ANOTHER COFFEE BREAK: 40 YEARS BELOW ZERO, Part 6
January 8, 2016
Before we get back into the continuing adventures in the arctic, let me share an event that took place a few weeks ago. As I write this, Della and I are in Texas taking care of some business and assisting a number of folks. When we left Sunnyside, Washington to drive here, we did what we have done all of our married lives, we drove nonstop. We are pretty much marathon drivers. When we need to go someplace and need to drive, we don’t stop for anything.
34 hours of nonstop driving, eight of which was in blizzard conditions in Utah and Colorado, guarantees you are going to have some experiences. Most of you have read about my experience many years ago, driving in northern Utah after a snowstorm, where we were suddenly faced with a head-on collision. With nothing more than maybe a second to go, I hollered, ‘JESUS!” We literally shifted dimensions and passed through each other.
Coming out of Price Canyon in central Utah and heading up into a pass, Della was driving (we take turns every two or three hours). What had been light snowfall suddenly became driving and blinding snow. The temperature dropped from 34 degrees to 21 degrees in minutes and the road turned from slush to ice. Coming to a bend in the highway, Della turned the steering wheel. Our pickup (not a 4-wheel drive) didn’t turn and began heading for the side of the road. Della corrected with the steering wheel and suddenly we were rotating around 180 degrees into oncoming traffic.
Two vehicles were headed straight at us. The first one just barely missed. It was apparent that we were going to collide with the second vehicle (an SUV) and hit the driver’s door, likely causing him to flip off the road into a snowbank. We had absolutely no worries about our safety. We had perfect peace. Della started praying for the other driver. In a split second the SUV wasn’t there! I wasn’t sure if we passed through part of the vehicle or the angel of the Lord simply moved the car a couple hundred feet forward. In any case, we were the ones in the snowbank with snow halfway up the side of our pickup.
We looked at each other and started laughing. Della said, “OK, Lord, where’s the tow-truck to get us out of here.” The Lord answered her back and said, “Restart the engine and drive out.” She did. It was as though the angel of the Lord simply picked up our backend and pushed us out. Della drove out as easily as if we were on dry pavement.
Don’t you just love these kinds of adventures? We never cease to be amazed at watching the deliverance of the Lord! It causes us to live naturally supernatural!
Well, it's time for us to get back to our discussion on the adventures in faith I lived through (and was a part of) watching my Dad and Mom consistently and persistently obey God as churches and missions were founded throughout the Arctic. Might run a wee bit long today.
We've got some of that organic dark roasted Columbian Supremo in the French Press today. Pour yourself a cup and pull up a chair.
When we broke from our discussion last week, Dad had packed up the family, and we were heading out to itinerate in the "Lower 48" (or, as we more often referred to it back then, "the states." Alaska was still a territory – not a state.) We had (and still have to this day) a number of relatives living in the northwest, and after spending some time with them and catching them up on the vision for Barrow, we headed to Salt Lake City for a family reunion. There are two major (and quite separate) branches of the Capener family in the United States.
We refer to them as either coming from "John" (my great-great grandfather) or "William" (his brother). The two brothers came to the United States in 1836. Whatever provoked the disagreement back then is not really quite clear, but William parted ways with John and joined Brigham Young to organize the westward movement of the Mormons from Nauvoo, Illinois. The result is that we have a large number of Mormon relatives in the U.S.
For nearly a hundred years, the two branches of the family scarcely knew of the existence of each other. Dad's brother, Everett, stumbled onto the Mormon branch of the family during a stopover in Salt Lake City when he was in the Air Force. It led to the first major family reunion of the two branches of the family with some 3,000+ relatives in attendance.
Finally, we headed eastward. With my brother and I needing to be in school, Mom and Dad decided we needed to stay put in one place while they traveled, and we wound up staying on a farm just outside of Hot Springs, Arkansas with a family who provided temporary housing and oversight for the children of missionaries and folks in ministry while they "itinerated."
In the late Spring of 1954, with school out for my brother and I, travel resumed for us. Dad and Mom had been traveling on the east coast in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, and when they picked us up, we headed back toward the west coast. Enough money had been contributed towards the building of the church in Barrow that Dad went ahead and ordered the building materials and had them delivered to the docks in Seattle. My brother, Howard, and I helped Dad strap and band the lumber for loading on the North Star freighter -- the one ship that makes its way through the ice-laden waters of the Arctic Ocean to Barrow with supplies, and only once a year.
