers gathered in the name of our Lord: a church had been planted in Chitina. Of course, Satan would have none of it, and enemies were soon manifesting themselves, often from the most unlikely sources.

The schoolteacher, who professed to be a Christian, accused me of condoning adultery because, according to him, Henry and Etta Bell were not lawfully married. After their salvation, the Bells had become precious followers of Jesus Christ and were in faithful fellowship in the young assembly. The Bells had several children together. According to their Indian tradition, they had appeared before the chief and village council and, upon receiving approval from them, were considered married. I took this as acceptable; but apparently it was not good enough for the schoolteacher.

During a Sunday morning Breaking of Bread service, the teacher walked around outside the meeting and caused confusion. He also wrote to a missionary called Mr. Crabb (whom I did not know) and accused me of condoning sin in the assembly. A couple months later, this missionary and another man came to investigate me. As a courtesy I explained to them my stand that the assembly was autonomous; we were responsible to the Lord alone and not governed by any outside influence. They seemed reluctant to agree with my conclusions.

The “investigators” stayed for the Breaking of Bread service. Obviously assuming that there would be no standards among the native believers for appearance in the Lord’s assembly in such a remote village, they attended the meeting in casual clothes. What a surprise they got when they saw the saints nicely dressed and functioning orderly. I never tried to make the native believers “Irishmen” nor force them into my “foreign” culture; but I never tried to make myself into the native culture, either.

Even though there were doctors in Glenallen, practically speaking they were very far away. As part of our preparations for going to Alaska, a kindly saint in Northern Ireland, Abby Booth, had given me a medical reference book. God enabled me to use homeopathic remedies on several occasions, to good result.

Sadie had mastitis with all the children, and it was no different with Barry. I used medicine according to the book. In three days she was healed. I used homeopathic remedies on several natives and some old prospectors. God used this to open a conversation with these old churlish men. When they wanted to pay, my only charge was that they let me speak to them for ten minutes. Of course I spoke of salvation.

O.A. Nelson had boils on his neck and I gave him some medicine that helped. In that way spiritual lessons from earlier years have a way of manifesting themselves in the later lives of reprobates. Nelson wisecracked: “I’m like your friend Job,” he said to me. I was not a bit surprised that Nelson knew about the biblical account of Job being covered in boils. Seizing the opportunit I turned the conversation to the gospel. “Mr. Nelson,” I responded. “Job knew the Lord as his Redeemer and worshipped Him. You are not like him because you neither believe on the Lord nor worship Him.”

The homoeopathy pills helped him. He had many contests with me, but the Lord always won.

There was the time when O.A. pressured the natives to sign a petition for his liquor license application. Pat Bell came to me to ask forgiveness for his having signed the petition.

“Pat, those who signed the petition were wrong,” I said. “How can you pray for your children’s salvation yet agree to allow liquor into the village? I can’t be with you if you do not get your names removed from that petition.”

The thought that he had offended God really rattled Pat. Word got around all the way up to 2nd Chief Goodlataw. The chief personally agreed to go 60 miles to the U.S. Marshal and cancel the native names. I drove him there.

After O.A. found out about this, he went on the warpath and evidently organized men to run me out of town. The native believers were scared and told me to hide. Instead, I decided to faceup to him. I walked right up to O.A. and told him he owned almost everything around Chitina and now he could have his own church when I sent to him all the counterfeit Christians who signed his liquor application. He relented and we shook hands. There were no hard feelings in that handshake.

The old bunkhouse was proving to be inadequate for the needs of our family. For one thing, it was very hard to keep warm in winter. The windows would get covered inside with thick frost. When the outside temperatures dipped below zero, the bunkhouse was cold and most uncomfortable. Once time the temperature went down to minus 70 below zero (Fahrenheit) and stayed there for several days. We could hear the nails in the walls literally pop in the wood. This was an urgent situation.

I made plans to build a cabin on a site I selected right next to the church building. Our native friends told us that the best trees for building a cabin could be found about four miles down the frozen Copper River. I set out in the car driving on the river to the place they described.

