ANOTHER COFFEE BREAK: 40 YEARS BELOW ZERO, Part 4
December 18, 2015
Last week, I scanned lightly over the events that followed the stupendous fishing miracle, but alluded to some phenomenal events that transpired during the building of the churches and establishing of ministries throughout the arctic. We really need to pick up with our arrival in Nome in November, 1944.
One detail that I erred in was that we spent the winter of 1944 getting established in Nome -- not actually building the new church building. I realized after I'd already published Part 3 that the Alaska Steamship's last sailing for Nome would have been in September, and there simply wouldn't have been enough time for Dad to have gotten the supplies on the ship to build that fall.
Dad did secure a piece of property on the main road that came into Nome from what was then March Air Force Base, roughly a city block from the Nome Public School. The spring and early summer of 1945 were spent preparing the ground for building the church. Construction in the far north has always been an interesting proposition.
Either you use a hot steam rig to thaw the ground sufficiently to drive piling in anywhere from six to nine feet (more in some places), or -- if you are on the arctic coast -- prepare a set of pads approximately three feet square laminated out of 2 X 12's, and put your foundation posts on those pads, on top the ground. (That's the way we built in Barrow, Wainwright, Point Hope and Barter Island -- and later at Nuiqsut and Atqasuk.)
I was shy of my fourth birthday when construction of the church began in Nome, so I got to watch -- NOT swing a hammer. Hehehehehe....... The building supplies -- along with a year's supply of groceries (basic staples, of course, not fresh food) -- arrived by Alaska Steamship in late July or early August. Dad had one or two helpers from the community who weren't really carpenters, but they were able to help him swing foundation timbers into place and help get the basic flooring in place.
Building a church in Nome, Alaska in the 1940's meant a lot of improvising and coming up with ways to keep costs down while still coming up with a structure that would withstand the elements. Dad decided to do something that -- so far as he knew -- had never been done before. He'd seen brick construction, of course, with the staggered bricks which provided strength and stability to walls. With WWII just coming to an end, certain building supplies were in short supply. What was plentiful were 2 X 4's. So Dad decided on brick-like construction using 2 X 4's and laminating them together as he went. It provided virtually air-tight walls.
One problem. When there are just two or perhaps three people working, your construction project doesn't move along at breakneck speed. Time was of the essence in getting the building up before the snow began to fly. The roof had to be tarred to make it water-proof, but you can't pour and spread tar in freezing temperatures. He had a very few weeks at most to get the building up, enclosed, and the roof tarred.
With the flooring in place, the month of August nearing an end, and snow expected by mid-September, he faced a humanly-impossible task. A transport with a half-dozen soldiers from March Air Force Base (in those days, airmen were part of the U. S. Army Air Force: it wasn't separated from the Army and called the Air Force until 1947) were driving by one afternoon on break. They'd been to the local taverns and were feeling no pain. Seeing Alvin Capener working on this church building, they decided to stop and offer assistance.
Smelling the alcohol on them didn't particularly lend their offer any real confidence, but Dad was undaunted. "Do any of you have carpentry experience?" he asked.
"Sure," they replied. "That's what we are doing at March Air Force Base." Wow! Just like that! "We're due back and have to report for duty, but we'll be here tomorrow to help," they said.
You know how it is with people who are alcoholics? When they're inebriated, they often say things they'll promptly forget. These guys were soused. Dad had no idea if he'd see them again, but sure enough, they showed up the next morning, tools in hand.
Their commanding officer, Air Force Colonel Marvin "Muktuk" Marston, was a legend in his own right. He'd been a miner in northern Ontario, moved to the U.S. and enlisted to fight in WWI. His record in WWI was one of distinction, but also of controversy. He was known as a "doer, not a talker," and frequently cut corners to get things done.
When Ernest Gruening became the Territorial Governor of Alaska, he'd heard of Marston's exploits (though theoretically retired from the military, Marston had re-enlisted to fight in WWII, and his familiarity with arctic conditions commended him to Gruening) and lobbied in 1939 to get Marston assigned to put together a "tundra Army" using native Eskimos. The success of that "Scout Battalion" became legendary. When his military superiors were slow in providing them with rifles, Marston commandeered a dog team and drove that team under inhuman conditions to Fort Richardson, got the rifles himself and returned -- again, by dog team -- through blizzard conditions to Alaska's western coast to supply his men with rifles.