Howard Andersen, a Swedish evangelist who had made his home in Stamford, Connecticut (and met Dad and Mom while they were itinerating there) met us in Seattle. He and Lew Welker (a Houston oil company executive) joined Dad for the trip to Barrow, and stayed with him through the first phase of construction of the church.
Tom Brower, who was the son of the famous whaler, Charles Brower, provided an old military 4x4 weapons carrier, a 1942 Dodge fitted with tires from a Douglas DC-3 airplane to provide flotation on the tundra and swampy ground, and Dad -- along with Howard Andersen and Lew Welker, and a few conscripted locals -- hauled gravel from the beach to provide some fill for the swampy ground in the middle of town Dad had chosen for the church site. It required more than 200 loads of gravel before the ground was firm enough to support a building. Temperatures were already below freezing and water was poured on the ground to provide a base that was like concrete.
As the photo above shows, sinking piling in the ground wasn't practical, so three-foot square pads were constructed out of 2x12's with 12x12 timbers cut to provide the support for the building's flooring structure. When the building was sufficiently far along in construction, siding was added around the open area under the building. Enclosed, the ground would -- except under unusual conditions such as those that occurred when Barrow saw record high temperatures in 1979 (in the 70's) -- never thaw out.
You'll better appreciate this methodology when you realize that Barrow, which is only 1100 miles from the North Pole, has an average summer temperature of 39 degrees, and an annual mean temperature of about ten to fifteen degrees below zero. Having an average summer temperature of 39 degrees doesn't mean you don't get warm days in the 50's and 60's, but those readings only last for a few hours at a time.
Meanwhile, Mom, Howard and I hit the road again for more itinerating and sharing the vision for Barrow with churches throughout the northwest. After making the rounds of a few more churches in Idaho, we headed into Wyoming. Not long out of Cody on what is now U.S. Highway 14 headed towards Sheridan, the front end of that old 1947 Ford came apart. The highway was narrow and winding through the Big Horn Mountains. We were up at something like 10,000 feet. In those days, there were no guardrails and the road often had little in the way of a shoulder. Some places there were sheer drops of hundreds and even more than a thousand feet right off the roadway.
When the steering linkage came apart, Mom lost control of the car. Mom, Howie and I all hollered, "JESUS!!" at the same time. The car whipped around with the back tires dropping over a ledge. As the centrifugal force of the car's sideways spin took it around, the tires caught the ledge and flipped the car. We rolled over three times before landing on all fours on the opposite side of the highway. The car was totaled. Had the car somersaulted to the other side of the highway instead, we wouldn't be here to talk about it. It was the protection of the Lord that kept us from going off a sheer drop of many hundreds of feet.
Other than a lot of glass in our hair and a few minor scratches from the flying glass, I was the only one to suffer any broken bones. My left wrist was broken in several places from the impact of hitting the dash while we were playing "spin (or flip) the car." We were able to kick open the passenger side door and get out. It was only a few minutes before another car came along. That in itself was remarkable since we hadn't seen another car on the road for what seemed hours. The couple who were driving that car picked us up and took us into Sheridan (Sheridan had been our destination, anyway) and to the local hospital where my wrist was put in a cast.
The State Police arranged for our wrecked car to be hauled into Sheridan where we took out all of our personal belongings. Following our church service in Sheridan the following night, we boarded a train for Chicago, and on to Madison, Wisconsin where my grandparents had returned after some time in California. Not having a car rather complicated things, so Grandpa took us to the local Chevrolet dealer where they had a brand new (albeit a demonstrator with about 800 miles on it) 1954 Chevrolet they were willing to sell us for $1,000. It was a bargain price -- even in those days -- but it took much of the cash on hand Mom had received toward the paying for the materials for the church in Barrow.
That meant we had to do some more travel -- quite a bit, in fact -- and we wound up traveling throughout the entire state of Wisconsin and then on to Michigan and Northern Michigan over a period of months, sharing in church after church after church after church after church, ad infinitum.
It was late spring of 1955 when we knew our travels were complete. Enough money had come in to pay the bills for the building supplies, a year's supply of basic foodstuffs (dried and canned goods only, flour, sugar, etc.) and pay for our return to Alaska. We arrived in Barrow in time for the opening of the church.