What a job! It took me most of the morning to cut down, delimb, and ease that first tree log down the steep slope to the river. My intention was to attach the tree to the car and drag it to the cabin site. But after just one tree I was exhausted.

The next day I used the car to haul two trees at a time. Soon I had figured out how to do the logging operation with greater efficiency, but twenty trees still took the entire day. Through sheer determination and strength from the Lord, I finally I got them all to the site.

I used big, wide trees for the foundation; these were called mudsills. They had to be laid just right on top of the ground. If I dug down and disturbed the permafrost, it would melt and the cabin would sink.

I laboured hard to finish the cabin. O.A came to see what I was doing. “Well, you’re not lazy,” was all he said before turning and walking away.

A short while later I heard the rumble of a big diesel engine. O.A. was driving his old Caterpillar tractor up the road. Without a word, he started clearing the brush and trees so we could see all around the cabin.

I found an old staircase, some old windows, an old bathtub, (everything was old in Chitina) and several other bits and pieces to put in the cabin. I used old rubber pipes to make plumbing and dug a French drain for drainage. We only had to buy flooring, roofing, tarpaper, nails and a few other things. One of the boys had been given a child-size “Handy Andy” tool kit. Despite their small size, the tools were amazingly well manufactured and I was able to use them for sawing, hammering and assembling the cabin. They don’t make toy tools like that today.

All totaled, the cabin cost $110. We still had to get our own drinking water from the creek, but finally we had our own little place and it was very comfortable, too.

Our first Christmas in Chitina we were short of funds. Sadie suggested we take the $10 we had and buy something for a Christmas dinner. When I walked through the door of O.A. Nelson’s battered old general store, he called out to me, “Thompson, Santa Claus left that box for you.” He waved in the direction of a box sitting on the counter.

“Who is the Santa Claus, Mr. Nelson?” I asked. “Just get it the hell out of here,” he said.

One of O.A’s many roles was that of postmaster. He knew everyone’s mail business. He also cashed our checks. Often we only received $10 a month. He knew we had had no Christmas mail.

When I got home and we opened the box, there was ample sufficiency for a good dinner, Tinker Toys for the boys and other goodies. “When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes his enemies to be at peace with him.” (Proverbs 16:7) God bent His heart towards us; O.A. was Santa Claus.

When earth’s created streams are dry
His fullness is the same
May I with this be satisfied,
And glory in His Name.

God replaced the adverse teacher. One morning he called for me because he was writhing in pain with some stomach ailment. Thinking he was about to die, he wanted me to forgive him for his actions against our ministry. I assured him that I had forgiven him, but told him that he should seek the Lord’s forgiveness. The teacher did not die, but he did move away.

A new teacher and his wife came. They were Christians. One day he gave us a nice, new oil space-heater that they did not need. This was a great blessing because it kept the cabin heated all the time and eased the burden of gathering wood and keeping the fire stoked. The oil space-heater allowed us to visit outlying villages together, assured that the cabin would not freeze while we were gone.

Many other experiences are fondly remembered. After Tom Bell was saved, he taught me how to determine “north” by cutting through a small tree and examining the rings inside its tree trunk. “Where they are narrow, that’s north,” he instructed me. “It gets no sun in the winter.” The knowledge about how to determine north by “reading” a tree got me out of a serious situation once when I got lost coming out of a village.

Tom also showed me how to prepare trees in spring before cutting them down as winter set in. This involved partially cutting around the trunk of the tree. By winter, the prepared trees would be weakened enough to make felling them much easier. I am sure some environmentalists today would frown on such practices, but we were not wasteful and prepared only a select few trees we would need, leaving plenty of others to grow and reproduce.

Sadie made lovely sandwiches for Tom and me that day he was teaching me about preparing trees. I splurged and bought two cans of Coca-Cola. After the trees were prepared, we sat down, gave thanks to the Lord for His provisions and shared the sandwiches for lunch. When I handed Tom a precious can of that rare Coca-Cola, he demurred.

