ANOTHER COFFEE BREAK: 40 YEARS BELOW ZERO, Part 1
November 27, 2015
Some eight years ago or so, I published a series of Coffee Breaks with this same title. This is the story of a move of God that took place in the arctic under the administration and obedience of my father and mother spanning some 40-plus years. That move of God rivaled anything you read about in the book of Acts. The miracles that unfolded still astound me even to this day. Although I wrote under this title back in 2006 and 2007, I felt to at least reprise the title even though the story will be expanded rather significantly beyond what was originally written.
Some of this story will begin roughly a hundred years ago, but much of it unfold as a first-hand witness to the events recorded. I am both a product of the events that took place and the beneficiary thereof. I grew up in the midst of these miracles and watched my Dad walk out faith in shoeleather in a way that very few people ever get to experience. My hope and desire in sharing this story over the next two or three months or so is that it will become an encouragement and a prick to those who may be facing some of obstacles that Alvin and Lillian Lorraine Capener overcame.
All of us have fathers in the natural or biological sense, and if we've come to know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Shepherd, we also have spiritual fathers. Those are the ones who guide us in the early stages of our walk with the Lord. They're the ones who encourage us, teach us to walk by faith, set the example for us, and establish a pattern for our future growth.
The apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 4:15-16,"For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me."
Dad was both father and instructor in my life. He was my natural father, but he was my spiritual father as well. His walk with God, his integrity in the Lord and in the world, his faith put to the test on a continual basis and proven in a practical day-by-day manner all served to provide me with a heritage that has served as a personal anchor, and one that I've sought to pass on to my children and grandchildren.
Born into a family with a long consecutive lineage of ministry, Alvin E. Capener was born on September 22, 1915 in the farming community of Erie, North Dakota. Situated about 45 miles as the crow flies from the booming metropolis of Fargo, it was more like a good half-day's ride along dirt roads by horse and wagon that hardly navigated by straight lines (you couldn't very well ride through your neighbor's corn field or wheat) -- or, if you were the adventurous cowboy-type, you might make it in two-and-a-half or three hours flying by horseback.
His father, Howard H. Capener, was both a farmer and Methodist preacher. With a family of four children (Alvin was next to the youngest), life on the Dakota plains was both adventurous and just plain tough! Every member of the family -- from the time the children were old enough to saddle horses, milk cows, hitch wagons and plows -- learned a work ethic and hard discipline.
"Brush Arbor" camp meetings were commonplace in those days, and it was at one of those camp meetings where young Alvin made his own personal commitment to Jesus Christ. At age six, he contracted double pneumonia. Medical care was problematic at best on the plains, and after several weeks of fighting for breath, Alvin succumbed. When he died, his body was carried out to the barn and put on a pile of hay to await the arrival of a nurse or doctor who could certify his death. Naturally, word had to be sent into Fargo by horseback in order to get medical personnel, so it would be at least the better part of a day before someone could get there.
Carolyn Capener, however, was not content to lose her youngest son. She'd already lost one child some years before, and something rose up inside her that just said, NOOOO!!!! She went into the bedroom, closed the door, pulled the shades over the windows and knelt down beside her bed. There she stayed for hours crying out to the Lord. Finally, something broke in her spirit. She prayed, "Father, if you'll raise my son back to life, I'll give him to you for the ministry."
Before too long, a peace swept over her being, and she knew God had heard her and answered. She rose to her feet, opened the window shades and headed out of the house towards the barn. As she walked toward the barn, a horse and buggy came driving up with the nurse from Fargo. The nurse joined her and they headed to the barn.
The color was beginning to return to Alvin's face, and he was showing signs of life. The rigor mortis had vanished, and as they stood next to his body, his eyes opened and he looked up at them. He was both alive and completely healed of the pneumonia. By the following morning, he was about his farm chores and out playing again like any normal six-year-old.
When asked about the experience in later years, Alvin was reluctant to talk much about it and dismissed the whole experience as "of no great consequence." Even then, Alvin Capener was the master of understatement. It was a hallmark of his entire life. Yet whatever happened and whatever he saw or experienced during those hours his body lay lifeless on that pile of hay impacted him for the remainder of his life.
