Tommy Thompson Bio 3 From Ulster to Alaska

CHAPTER 3

From Ulster to Alaska

Since we were all citizens of Great Britain and both Sadie and I were born in Northern Ireland, visas to America were easier for us to get in Belfast.

Our arrival in our homeland brought much joy to family and many friends. We began to meet with the Maranatha Assembly, and when we arrived I asked the elders not to read the part of the letter of commendation about going to Alaska, because of the caution I had received before I left Cape Town. When we had left Ireland in 1947 we were in fellowship with saints in Victoria Hall, which was very ‘missionary minded’, so I did not wish to fellowship there in case they would embrace us just because of our going to Alaska.

In the four months it took to obtain a visa for entry to Alaska, we worked happily with Maranatha Assembly, visiting hospitals and seeing souls saved. Soon I was invited for gospel meetings in other assemblies. Each week there was a five-pound note on the notice board in the Maranatha Hall which kept us supplied with food and transport. George Holmes of Ballyhackamore Assembly, which I had attended as a boy, asked me one day for morning tea. He kindly got us into the missionary home, with coals for heating it, during our stay in Ulster. He took me to a Christian coal merchant about the coal, and I said, “I don’t like to do this, Mr Holmes!” He replied, “Tommy, one of the reasons the Lord has for us to remember Him weekly is because we could easily forget. I’m just reminding this brother of a need for the Lord!”

I was called to the American consulate for our visa interview. My brother Andy had emigrated to Chicago and stood as security for us. We answered the many questions to the satisfaction of the immigration officer. Then he asked about our financial support. Without pausing, I simply answered, “The usual church channels.” He pondered this for a moment, and then said, “That’s fine.”

Questions regarding my church affiliation were tricky. I pointed outside the immigration office across the street to Victoria Memorial Hall and told the officer that was where I started my church fellowship. He smiled and said, “Here are your visas and the best of luck young man.” I came away with worshipful praise and thanksgiving unto the Lord.

The saints at Maranatha Assembly joined in our commendation and gave us a lovely farewell a few nights before departure. Many spoke kind and encouraging words. They also gave us a nice monetary gift. However, I still did not have enough money for our fare. It seemed as if the devil was conspiring to keep us there indefinitely.

When we got back to the missionary home, there was an envelope on the table. Inside was enough money for our fare across the Atlantic Full of thanksgiving we purchased all four tickets. Praise the Lord!

In those days, the ship to America set sail from Cobh, Ireland, more than 300 miles south of Belfast. Once again, the Lord Provided a way for our family to get there. But as Isaiah once observed, God’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts.

Abbey Booth was a dear brother in Christ, in fellowship in Maranatha assembly, who also suffered from asthma that often kept him awake at night. One night he heard neighbors who were drinking and planning to go to Dublin by taxi for a binge of liquor. Abby thought, “If the devil can send them by taxi to Dublin, I’ll send Tommy to Cobh by taxi.”

I refused the offer of a taxi ride, but accepted train tickets to Cobh. When our happy young brothers in the Maranatha assembly heard we had everything we needed to get by train from Belfast to Cobh, they arranged to take us to the train station. The morning of departure arrived and Sadie and I were packed ready to be picked up and taken to the train station. Imagine our surprise when brother Harry Mitchell pulled up outside our home, driving his horse-drawn coal cart! I know God must have a sense of humor because I must have made quite a spectacles all loaded up with our few possessions being taken to the train station by horse. Sadie and the boys rode in Jim Graham’s automobile. But, oh, how those dear saints encouraged us on our way!

On the train we met a lady who said she knew some of the people who sang their farewell to us. Hannah Holmes was going to America for a Christian congress. At Dublin the “jaunting car” driver saw our bags and decided he did not want to take Miss Holmes, us, and all our luggage at once.

“Two trips mister!” he called out.

“Well,” I replied, “In London the English taxi driver took all the cases.”

Not to be outdone by some English taxi driver, the proud Irishman nearly damaged his back hoisting all our cases up on his jaunting taxi, including Miss Holmes’ ones. We were taken across the city to connect with another train. I had only American dollars with me now apart from the few English pounds Sadie had received from her parents for a night’s stay in Cobh in a bed and breakfast place, and we had no idea of L much this would cost.

Hi think I have more English pounds than is permitted,” Miss Io1mes remarked to me. “What should I do?” I exchanged her pounds for dollars - it was just enough to pay for the night’s lodging in Cobh.

