May 7, 2021
Good Morning, all you blessed people! I’m at work in a new series, and not quite finished with it yet. That said, For the next few weeks, I’m going to bring back some Coffee breaks that were originally written, some as much as 14 years ago. These Coffee Breaks still carry a message to the body of Christ that is as valid today as it was 14 years ago.
Let me share with you today, the story of a man whose life impacted me greatly, not to mention the lives of my parents. In fact, Dad used to say that if it were not for this man, it is unlikely we’d have ever gone to Alaska.
The year was 1891. It was a hard winter – one of those kind of winters where it turns cold early and where, under normal circumstances because of the cold temperatures, you tend to get less snow. This winter was not one of the winters with less snow – especially on Wrangel Island.
Situated nearly 900 miles straight west of Barrow, Alaska in the Chukchi Sea, north of the Siberian Peninsula, Wrangel Island was one of those remote places in the world occupied only by the Inupiat – and then used only as a primary base from which to hunt seal, walrus and whales, catch the occasional Eider Duck and Arctic Tern, and fish during the three or four months of the year when the rivers and lakes weren’t frozen over.
Alaksurak and Kignak were husband and wife. (Don’t try to pronounce their names, it’ll drive you crazy. Our English spelling only approximates the actual pronunciation.) They struggled for an existence in conditions that we would consider impossible.
The winter of 1891 was no exception. Because of the early snow and hard freeze, Alaksurak had not been able catch enough game to last him and his wife through the winter. By November, with the dark season approaching quickly, his supply of fish and seal meat was running low. Finding the occasional caribou, or hunting the polar bear in those conditions was increasingly difficult.
Kignak was expecting a child, and the day came when she gave birth. Alaksurak returned from an unfruitful day of hunting for seal to find that he was a father. “We can’t keep him,” he said to Kignak. “Put him in the snow.”
Eskimo tradition for centuries had demanded that if children were born into a world where there was an insufficient supply of food, they were considered “extra.” They were expendable. One could always have more children later when conditions permitted. Girls, especially, were considered non-essential. Boys could grow up and begin hunting when they were six or seven years old, but girls…..well, that was different. They were simply put out on the ice floes to freeze to death.
(This is an aside from my story, but this is essentially how I came by my first daughter, Deborah. Her Eskimo mother couldn’t care for her and came to me before she was born, asking me if I would adopt her at birth. My first reaction was to not adopt, but after the baby was born, the grandparents again approached me to adopt saying, “she’s just extra.” I adopted her when she was five months old.)
For Kignak, the thought of putting her newborn son in the snow was absolutely intolerable. Traditions aside, she felt that this little boy was a gift from a God for whom she had great reverence, but didn’t know.
“Put him in the snow,” Alaksurak again demanded. “We have no food for him. Better he should freeze to death now than suffer starvation with us.” It went against every native tradition, but Kignak stood her ground. “No! We will have enough food. You will see.”
Thus did a little boy come into this world who at first was given only one name, Patkotak. Somehow, the family made it through that winter, and the next, and the next. Patkotak was joined in life by more brothers, and they grew to become hunters like their father.
Surnames were unnecessary in those days. Everyone had only one name. It didn’t matter, really. Because of the extreme conditions and incredibly hard life, average life expectancy ranged between 28 and 35 years. Anyone older than 35 was considered quite old!
As the years went by, Alaksurak and Kignak took their family across the Chukchi Sea toward Wainwright and Barrow, traveling by dog sled. Barrow, it turned out, was a prime hunting ground. As the farthest north tip of land on the contiguous North American continent, it provided an ideal place for the currents in the Arctic Ocean to bring whales, walrus, ooguruk (a very large bearded seal) and other sea life. It was the path of natural migration for Eider Ducks and the Arctic Tern, both of which served as a staple in the diet of the Inupiat.
In the late 1890’s, a Presbyterian missionary by the name of Sheldon Jackson made his way to Barrow on one of the San Francisco-based whaling ships that plied those waters in search of the bowhead or baleen whales. He established a mission at Barrow where the young Patkotak was exposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the first time in his life.
Sheldon Jackson moved on to establish other missions, and called for Dr. Horatio Marsh and his wife to take the mission in Barrow. The Marshes established a public school and began to teach the children of the community to read, write, and learn basic arithmetic. That wasn’t easy, considering that – except for the whalers who stopped occasionally – the language of the region was Inupiat, or some other dialect of the Inuit.
Mrs. Marsh became young Patkotak’s first teacher, and taught him to speak English. One day she asked him, “Do you have any other name besides Patkotak?” He said, ‘No.” “Then we are going to name you after the apostle Paul. From now on, you will be known as Paul Patkotak.” The name stuck, and in later years everyone would realize that it was prophetic.