The first Sunday the doors were open was a considerably different experience from the startup in Nome. Nome had been tough sledding (pun intended) from the get-go. It had taken nine years to build a solid family of believers and make a difference in Nome. From the day the doors of the church opened in Barrow, the place was packed to capacity.
Dad had built the church auditorium to seat perhaps a hundred people reasonably and comfortably. Right. "Reasonable and comfortable" were not terms those folks were thinking in. My recollection is that Dad counted 174 people crammed into the place. "Crammed" is exactly what they were. Bench seats designed to hold 10 to 12 people were holding from 16 to 20. When every seat filled, people lined up standing around the back, then around the sides, then sitting on the floor in the aisles, then sitting on the floor in front right up to the altar benches.
It was just a tad different than Dad had been expecting. When he gave his first altar call for salvation, people literally had to crawl over each other in order to make it to the front, and wound up on the platform. I do not remember how many people responded that first service, but before that first week was out, there were more than a hundred people who had accepted Jesus Christ for the first time in their lives, and many of them were baptized in the Holy Spirit.
Many extraordinary "Acts Chapter 2" experiences began to occur. For time's sake today, I'll save those stories for our next Coffee Break.
The first Monday morning after that first Sunday service, people came over to ask if we could have services every night. Night after night, week after week, month after month, we were having services. It would be inaccurate to say that every single service was packed to capacity, and the newness of "another church" in Barrow began to wear off. Nevertheless, for all practical purposes the church was mostly full every single night. Construction hadn't been finished on the living quarters yet, but by the time it reached the finishing, it was apparent that the church simply wasn't large enough to accommodate the increasing numbers.
During this period of time, the Lord brought into our lives a Texas preacher who would eventually become the means by which literally hundreds of churches throughout Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma would become involved and share the burden for the ministry that was unfolding in the arctic. Lonnie Mullen was the pastor of a church on the north side of Dallas. He'd heard about the ministry of the Capeners in the north and decided to take advantage of a hunting trip to Alaska to travel all the way to Barrow and check things out for himself. When he saw what the Lord was doing, the Holy Spirit fired him up with an enthusiasm and an excitement to become financially involved. In the years to come, he called upon numerous pastors and opened doors of opportunity and utterance so that Dad and Mom could share both the vision and the burden of the Lord for the North Country.
Dad began working on a redesign of the building that would more than double its size, increase the auditorium size by 50%, add rooms for Sunday School facilities and enlarge the living quarters, which were meager at best. By the late spring of 1957 arrangements had been made for Paul and Marguerite Bills to fill in for us while we began traveling once again in churches throughout the "states" to share the vision and the need for the expansion of the church in Barrow.
The opportunity came along to purchase a Jeep with an extended rear-end. My brother and I helped Dad build a box shell on the back similar to a small camper shell so that the vehicle could be used to haul things. We drove back to North Dakota to Uncle Roy's sheep ranch (That story is somewhat peripheral to this one, so I’ll share it at the tail end of this series) where he had a hundred-foot tower and a Wincharger wind generator. We dismantled that generator and tower, strapped the 10-foot tower section pieces (we had it broken down completely) to the top of the box, and put the smaller pieces and generator inside the box so it could be hauled up the Alaska Highway and flown to Barrow.
Until such time as a highway gets constructed from Fairbanks to Barrow (other than the temporary winter ice roads made across the many lakes that dot the Arctic Slope) the only way to get anything into Barrow other than by the North Star ship is by air. Vehicles are loaded into cargo aircraft (in those days, it was a C-124) such as a Hercules and flown north.
The wind generator would provide us with cheap electrical power once installed and take advantage of the winds that blow pretty regularly in the arctic.
During the summer months of 1957, we traveled mostly throughout Wisconsin and Michigan as a family, while Dad and Mom shared in numerous churches the developments that had taken place in Barrow, and the marvelous work of the Holy Spirit that was unfolding in the arctic. With the school year approaching and the folks wanting to get headed south in response to Lonnie Mullen's invitation, my brother and I headed to Toronto, Ontario where we enrolled in Burnhamthorpe Collegiate Institute.
That’s where we will stop for today. See you 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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