Arriving in New York City harbour on July 2, 1954, we did not know whether anyone would meet us. We knew no one. The ship’s intercom barked out instructions for disembarkation and customs. “If you disembark with your luggage you cannot come on board again,” was announced. It was late in the day. We decided to disembark and just commit ourselves into the Lord’s hand. One of our cases was missing and custom’s men were waiting on us. “Lord, please turn it up,” was my prayer. I was constrained to go under the H sign and praise the Lord there it was.

Unknown to us, Tom Ball of Belfast had written ahead about us to Dave Zuidema of Midland Park Assembly in New Jersey. At 11.30 p.m., some people were allowed to come past the barrier to meet passengers. Dave came through. He saw the two white-haired boys described by Tom Ball in the letter, but standing next to them was Hannah Holmes. Sadie and I were looking for the lost luggage. Hannah had short hair, but Dave had been told Sadie had long hair. After looking about, Dave Was perplexed as to “my wife’s hair”. He was about to depart without us. Then at the last minute, Sadie appeared with her lovely, long hair and came over to the boys. Dave quickly became a new friend and took us to his hospitable home in Midland Park.

We had only $6 in our family treasury and 6,000 miles to go. We looked to the Lord. I was asked to preach at a few meetings in the Midland Park Assembly and was happy to do so. Meanwhile, I booked a train called the “Pacemaker” to Chicago and was to pickup the tickets by Friday morning. On Thursday evening, the Midland Park Assembly gave me a gift that covered our fare to Chicago, with $20 surplus. We never even hinted to anyone about our need but only prayed to the Lord.

Dave and his wife, her name was also Sadie, took us to the train station and gave us a box of sandwiches, candy, soft drinks and other treats. I will never forget their love and encouragement.

My brother, Andy, met us in Chicago. At his home, a letter from William Rae awaited us with a cheque for $200 towards purchase of a car. A call also came from the 86th & Bishop Assembly inviting us to fellowship with them.

I walked up and down State Street in Chicago looking for a car. “That ain’t even a deposit,” one man said, when I told him I had $200 to spend.

Andy and his wife, Winkie, gladly drove us to the meetings and left us there. When I arrived at the 86th & Bishop Assembly that night, my only suit was wet with sweat. Dear George Eadie was our host for the night. After the meeting, he took us first to the home of John and Edith MacLelland where we had been invited to fellowship with them.

“Why do you look like a pull-through tonight?” Eadie asked me when he noticed my wrinkled and worn suit. “I spent all day looking for a car.” “What kind of a car do you want?” they asked. “I’m not fussy.” I replied.

“How much do you want to pay?” I replied, “Two hundred dollars.” George Eadie, an Irishman, and John MacLelland, a Scotsman, erupted in howls of laughter. After composing himself, John MacLelland called his brother-in-law, Jim Bennett, who had a car dealership. MacLelland told him about my situation. The next morning, Jim Bennett arranged for me to purchase an old, wood-sided 1948 station wagon for $200 John MacLelland phoned me with this good news.

I was as pleased with that old car as much as if it were new. The previous owner had a flower delivery business and used to ater the flowers in back of the station wagon. The moisture had caused holes, loose panels and gaps in the floorboards. I patched the holes, tightened the panels, threw on a coat of paint and did the best I could to make that old car “road worthy”. I stood back and thanked the Lord for the car, and was assured it was ready for the road to Alaska.

I had a few meetings in the Chicago area, and a few dollars were squeezed into my hand. Sister Walker gave me four of my favorite potato bread for the road. Bill McCartney, also an Ulster man, gave me $100. Now we were on our way “north to the future”. William Rae arranged an invitation from the Pattersons in Omaha, Nebraska, for us to stay overnight. They were our faithful helpers until they were called to higher service.

In Portland, Oregon, our benefactor William Rae met us and we had a lovely time with him and his deranged and crippled wife. After the meetings in the Stark Street Gospel Hall over the weekend, we headed north again.

Mr. and Mrs. Kazen welcomed us in Everett, Washington, yet another appointment made by William Rae. This dear couple took us to their home and treated us well. Sadie and the two boys had baths while I went to the meeting and preached. These saints in the assembly were so encouraged by the ministry that despite my protestations they passed the hat around for an offering. Feeling unworthy of their grace, I took the gift and put  in my pocket without looking at it, and thanked them from the bottom of my heart.

After a good breakfast, the Kazens loaded us with food for the day. We headed north again. At Mount Vernon, Washington, I purchased a box of margarine and a gallon of chemical toilet liquid. I had heard these were scarce in Alaska. As with many other things people told me about Alaska, afterward this proved untrue.

At Blaine, Washington, we had to pass through customs and immigration. “Anything to declare?” the officer asked. “Only a box of margarine” I replied. This caused him to take me to a more senior officer. “Why the box of margarine?” the senior officer wanted to know.