“Too much like old thing!” he exclaimed in broken English. The can of soft drink was too much like the cans of beer he used to consume in excess before he was saved. A paraphrase and new application for Romans 14:21 immediately came to my mind, “....nor Coke whereby thy brother may stumble”. I turned around and threw the two cans into the creek. This was a good lesson on Christian liberty taught by Tom. A few days later I retrieved the cans of Coke to share with Sadie and the boys!

Bathing and washing was always an adventure We watched the natives and adopted their ideas We filled a large, empty drum with snow and placed it next to the house heater The melted snow made especially soft water. Sadie loved the nice soft water for washing her hair I found a zinc tub for bathing After everyone had been bathed, the bath water was used for washing clothes. This was a once-a-week chore. When baby Barry arrived, his cloth diapers were washed with the nice soft Water. We learned that we could freeze-dry the washed clothes and diapers in the winter by hanging them outside on a clothesline, they froze stiff as boards, but somehow the dampness evaporated”

As God used the preaching of the gospel to save souls, we were faced with the challenging task of teaching and discipling them. Here again we had much to consider with the differences in culture.

Since the Copper River was too swift and dangerous to use for baptisms, I dammed a little creek for use as baptismal waters. I lined up the new converts on one side bank of the creek. One by one, they would come down to where I would baptize them. Then they would ascend to the other bank of the creek. I used this bank-to-bank exercise as a visual demonstration of what baptism represented.

“When you are on one side, it is like before you were saved you were dead IN sin,” I told them. “Jesus died, was buried, and then rose again. When you go under the water, it is a picture of the tomb you are buried in with Him, dead from your old life. Up and out to the other side, you all stand together after you are baptized. That is a picture that shows you are dead TO sin and alive in Jesus Christ.” Standing together, sopping wet on the other creek bank, they all understood this step.

The Lord led me to apply other events in their lives to illustrate meeting together and breaking bread in the Saviour’s name. I heard Henry Bell tell about a time he and Johnny Billum went moose hunting together. Henry sighted a moose, steadied his rifle and prepared to pull the trigger. Suddenly, even before he pulled the trigger, the moose fell down dead. Johnny had shot the moose from his angle several yards away.

It was a humorous story, but I saw the application in it. I pointed out to the new believers that both Henry and Johnny had the same aim. “When we all have Jesus as our aim,” I taught, “We will all come together unto the Lord, but not the moose.”

They laughed but understood the concept of Christian unity right away. What a joy to see for the first time a testimony raised to the Lord’s name by these saints in these remote parts of Alaska where Satan had held sway for years. Many precious times were spent like this around the Lord.

Henry got a job over 150 miles away working on a road crew. He came back to Chitina late Saturday nights to be at the Lord’s Supper remembrance feast. One time he came, dropped off his wife, Etta, and left.

“Is Henry not coming?” I asked Etta. “No, he’s not right,” she replied.

I waited for Henry to come back and stopped him. “Henry, why are you not coming in?”

He told me about an argument he had at work. “I said, ‘damn you’ to the man,” Henry confessed.

“Then what did you do?” I inquired. “Well, I said I was sorry.” “What else did you do?” “I asked the Lord to forgive me.”

“Did he?” “Yes,” Henry answered.

I then explained to him what “unworthy” meant. I asked him to read 1 Corinthians 11:28. “Let a man examine himself and so let him stay at home.’ Is that what it says, Henry?” I asked.

“No, Tommy,” Henry said, and a smile broke over his face as he realized that fellowship with the Lord and with His saints Was the goal of confession and self-examination. Henry had in his past life avoided these problems by getting drunk; now he was learning to face his weaknesses and find strength in the Lord. Henry came into the meeting to remember the Lord and the overflow of his heart in worship brought glory to God.

Another Sunday, Henry had decided he and Etta would go moose hunting. They went out into the woods, but decided to have their devotions before starting their hunt in earnest. That morning they read from Matthew 4:4, “Man shall not live by bread alone.” Henry looked at Etta and announced, “We go home, no moose today.” They made it in time for the service to remember the Lord. What glorious changes the Lord makes in lives obedient to His word.

Every once in a while, living in a strange culture and experiencing trials of several different kinds, would be discouraging, especially financial challenges. I remember a time when I left Sadie and the children alone to go to visit some villages. I left with a heavy heart. The car broke down - again - in the middle of nowhere.