In 1911, Paul began a trek south to sell a growing pile of valuable furs. Traveling first by dog team, then by whaling ship, and finally by one of the ships owned by the Seattle-based Alaska Steamship Company, he eventually made it to Seattle. He had to trade some of his valuable Arctic Blue Fox furs for his transportation, but he still arrived with 14 pelts to sell. At roughly $5.00 per pelt, that would give him a fair amount of money, and he could exist for a long time on it.
The Christian foundations that had been laid in his life by the Marshes now began to be built upon as he sat through two winters at what was then called Seattle Free Methodist Seminary (now Seattle Pacific University). In 1913, he went to Portland where he happened upon an Apostolic Faith mission. Here, he was exposed to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which had begun at the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles in 1906.
The infilling of the Holy Spirit set ablaze a passion for Jesus Christ and a burning desire to see salvation come to family and friends scattered from Cape Prince of Wales to Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories and even westward to campsites in the Amundsen Gulf.
Now about 25 years old, Paul headed back north to share that fire burning within him. His immediate family and friends had accepted Jesus Christ at the Presbyterian mission in Barrow, and they were glad to see his return. They were not glad, however, to see that young Paul was a firebrand.
“You’ve become a fanatic,” they complained. The Marshes were gone from Barrow, but other missionaries were there who had heard about Paul from the Marshes. They were glad to meet him, but puzzled by this unusual presence they felt with him. When he opened his mouth to share the Gospel with others in the Inupiat language, however, it was the first time many of them had heard the message of salvation in their own tongue. The new missionaries welcomed Paul as a fellow-minister of the Gospel despite the fact that he held no papers with any organization.
Paul felt that the good news of Jesus Christ needed to get outside the four walls of the church and looked for a place to begin preaching. 10 or 12 miles north of the village of Barrow was a sand spit known as Point Barrow. It was a narrow strip of land that tailed out to the east where hunters liked to congregate. It was a perfect spot to hunt birds. So Paul set up a campsite at Point Barrow where he began to preach the gospel to his fellow-Inupiat folks.
Everyone smiled as he preached and nodded their heads in affirmation of his message, but few actually responded to the invitation to accept Jesus Christ. In the years that followed, he met a Canadian Inuit woman named Ethel. The love between them was nearly instantaneous, and they married soon thereafter.
Now Paul had a companion, a counterpart, someone who loved him and loved the Lord Jesus Christ as much as he did. She defied native convention, traveling with him as he went from village to village, campsite to campsite, preaching and teaching. When she became pregnant, it was apparent that they needed a more permanent home, and Ethel set up housekeeping for them in Barrow. She went to work as a teacher’s aide – again defying native convention.
Paul continued his travels by dog team across the arctic coast, even reaching Banks Island and Victoria Island in the far north arctic waters only a few hundred miles from the North Pole. Everywhere he went, he preached, he prayed, he interceded, he invited folks to come to know Jesus Christ. And, for the most part, people listened intently, clapped their hands when he finished preaching and praying for them, smiled cordially at his presentation, and ignored the message of salvation.
In the meantime, Ethel bore him five children, Billy, Simeon, Steven, Elizabeth and Olive. Paul began to reduce the amount of time he traveled from village to village in order to be with his growing family, but he continued his travels nonetheless.
Wainwright became home to Paul, Ethel and their children. The lack of response from the native community was discouraging, but he continued undaunted. As his sons and daughters became teenagers, they found themselves ridiculed by their generation. Their father, after all, was an odd duck among the Inupiat and the Inuit. Shamanism and witchcraft had been so much a part of their culture for centuries that the message of Jesus Christ and deliverance from such demonic activity was untenable.
The demonic roots of shamanism were so ingrained in their DNA that they feared anything which took them away from it. Fear ruled the north.
The Fear of Death, the Fear of Evil, the Fear of Man all pervaded the culture and lifestyle of the north. The fact that Paul Patkotak exhibited none of those fears made him a person to be feared.
As the years continued, Paul’s children found that it was easier just to go along with cultural tide and drifted into the practices of past generations. Paul and Ethel were brokenhearted, but absolutely determined that their children were going to know Jesus Christ as they knew Him. Eventually, Paul – now in his fifties – restricted his travels from village to village, only traveling and preaching as he felt specifically instructed by the Holy Spirit.
1957 came and Paul was now past his 65th birthday. Barrow had become our home. Dad was enlarging the church built a couple years before. Someone else had finally come to Barrow to preach that same message Paul had been preaching for years and years – the message that the infilling of the Holy Spirit as it occurred on the day of Pentecost was still available to Christians in the same way, and with the same demonstration as had occurred nearly 2,000 years before.