It was some three years later -- at age nine -- that he responded to the call of the Holy Spirit in his life in one of those Methodist Brush Arbor meetings, and told the Lord he'd go wherever, and do whatever the Lord told him.
Despite the fact that he was like any normal boy or young man during his young years, and enjoyed the outdoors with his brother and sisters, they often spoke of him as "serious." It wasn't that he wasn't fun-loving -- he was -- but it was like the wheels were turning inside him constantly. He was focused, often intense. Through the years, his relationship with Jesus Christ grew and developed and matured into something that began to set him apart from the rest of his friends and family; and when he was nineteen years of age -- again in one of those Methodist camp meetings -- he heard the audible voice of God speaking to him.
"I want you to go to Alaska for me," he heard the voice of the Lord say. He knew next to nothing about Alaska or the far north, and most of it was shrouded in myth and mystery. (I have copies of some of his first letters sent to the family from Nome, Alaska in 1944 and 1945 in which he tells the family, "people do not live in igloos here.")
The Capener family had always been a very close and tight-knit family, and the thought of one of the family members moving so far away (to a foreign land!) took a little getting used to. Howard Capener, who had pretty much been dis-fellowshipped by his church after he'd been baptized in the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues, was filled with mixed feelings, but was certain Alvin had heard from God. It didn't take long for a very visible witness and proof of God's call to manifest itself in a way the whole family would never forget.
Working out in a cornfield one afternoon, helping one of the neighbors gather in the corn harvest, Alvin was meditating on that audible call of the Lord and thinking to himself, A burning bush experience like Moses had would sure confirm that call! Wonder what it was like for Moses to see a bush that burned with a fire that didn't consume it?
Scarcely had the thought passed his mind when he turned to see a single shock of corn on fire. It startled him, and his first instinct was to run towards the shock of corn to put out the fire. He suddenly realized that God had answered his very thought in a personal and extraordinarily unique way. The fire that was burning that single shock of corn was not traveling; it wasn't catching any of the other cornstalks on fire, and it wasn't consuming the corn.
Everything inside him responded instantly to the Holy Spirit. OK, Lord! You've proven your Word. But it wasn't his spirit that reacted to the situation: it was his flesh. The farmer whose cornfield he was working in wasn't too far away and his natural reaction was to run for the cornstalk to put out the fire lest the farmer think he'd accidentally set the field on fire. He grabbed hold of the cornstalk and shook it. The fire vanished, but he'd never forget it. More than 45 years later when sharing the event with Alaska's (former) Lieutenant Governor, Red Boucher, in our home in Anchorage the details of the incident were as clear as though they had just happened.
Howard Capener, Alvin's father, was simultaneously overjoyed, amused and yet (if that's possible at the same time!) stunned when he learned of this confirmation. They began talking about the need for Alvin to prepare for public ministry. Alvin's older brother, Everett, had already decided to enroll at Central Bible Institute in Springfield, Missouri, and it seemed appropriate for both brothers -- age difference notwithstanding -- to head off to Bible College together.
Alvin expected to have to find work to pay for his college tuition since he had not had time to earn the necessary funds, but on the day of their departure for CBI, Howard reached into his pocket and pulled out $50. "The Lord told me to give this to our Alaskan missionary," he said. Everett, being seven years older, had already saved up money for college, and he was ready.
(You'll appreciate that in 1935, $50 was a LOT of money, so this was no small gift!) It was more than enough to pay the beginning tuition and the cost of a dorm room at the college. Four years later, the two brothers headed off towards the west coast after graduation. Alvin's thought was that, At least this gets me closer to Alaska. This is my first positive step in that direction.
The two brothers' cross-country trek saw them wind up in southwest Washington in the logging and fishing area of Ilwaco, Naselle, Long Beach and Raymond. Both brothers played accordion and guitar, and they began to evangelize together. It wasn't long, however, before the fact of their divergent visions caused them to go separate ways. Everett wasn't called to go to Alaska, and Alvin wasn't really called to evangelistic ministry.
Everett settled in the Chehalis area where he ministered for awhile. He'd always had an interest in public life and decided to run for the U.S. House of Representatives. His political efforts were short-lived after a narrow loss in the election, and before long he found himself in the military. A 30+ year career in the Air Force finishing up as Commanding Officer of the Strategic Air Command in Spain seemed a pretty radical departure for one who prepared for the ministry, and yet Everett spent most of his latter years in ministry, both in Arizona and in Washington state.