Frustrated and feeling more than a bit sorry for myself, I cried to the Lord, “Please end my life right here Lord! I just don’t know what to do anymore!” It was autumn, so traffic was scarce on that road. Improbably, a small bus came along and stopped. It was full of clean, neatly-dressed friendly-looking people. They offered me a ride to where I could get help. Delighted, I hopped on board.

As I got to know them, it turned out they were all Mormons. For about an hour I shared the gospel with them. It’s a wonder they didn’t cast me out like the mariners did with Jonah. Afterwards, it seemed God said, “Get up and go to work and stop feeling sorry for yourself!”

Missionary work has its amusing side. Once I lost my wallet which had two $10 bills inside. The saints prayed and I searched over the places where I had walked, to no avail. Frankly, I was mystified because I really had not gone very far since the last time I remembered having the wallet.

Later that day, I went to the inside “bucket toilet” I had made for family comfort. As I began to sit down, I heard the “plunk” of something falling into the bucket. I quickly looked down into the bucket and saw that the pair of pliers I had in my pocket were now down inside. Well, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry because I knew then where my wallet was, but did not relish the idea of retrieving it. But retrieve it I had to, and did. Sadie and I washed the wallet and the $10 dollar bills, thanking the Lord for helping us find our lost treasure. We were low on groceries and that money was earmarked to fill up our pantry.

I went to O.A. Nelson’s general store. Old Clause, the clerk who worked behind the counter, must have suspected something was wrong with the bills. Maybe he heard that sometimes counterfeiters wash money to make it look authentic. I held my breath as Old Clause lifted the two bills up to the light. “These are old,” he said with a ‘sniff’ of authority “But OK  still.”

I bought $10.50 worth of groceries, and Old Clause handed me back $9.50 of clean change. When I got home and told Sadie about Old Clause examining those bills, we both laughed to tears. “Old?” Sadie howled with laughter. “I’ll say they were old. If only he knew!”

Furthermore, at the assembly prayer meeting when those who had prayed with me asked about the wallet, I told them the whole story. There was too much laughing to do much praying that night.

Another time the native men were bemoaning the fact they had taken no moose that season. I was no hunter, but I knew they tracked moose by looking for hoof prints. One morning when I went to the spring for water, I saw some large prints. I Ventured to tell the men that I knew where they could track a moose. Excitedly, I led them with their guns at the ready to the spring.

Proudly I pointed out the prints. 2nd Chief Joe came forward to see. He burst out laughing. Soon the other men looked at the tracks and started laughing, too. That wasn’t the reaction I expected.

I must have looked like the village simpleton standing there, pointing at my moose tracks, mouth open in confusion as to why they were laughing so hard. When their laughter finally subsided a bit and they had composed themselves, 2nd Chief Joe put his hand on my shoulder. “Thompson,” he said. “These tracks are from low bush moose.”

The tracks I thought were moose hoof prints were, in fact, tracks left by snow-shoe rabbits. “Low bush” was a reference to one of two types of cranberries that grow wild in Alaska; high bush cranberries grow on waist-high bushes, and low bush cranberries grow on shrubs low to the ground. The men did get some rabbits that day, but not the moose I had hoped they would find. From then on, those men called rabbits “Thompson’s Low Bush Moose.”

Times of shortage came often, but the Lord was faithful. Once when our food supply had dwindled to only one potato and a bar of baking chocolate, we were concerned about what to do. I had to go up the hill behind our cabin and cut wood. I took little Billy with me. Hearing a little squeak, I turned and saw a rabbit caught in an old snare. Now, in Northern Ireland, some of us thought of rabbits as vermin or pests, not as food, so both Sadie and I avoided eating rabbit. But looking at that rabbit caught in a snare, Acts 10:13 came to my mind. “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.”

Having never killed anything before, I could only think of what was called a “rabbit punch” which I think might be a boxing term. Regardless, I went over and knocked the rabbit on its head and killed it. Then I heard another little squeak. This time I turned around and saw little Billy crying. “Daddy, you killed the wee rabbit,” he whimpered.