I’ve already shared with you in a previous Coffee Break how the Holy Spirit was poured out in Barrow in a manner that rivaled anything you can read in the book of Acts. It’s now the late fall of 1957, and the move of the Holy Spirit is in full bloom. Steven Patkotak, Paul’s son, has been out hunting and as he returns to Barrow sees the shaft of light over the church. His wife, Jane, has already been in those meetings. She has no way to tell Steven what has happened to her and how she has been changed by the presence of the Lord.
The visible display over the church drew Steven immediately. He unloaded his dog sled of his hunting gear and game, and came straight to the church. That night, he too found the peace that had escaped him for most of his life. He found the same joy his father, Paul, had always displayed, always talked about, but he had never experienced because of his personal rebellion in his youth.
Word spread to Wainwright, of course, of what had been happening. Paul couldn’t wait for a bush plane and harnessed his dog team. Driving his dogs the 94 miles from Wainwright, he arrived in Barrow in time for one of the evening meetings. As he walked into the church and saw the place packed almost to the walls with people singing, rejoicing, praising God, the tears burst forth on his face like a geyser.
Once he entered the church, he never stopped until he had stepped over people seated on the floor to make his way to the front. He grabbed my father by the shoulders, hugged him and wept. “Brother Capener! Brother Capener! You are the answer to forty years of prayer and intercession.”
Watching Paul Patkotak hug my father that night and weep tears of unutterable joy, I had no idea of the foundations he had laid, nor the years he had labored with so little to show. In the weeks, months, and years that followed, Paul shared with us how he had prayed, how he had preached, how he had traveled across the arctic slope to share the message of salvation and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Paul had a simple, but very profound faith. He had the goods to back his faith. Paul Patkotak had been transformed some 40 years before from a young man steeped in shamanism in a culture of fear to a man vibrant in his faith and confidence toward Jesus Christ. Though few listened to him during those years he traveled and preached, and though even fewer still responded to his message of faith and power, he never once lost sight of the need for the transforming life in Christ among his people. He never ceased to pray and intercede daily for his family, for his friends, and for people who dotted the northland.
Paul Patkotak was a modern-day apostle Paul. Once the spiritual dam broke, and we saw the outpouring of the Holy Spirit begin in Barrow, others followed my father. Paul Bills came behind us in Barrow. There was Cecelia Piper who went to Wainwright. There was Agnes Rodli who went to Kaktovik, and on to Tuktoyaktuk. There was Don Webster, the Wycliffe Bible translator who spent years in Wainwright, translating the Bible into the Inupiat language. There was Dwain McKenzie (whom I pastored with on two occasions) who twice ministered in Barrow and also served at Point Hope and Fort Yukon.
Paul Patkotak served as my father’s translator in Barrow, then in Wainwright when we moved there to build a church, and again at Point Hope for a time when we moved there to build a church. He was able to see with his own eyes the transformation of hundreds, if not thousands, of people who had listened to him and not responded, along with those who had mocked and ridiculed his faith. He saw as his own sons and daughters came to know Jesus Christ, experiencing the faith and power of Jesus Christ in their lives as he had known.
Comparing notes with Paul one day, we realized that there was not one place where we built in Alaska where Paul had not stopped at some point in his journeys and preached. When Dad took note of the day and time that God had called him in an audible voice and said to him, “I want you to go to Alaska for me,” he realized that God’s call came when Paul began to intercede for the people he was preaching to.
Paul had wept and said, “Brother Capener, you are the answer to my prayers.” Dad, in turn, said to Paul, “Brother Paul, I wouldn’t be in Alaska if it were not for you and your faithful intercession. The harvest we see and are reaping is the product of your sowing and tears. God has heard your cries and we are here. And the Holy Spirit is being poured out.”
I look back to my years of ministry in Alaska and consider the miracles I have seen. I consider my years involved in bringing Christian television broadcasting to Alaska. Lives were changed. Communities were transformed. The arctic today may yet be an inhospitable place in terms of climate, but the spirit of Alaska has changed.
Paul Patkotak, the modern apostle Paul, went to be with the Lord just after his 91st birthday in November, 1982. The message he preached, and the gallons of tears he shed on behalf of Alaskans and northern Canadians for some 70 years, are directly responsible for the transformation that continues to sweep through the north.
I owe him. More than words can express. So do thousands of other Christians scattered from Russia to Alaska to Canada to Greenland.
Enjoy your day, folks. Blessings on you!
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 10:30AM Pacific. That conference number is (712) 770-4160, and the access code is 308640#. We are now making these gatherings available on video usingZOOM. If you wish to participate by video on ZOOM, our login ID is 835-926-513. If you miss the live voice-onlycall, you can dial (712) 770-4169, enter the same access code and listen in later. The video call, of course, is not recorded – not yet, anyway.
Blessings on you!
Regner A. Capener
RIVER WORSHIP CENTER
Temple, Texas 76502
Email Contact: CapenerMinistries@protonmail.com
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