Tommy Thompson Bio 6 First Converts in Chitina

CHAPTER 6

First Converts in Chitina

While we were preparing to leave Ulster, Mrs. Geddis, a missionary from Africa home on furlough, advised us to take along some schoolbooks to teach Brian. Since he had just reached school age, we took the advice. Little did we realize then but there was already a teacher living in Chitina and teaching the area children at the federally-funded Village Indian School. What a blessing when the teacher allowed Brian to enroll.

Even as God was working among the villagers, God was working in our family, too. The first convert was Brian. One day he asked Sadie how to be saved. Wisely, Sadie sat down with him and showed him passages of Scripture. That night he asked me how to be saved. I spoke about how salvation was like God’s gift. I used a penny to illustrate about giving, receiving and accepting. He seemed to get help, and before falling asleep he was saved.

The next day Billy accompanied us as we walked Brian to school. On returning home he asked, “Daddy, can I have a saved penny?” A few years afterward he too was saved.

At that time the Lord saved several of the men I described as hardened alcoholics. Pat Bell tells his own story in his tract titled, ‘How God Saved Me” (see page 120).

Tom Bell, upon seeing his son Pat so changed, tried getting saved his own way by going down a trail and spending some time alone in the woods. He came back and into his old life. One morning after leaving Brian at school, I felt led to visit Tom. Most villagers were in a never-ending cycle of debt to the storeowner 0. A. Nelson. At one time or another Nelson owned or controlled nearly every piece of property and business in Chitina.

As I spoke to Tom, I used his debt to illustrate his state before God. Jesus paid the debt by His own blood on the cross.

“If I paid O. A. Nelson all your debt, what would you do?” I asked Tom.

“I would say thank you,” Tom replied.

Tom suddenly dropped to his knees at his table and called upon God for salvation. From that moment he became a child of God; he never went back to his old lifestyle of alcohol and despair. Incredibly, Tom lived to be 90 years old and after his conversion took every opportunity to prove the power of God before all the natives. Before he was saved he and his son Pat would cut wood for a retired lady. When they had cut enough wood for a few dollars they went and bought wine and got drunk. After he was saved he went to her house and cut up all her wood. The woman went to pay him but he refused and said, “Me saved now.” The lady asked me what I had done with him. I was able to tell her of God’s power to save, but she cast it aside. Such was the power of God manifest that natives from villages from miles away started coming to hear the pure gospel message. Several of these were saved.

Another victory over Satan came in the life of Johnny Billum. Johnny’s wife, Mollie, was in our fellowship and brought her children to all the meetings. Johnny was enslaved by alcohol and never darkened the door of our meetings. Often I would see him and his friends driving around the village in his old green car, all drunk as usual.

When I had witnessed to Johnny, he told me that he was a member of the Russian Orthodox Church and thought he was a Christian.

“Thompson, when I die I’m going to hold on like Jacob till the Lord blesses me,” he explained.

“Johnny,” I said, “The difference between Jacob and you is he had something to hold onto. But if you die as you are, you have nothing to hold onto and will drop into hell.”

This enraged Johnny. He made Mollie stop coming with the children to the meetings. At the school Christmas party he showed his hatred. Mollie asked me what to do. I showed her 1 Corinthians 7:10-16, and instructed her that she must please and follow the Lord. Mollie returned to the assembly fellowship.

Johnny had enough of Mollie’s faithfulness. One day he told Mollie he was leaving her. He ordered her to get down and pray with him. She refused because she knew he was just angry. Hypocritically, Johnny flipped open their Bible. He began to read Luke 4 about the temptation of Christ by the devil. God used His word to shine into Johnny’s heart and showed him, “That’s what you are doing like the devil.” Johnny cried out for God’s forgiveness and stood up a changed man. So immediate was Johnny’s salvation that Mollie did not believe he was saved for another two weeks! He went on for the Lord and never looked back.

During the fall of 1954, Sadie became pregnant with our third child, Barry. During Sadie’s expecting period I was always careful to walk with her, especially when slick, icy conditions made walking treacherous. Crossing the little bridge over the creek on the way to our cabin, I took her arm for support. I was paying such care to her that I did not see the little patch of ice in my path. Suddenly in a flash, my feet left me and I skidded to the side of the bridge and underneath it. Sadie was safe and sound up on the bridge, but she was laughing so hard I feared she would lose her footing, too. Both of us had a good laugh at my expense.

One day around that time, a man named Mr. Joy came to visit me. He said I was being an embarrassment to his interdenominational mission. They did not baptize, break bread, nor conform to several other biblical teachings. Nevertheless, he wanted me to travel out to their mission for once-a-month “missionary Sundays”. This he described as their “communion Sunday”. He showed no interest as I explained the commission of our Lord. I declined to attend.

He then said that Sadie could not attend “his” doctors in Glenallen for her prenatal care. I objected that we had already prepaid for these doctors’ visits. That mattered not to him. As a result, we started going to Palmer for Sadie’s check-ups, 225 miles each way, through wintry road conditions and dangerous mountain passes.

After two months of this, Dr. Snyder, one of the two doctors from Glenallen, visited us in Chitina to find out why Sadie had not shown up for her visits. He was shocked to hear the account of Mr. Joy’s punitive actions.

“Sadie, you come to my office anytime and you will be treated as one of our own,” Dr. Snyder said firmly. “All will be free.” Mr. Joy was overruled, and Sadie was treated with Christ-like kindness.

Barry was born in mid-summer on July 1, 1955, in the tiny medical clinic in Glenallen. When it came time to bring Sadie and the baby home, I decided that the evening was the best time to travel because we could open the car vents, equalize the pressure inside the car and thus keep out the road dust. In addition to Sadie, Barr and I, the car was packed with Sadie’s mattress, blankets and various supplies for the new baby.  Halfway home, the car’s right rear wheel came off the axle. The car dropped awkwardly to the ground.

We were alone, in the middle of nowhere. There really was no other alternative but for me to leave Sadie and the baby in the car while I went for help. I walked five miles to the nearest cabin with mosquitoes and dust my constant companions.

The man at the cabin greeted me rudely. “You’re a missionary? Go to hell!” he said and slammed the door.

I walked another mile or so. Hearing the dull rumble of an approaching vehicle, I stopped as my friend Al Taylor brought his old wood-hauling truck to a squeaking stop next to me. Grateful for a friendly face, I asked him for help.

As we drove back to my broken-down car, I told him how the wheel had come off the axle. “Somebody probably tried to steal your wheel,” he said. He figured that someone had loosened the lug nuts but for some reason had not finished the job.

Arriving back at the car, we got the wheel on by a few threads on the studs. Al took Sadie and Barry in his truck, and headed to his cabin. I drove the car very slowly behind them. Just as we reached his cabin, the wheel fell off again. Al and I assessed the situation and determined that there was nothing we could do that night. We would deal with the problem the next day.

Al drove us down the road to an unused cabin where we unloaded Sadie’s mattress. We were exhausted, but thankful to have a roof over our heads and a friend helping us along. Even during the long days of July, evenings can get chilly in Alaska. I made a fire in the cabin’s stove and put the mattress on the floor in front of the fire. The three of us slept soundly until the morning.

The next day, Al got out the word that we needed a ride back to Chitina. A lady named Barbara drove out and brought us home. Through that contact, she became our friend. Shortly after that, Barbara began coming to the gospel meetings and soon professed salvation. Some years later Al got saved too!