Now I felt awful. Not knowing what to do with my long-eared prey, I asked a neighbor for help. He took the rabbit and skinned it for us. Sadie bravely cooked our meal using one potato and one rabbit. Gathered around the meal, we bowed as I gave thanks for it.

After we had finished the meal, I looked up at Sadie. I still felt terrible for having killed that poor creature, upsetting Billy in the process, and having to eat something we would have normally found inedible. Sadie looked at her plate, then looked at me and wiggled her nose like a rabbit. I stifled a laugh and reminded her that the Lord gave that rabbit to us.

“Look at your plate, you didn’t pick the bones either,” she said. “Besides, you did not give grace; you asked the Lord for grace to eat it.” Once again Sadie’s sense of humor had made our predicament laughable.

On another occasion when we had no money to buy food, I prayed, “Lord, Thou hast promised to supply all our need; and, Lord, if this promise fails, then so does John 3:16!” What a bold type of prayer!

The native people are not prone to give things away, but they are especially conservative with their own money. I had no sooner uttered that prayer when there was a knock on the door. I got up and opened the door to one of our native sisters in Christ. Without saying much - we were becoming used to that -  this dear lady handed me a $5 bill. Oh, how small I felt, and how humbled. To think that, even as I prayed, this dear lady was on her way to our cabin with the answer in her hand. Even now it brings tears to my eyes. There is not enough time for me to relate all the many gracious provisions of the Lord.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans l :16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” Paul had seen the gospel’s power in many changed lives. In Luke 14:21-24, the Lord also said, “Go out into the streets and lanes, the highways and hedges.” We were surely in the “hedges” of the world, and God’s invitation through the gospel message brought the poor, maimed, halt and blind into His feast of salvation. Just a few of those testimonies of salvation will suffice to show God’s power.

Sadie had girls’ sewing / knitting / Bible class on Friday nights. Several of these girls professed Christ as Saviour. When I started holding Sunday school, I tried to use the native people as far as possible. One day, the teacher for one of the older children’s classes did not show up. I asked one of the teacher’s children where her father was. Her answer showed how much I was ignorant of their culture. “My Dad is away hunting!” the little girl chirped. Provision for food had priority.

While visiting another village, FBI agents were there investigating about goods stolen from the schoolteacher’s house which belonged to the Federal government. One of the agents, an anthropologist by training, questioned the teacher about whether he had given things to the natives. The teacher confirmed that he had given things he thought they needed or that he did not need any more.

“That was your mistake,” the federal anthropologist told the teacher. “When you give away so much, they think you are being better than them. Allow them to work for any surplus you have. In their potlatch ceremonies they give away many things like blankets, guns, and furs. The longer a potlatch lasts and the more gifts given, the higher the giver rises in the estimation of the tribe.”

When I heard that, I then understood why the Lord had sent us to Chitina empty-handed with nothing more to give the people than the gospel. They knew we were not any better than they were, but even came and gave us many things as thanks “for coming and living with us”. I cried with joy at “being poor but making many rich”.

The devil was active in other ways. Once, a Pentecostal preacher came to view Chitina village. He told O.A. Nelson he could bring lots of money into the community. He wanted to buy land and build a church. O.A. was never one to turn away from making money, but something about that preacher must have rubbed him the wrong way.

“We have our own missionary and he lives by faith,” O.A. Nelson told the preacher, referring to me. “We don’t need you, so get the hell out of this town.”

Old O.A.’s treatment of the man was crude but effective. It gave a new meaning to the proverb, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Our boys were badly frightened by an atheistic man known as Alex. He would even verbally abuse Sadie in the general store. “You people can’t do anything with these savage Indians,” he growled at her. “This God of yours can’t do anything about them, either.”

He once chased Brian and Billy with a switchblade knife, shouting, “I’ll knife you, you wee Jesus boys.”

When I heard about that, I lost my patience with him. A few days later I saw him coming down toward his cabin.

“I’ll not kill him, Lord,” I prayed. “But just let me drop him into the creek with one good punch.”