Alvin, on the other hand found himself drawn to the fishing community of Ilwaco. Ilwaco is situated on the mouth of the Columbia River. In the late 1930's and early 1940's, Ilwaco was heavily populated by Finnish immigrants -- most of whom spoke and conversed in fluent Finnish. Beginning a church and establishing a ministry in a community of folks whose language was foreign was more than a small challenge.
A chance (?) meeting at an event where Lillian Lorraine Lehtosaari was speaking and sharing her testimony changed everything. Alvin was ministering evangelistically with a fellow-Bible School graduate by the name of Magnus Udd (who later went on to become a missionary to Africa). He didn't accompany Alvin on this particular day, and when Alvin came back to the house he and Magnus were sharing, he said, "Magnus, I met my wife today."
For a guy who was so serious, so focused, and sooo laid back in his mannerisms, this was an astonishing thing! Nevertheless, within a matter of months, Alvin and Lorraine (he always called her by her middle name) were married. Lorraine had grown up in Alaska, the daughter of a first generation immigrant from Finland, Frederich Lehtosaari. Finnish was the language of her home, and she spoke it fluently. Her ability to communicate easily in Finnish made her a natural fit for the ministry in Ilwaco and the church began to make real progress.
One thing about growing up in the Capener family, you learned to become a jack -- and master -- of all trades. That was fairly true of many pioneers and farmers in the 1700's and 1800's. The Capener family was no exception. Great-great Grandfather, John Capener, who had migrated from England in 1836, was a musician, a pastor, a ship-builder, a violin-maker, a carpenter -- and a whole lot of other things. His son, Alfred (who was Howard's father), may not have been a pastor per se (though he was involved in ministry), or a ship-builder, but he pretty much carried on the family traditions as a master of many trades. Howard, likewise, was a carpenter, an electrician of sorts (electricity was pretty primitive during the years he had anything to do with it), a farmer, a dairyman, a preacher -- and a lot of other things.
The family tradition continued on with Alvin. He became carpenter, cabinet-maker, plumber, electrician, auto-mechanic, banker, radio-communications expert, and a bazillion other things (and if you were going to be a pioneer missionary in the arctic, these were all helpful requisites). When the opportunity came about, therefore, to build a church in Ilwaco, Alvin became a draftsman as well, designing to the last stick of lumber the new church building.
Southwest Washington state has long been noted for its logging industry, and in the relatively short period of time that Alvin had been a Washington-state resident, he had befriended (and even won to the Lord) the owners of some lumber-mills. They made available nearly all of the necessary building supplies, and for less than $1500, he built a church and parsonage in Ilwaco.
By the spring of 1944, the ministry was well established in Ilwaco. Alvin went to Lorraine and said, "I believe that this is the year we are to go to Alaska. I want us to plan for an October departure. However, we still have a thousand dollars left to pay off on this church building, and I won't leave with that debt outstanding. It will take $5,000 to move the family to Alaska and ship the materials to Nome so we can build a new church and parsonage there."
Six thousand dollars! He might as well have been asking for the moon. Both my brother and I had been born by this time. I was two years old and my brother a babe in arms. The family was living on perhaps $50 a month –sometimes $150 in a good month! How do you raise that kind of money -- probably equal to around $6 Million today by comparison -- in six months?
And that, folks, is where we have to stop for today. We will pick up this narrative next week.
I remind those of you in need of ministry that our Healing Prayer Call takes place on Mondays at 7:00 PM Eastern (4:00 PM Pacific). Our call-in number has changed to (712) 775-7035. The new Access Code is: 323859#.For Canadians who have difficulty getting in to this number, you can call (559) 546-1400.If someone answers and asks what your original call-in number was, you can give them the 712 number and access code.
At the same time, in case you are missing out on real fellowship in an environment of Ekklesia, our Sunday worship gatherings are available by conference call – usually at about 10:45AM Pacific. That conference number is (605) 562-3140, and the access code is 308640#. We hope to make these gatherings available by Skype or Talk Fusion before long. If you miss the live call, you can dial (605) 562-3149, enter the same access code and listen in later.
Blessings on you!
Sunnyside, Washington 98944
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