Apparently there was some margarine for butter smuggling going on. The customs officers sealed the box of margarine, gave us a paper that had to be signed when we exited Canada, and issued a stern warning about this “infraction”. The first officer apologized for the long delay and waved us, and our sealed box of margarine, on with “the best of luck”.

As I backed out of the parking spot, the customs officer came running over. “How much money do you have?” he asked.

My heart sank a little bit because 1 knew that to be allowed on the Alaska Highway you needed a good car and $300 per passenger. The car looked good and acceptable. I started to count my money. “Oh, go ahead,” he said, pointing us through the gate before I had finished. “That’s all right.”

Later we tallied up the gift I had received from the assembly in Everett, plus what we already had.  It amounted to $400. The Lord had once again taken us through.

“When all created streams are dry,
His fullness is the same;
May I with this be satisfied,
And glory in His Name ‘

William Rae’ s nephews John, met us inside Canada and saw to it that we were cared for He introduced us to some believers in one of the Gospel Hall assemblies there. One dear brother in Christ looked at the tyres on our old wood-sided station wagon. “You will never make the highway with those tyres,” he observed.

He kindly had four, brand-new, six-ply tyres mounted on the wheels. I kept the old tyres and tied them to the roof of the car. After about 400 miles on the Alaska Highway, all four new tyres blew out. I had the old original tyres put back on. They not only made it over the highway, but lasted for a few years in Alaska!

“Foolish things, despised things,
When weak in God’s own hand
Can traverse over land and stones
Where good tyres never can!”
(T.J.T.)

The Alaska Highway was a rough, gravel road put through in haste by the U.S. Army after Japan began advancing up the Aleutian Chain of Alaska during World War II. We rode all day swirling in dust. To this day, Brian and Billy can remember when the floorboards gave out and they could see the road passing below the car. The price of petrol quickly drained our money. Stopping at night, we would pile out of the old car looking like rig the cat dragged in, as the saying goes. But we forged ahead.

At Peace River, Yukon Territory, the river had washed away road. The only way across was to drive up an embankment and rattle along over the railway bridge, high the swift river. We crossed with fear. Sadie and Brian helped by just closing their eyes. Billy thought it was a great adventure; he kept our fear levels ratcheted up with a delighted narration of how high we were, and other scary details.

We made it over Peace River with nothing worse than elevated blood pressure. We kept our directions headed north and west. The Lord surely preserved us, especially at night when we pulled over to sleep along the side of the road. Large trucks would pass and make the car shake.

Just upon entering Alaska, the foot brake failed and I had to use the hand brake. I hand-braked to a stop at Scotty Creek. There a mechanic fixed a little copper pipe which had ruptured in the brake system. As we waited for the repairs, I gave out gospel tracts to many people there.

“I don’t need one; I am a Christian,” one man said as I offered him a tract. He was smoking a cigarette and drinking from a can of beer.

I drew close to him and said, “Sir you don’t smell like one, or act like one!”

This led to an opportunity to talk to him about Christian sanctification as taught in Romans 6. Our conversation was respectful and soon he felt comfortable enough to ask me personal questions about what kind of salary I was getting and my “Missionary Society”.

When I answered that I was not getting any salary nor belonged to any society, he was very concerned about our future. He was amazed. “I never heard such a thing,” he said. “God usually uses some church to support missionaries. I am a Christian, but nobody ever showed me this from the Bible. My pastor even smokes and has a beer, too.” “That does not make it right for you,” I replied.

I bid him farewell and went to pick up my car from the mechanic. I paid $9.50 for the work. As I was driving out of the repair shop’s parking lot, the man I had been talking to came running towards us. I stopped and rolled down the window.

Tommy, will you do something for me?” he asked as he gasped for breath. “Yes, if I can,” and he thrust a $10 bill in my hand. “Please keep it,” he said

There and then this act became a promise, and the Lord assured me, “I have brought you here and I will keep you here.” Now I was fifty cents richer!

To keep me sure and steadfast,
Within the narrow way,
In love’s obedience growing,
More perfect day by day.

I believe 1 Corinthians 9 gives scriptural principles concerning the liberty of a servant of God and his ministry, movements, maintenance, methods, and manifestation one day before God.

I have sought to live in complete dependence upon the Lord. I have never even implied to be supported by anyone but the Lord. I take literally Matthew 6:33. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

Looking back, the Lord has been faithful in fulfilling His promise. He has never failed us once. Since leaving Mobil Oil, I have never earned wages and have never worked for a salary. I have lived a life of faith.