Needless to say, the Lord did not give me permission to take such matters into my own hands, or fists as the case may be. I :didn’t touch Alex. It wasn’t long before he just stopped bothering any of us. That man died cursing God to his last breath.

Then there were the victories. George Brickle was a white man who was married to a very rough Indian woman named Suzie. They lived in a shack of a cabin about a half-mile down the old railway line. I went to visit and found him in a filthy condition, paralyzed by a severe stroke and neglected in every way. His hair covered his face and head like the mane of a lion. His mouth was caked with dried vomit. His speech was slurred.

I spent time with him over the next three days. I spoke of the grace of God and the love of Christ as I cut George’s hair, shaved him and generally cleaned him up. I gave him homeopathic tablets. He began uttering words of appreciation. George showed a deep interest in Christ’s death for sinners. He told me he was a veteran of both World Wars. He said Suzie intercepted his pensions and used the money to buy liquor, which she drank constantly.

I contacted the military veterans’ authorities and explained his condition. An Army helicopter was scheduled to pick him up. When George heard the news, he wept. “I have accepted Jesus for myself now,” he said. “I’m saved.”

The day of his departure I cleaned and dressed him, and brought him to the village centre. The villagers were amazed to see his transformation. I gave him a big hug and with tears of joy he was taken away by helicopter transport to the military hospital. “Delivered, by the power of God.”

John Stanfield was a white prospector who had married an Indian woman nicknamed Blind Fanny. He was a story in himself, but this time he was in trouble. I drove him 220 miles one winter, all the way to the Palmer hospital, because of his bleeding ulcer. The ulcer nearly killed him. It took over two months before I could return to Palmer and bring him back.

John and Blind Fanny lived on the opposite side of Lake Chitina. One night, the noise of a party at their cabin was so pronounced that we could hear it at our cabin. I went over and found a scene of drinking and immorality that was disgusting. I made my way into John’s cabin and warned him about his recent near- call with death. I also told the native revelers that God promised judgment on sin. They shouted me down. When one of them raised his hand to strike me, a local Chitina native man stopped him. “Don’t hit our missionary,” he warned the would-be assailant. Things were heating up.

Just then a big, native man grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and pushed me out the door. I thought about freeing myself (football shins etc) but instead I told him, “Look in the window. God has all that in His book for judgment day and you, too, will be punished for all your sins written down in His book.” The big man released his meaty grip, and I ran for home.

Eighteen months later, I was preaching in Mentasta Village many miles away. A car drove up and stopped. A huge man stepped out and approached me. “Do you remember me?” he asked with a smile.

How could I forget the big man who hustled me by the neck out of John’s cabin that night?

“You spoke good words to me,” he said and introduced himself as Pete Ewan. “I did not go back into the cabin that night,” Pete said. “Instead I walked home, 60 miles. On the way I got saved. Now I hold a good job.”

The joy on his face and the peacefulness of his demeanor gave evidence of his conversion. Just then a lovely woman and some children emerged from the car. “And this,” Pete said, gesturing toward them, “is my wife and kids.”

John Stanfield’s neighbor, Charlie, had a stroke and I was summoned to help him. It was some time before he was discovered. Charlie’s wood stove had gone out and the lower parts of his legs were cold as ice. I used Vick’s ointment to rub on the frozen parts, and I tried to get some homeopathic milk pills down his throat. He rallied for a while, but then died.

I dressed Charlie’s corpse, made a coffin, put the body in it, and left it in his cabin. As I passed John’s cabin, I turned in to speak with him.

“John, do you remember when you nearly died and I had to take you to Palmer?” I asked. “God spared your life then. But, do you remember I told you about how Jesus died for you because of your sins? John, if you had died like Charlie there,” and I jerked my thumb in the direction of Charlie’s cabin, “You would be in hell for all eternity.”

“Golly, Thompson, what must I do?” Obviously John was listening seriously. I did not pour in oil or wine just then, but wanted to press him about his sin. “John, you need to repent of your sins. You need to ask God to forgive you and save you,” I said firmly.

Right then, John dropped down at his table and prayed. “God, forgive me and save me.” It was just about as simple as that.