This story isn't supposed to be about Marvin Marston, but if you want some fascinating reading, go to: http://www.alaskool.org/projects/ak_military/men_of_tundra/men_of_tundra.htm.
My point is that Colonel Marston came driving past the construction site where Dad was directing these soldier-carpenters a day (or perhaps a couple of days) after they'd begun helping. "What the ____ are you doing?" he said. (Marston's speech was always peppered with colorful metaphors!)
Dad walked over and explained. Marston began to hee-haw. "You're going to build this church and have it enclosed by the time the snow flies?" Already being versed in having command of the weather, Dad made a bold declaration -- a prophecy, if you will. "The Lord has been with us in this endeavor all the way," he said, "and the snow will not fly until we have this building enclosed and the roof tarred."
"Well I'll be ___ _____, " he exploded. "You're NEVER going to make that goal." He stopped for a minute, then resumed. "Even if I were to assign these men the task of helping you see this to conclusion, it's simply not possible! There's too much to do, and too little time before the snow flies."
Dad repeated himself. "The snow will not fly until we have this building enclosed."
Though he never talked much about it, and I don't recall his ever preaching on it, he clearly understood the authority of the believer. He KNEW without question that when God orders something, He stands behind it 100%. That means that whatever you have to do, and whatever you have to say to implement the authority and power of God to accomplish what He's given you, you do it!
Dad frequently quoted Hebrews 10:38: "Now the just shall live by faith, but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him."
Faith wasn't some mysterious, ethereal religious thing to him: it was nothing more complicated than believing whatever God says and then acting on it. That's exactly how Alvin Capener lived and worked.
"Right," said Marston. "Tell you what I'm gonna do. I'm assigning these soldiers to stay with you until the snow flies. I dare you to complete this construction in that time. You've only got days -- maybe two weeks at most before the snow flies, and more than a month's worth of work to finish. It can't be done. You owe these men their wages if you don't make it before the snow flies. You make it on time, and their pay is on the U.S. Army, compliments of Uncle Sam."
They did it in eleven days. That building went together in record time. Those six (sometimes seven) soldiers were there every single day like clockwork, working from sunup to sundown.
The building was enclosed, the outside of the building had tar-paper fastened on with slats, and the roof was tarred. The whole crew, Dad included, had taken the last of the tar pots off the roof and was surveying the job when the air temperatures dropped below freezing and snow flurries began to fly. Before the snow stopped flying and that storm had passed, Nome was buried under snowdrifts, some as many as eight-to-ten feet deep.
Colonel Marston, who had never been much of a believer in spiritual values, found himself admitting to Alvin Capener, and that crew of men he'd assigned that "I reckon God must be on your side. Looks like He held the weather for you, just like you said."
<![endif]> Dad had to wait until the following summer to put siding on the building, but the church was open and worship services were being conducted that winter of 1945-1946.
Our family often talked about the way that God took advantage of Colonel Marston's dare. He had enough brass and guts to keep his word -- never mind if it fit within the framework his command of the forces in western Alaska. Marston was a bold, daring individual, and his lack of concern for strict military protocol often crossed swords with his superior officers, but he was there strategically at a critical moment in time.
Those soldiers who worked so hard with Dad took Marston's dare as a personal challenge to them and their abilities. Before it was over, Dad had led most, if not all of them, to a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. Two of those men maintained their contact with Dad and Mom for many years thereafter, even after we had left Nome and headed to Barrow.
Despite the Colonel's often cross-wise nature with the military command, God honored him in the years that followed, and Colonel Marvin "Muktuk" Marston eventually became Brigadier General Marston. Schools and government facilities throughout Alaska bear his name to this day.
Two weeks from now, I'll share with you some of the stories of individuals whose lives were changed by that first ministry that Dad & Mom pioneered -- people who went on thereafter in their own right to become influential in bringing change to Alaska's landscape and setting the stage for a move of the Holy Spirit in the years to follow. That move of the Spirit would easily rival anything you'll read in the book of Acts.
Next week, because it is the Christmas season, we will take a break from this series to do something a bit different. 10 years or so ago, I wrote a piece on the historicity of Jesus. It may not be exactly “Christmas” in its theme, but I’d like to reprise that piece 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!
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