He rose up with an expression of what could only be described as a man at peace with God. That same afternoon, John led Blind Fanny to Christ. Their lives from that point forward showed God’s power to change.

I went to see O.A. Nelson about burying Charlie’s body. “Just leave him up there at his cabin,” O.A. replied. “He won’t go anywhere.” I told him Charlie was some mother’s son and burial arrangements needed to be made. O.A. just waved me away. Days after that, old ‘friends’ entered Charlie’s cabin and carried away his possessions. I tried to stop this until I learned it was a custom among the old prospectors.

When John and Blind Fanny were baptized that summer, some of John’s old friends taunted him by calling out, “What will John do now for his bottle?”

Once Fanny was told in sympathy, “It must be hard to be in darkness all the time.” “It’s not dark,” she quietly responded. “I have the Light of Jesus all the time.”

When Thomas Pete got drunk, he was a wild man. One time in a drunken rage, he tried to break down Suzie’s cabin door. Never one to rely on anyone else for help, Suzie calmly pulled out her rifle, drew a bead on the intruder and shot off Thomas Pete’s leg. He was evacuated to a hospital and returned with a prosthetic leg.

According to the variegated and often conflicting roles of firearms to the way of life in an Alaskan village, Suzie made amends with Thomas Pete by presenting him with a rifle. It was almost 18 months before a U.S. Marshal came to investigate the shooting and so far as I know nothing ever came of the investigation. “Suzie, why did you shoot Thomas?” “I prayed to God and He told me to shoot but shoot low!” The Marshall let her go with a smirk and he left too. Later, Thomas Pete came to the gospel meeting and was saved. When I baptized him, he was one of eleven baptized at the same time.

Little Robert was only about 10 years old when he started coming to the gospel meetings. He had a sad, impoverished home life. His mother was an alcoholic and often left him to fend for himself. Many times she was not home at all. He started coming to the gospel meetings because it was warm in the hail in the wintertime. He listened well.

One night, little Robert went to his Uncle Joe and said he wanted to be saved. Joe led him to Christ. At the meeting the next night he sang the hymns enthusiastically with a new heart. I was not surprised when afterwards he told me he was saved the previous night.

When summer came, the fine silt surface of the roads in Chitina turned to deep dust in some places. Little Robert was playing with some children. Somehow, he hit his head and fell face- first into the dusty road. The dust curled up and acted like a suffocating agent in the nose, throat and lungs of the lad. I was called to help. For hours we gave him artificial respiration. But little Robert had choked to death. I carried his lifeless body to the Gospel Hall. I made a child-sized coffin and dressed him nicely.

At the funeral, little Robert’s mother came, drunk as usual, and made a terrible fuss. Life for Robert was never easy, neither was his death. We took some solace knowing that he would enjoy peace, care and life everlasting in the arms of his heavenly Father. Several years later, little Robert’s alcoholic mother got saved and her life showed it too.

Axel Ring was the son of the shaman, Ring Charlie, who had died. I visited Axel when he was sick and spoke about his soul’s salvation. He diagnosed himself as a hopeless case before God. “Me big sinner,” he said.

As if by way of proving the enormity of his sin, he told some disturbing things he had done to people. After he told me many things, I had to admit to him that any one of those things was enough to send him to hell. “But, I like to be saved,” he said, pleadingly.

Pointing to his medicine tablets and glass of water next to his bed, I asked him what they were for. “Make me better,” he answered.

“How, Axel?” I countered. He pantomimed putting a tablet in his mouth, washing it down with a drink of water, and its effects being disbursed through his body to bring relief.

Then I turned to Romans 10:8-11. Slowly, using his own illustration of taking his medicine, I explained how to be saved. “Axel, with your mouth, confess,” I said, “but swallow in your heart for it’s with your heart you trust.” Then God says, ‘Saved.”

I left him to visit some others. Upon my return, a peaceful radiance was on Axel’s face. He welcomed me with a smile. “Me now saved,” he said.

Many years later when Malcolm Radcliffe and I had gospel meetings in Anchorage, Axel’s granddaughter was saved. They have four children and still live in Chitina. We visit them when we can.