Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Out-of-Character Request that Saved Our Lives

Byron & Marjory Personeus
Today I was looking through some writings of my Aunt Marjory Personeus given to me by their daughter last summer. Uncle Byron and Aunt Marjory have both gone to be with the Lord, but they operated a mission boat in Southeast Alaska in the forties and fifties and then around Vancouver Island for another 20 years.

During those years, they often experienced God's protection. Some of their stories are included in my book, Frontiers of Faith, about my grandparents' 65 years of ministry in Alaska as pioneer missionaries. But this story was one I had never heard.





I am telling it here in my aunt's point of view:

At 5 o'clock in the morning, I rolled over. The cabin was cold, but it was too early to be disturbed. "Don't get up to start the fire yet, dear. I'm so comfortable. Let's wait until 6." We snuggled under the warm covers.

The little three burner propane stove in the tiny cabin on our missionary boat, Gospel Light II, could not keep us warm, so we had installed a small charcoal stove we had picked up at the army-navy store several years before. The instructions promised no fumes or chimney needed.

At 6 a.m., Byron got up to start the charcoal stove and crawled back into our bunk, a small chesterfield (couch) on one side of the main cabin, until 7. Then we had to hurry and get underway for a logging camp where we were to hold Sunday school that morning, the first to be held at the location. We had visited the homes and invited the children, hoping to soon build it up into a regular morning service too. We didn't want to be late.

At 7 a.m., Byron went outside onto the aft deck to turn on the gas so he could start the engine. That's when he noticed that the air inside the boat smelled quite stale, so he left the door open. As I got up to make up the bunk, I felt sick. I tried to get out the cereal for breakfast but had to lie down again.

When Byron came back in, he said, "I feel sick."

I was feeling a bit better, so I quickly got up and told him to lie down. No sooner was he on the chesterfield than down I went onto the cold, hard deck. I could not stand up.

Byron managed to honk the boat's horn to signal for help, but no one came. The folks in our beautiful little village of Quatsino, where we had had a precious service the night before, thought we were signaling a friendly goodbye.

The Gospel Light II in the 1960s
Byron forced himself up and outside onto the float to untie the boat, almost falling into the water as he tried to loosen the lines. Steadying himself, he staggered back on board and to the controls. The little engine chugged to life, and we got underway.

Try as I might, I couldn't make myself do anything. Each time I tried to get up, my head felt so light I had to drop down again. I couldn't even attend Sunday school that morning. Although he too was feeling very weak and had a headache, Byron had to do his best without me.

That afternoon, we continued on to Port Alice for an afternoon service. An RN in the congregation told us that our symptoms indicated that we had no doubt almost been asphyxiated by carbon monoxide. Since my side of the bunk was under the side deck where the fumes had collected, I was hardest hit. Both of us had bad headaches all that day.

When out dear congregation in Quatsino learned of our near-death experience, they came to our boat the next Saturday night after service and presented us with a key to a lovely little cabin. "We don't want you to sleep on your boat any more. Whenever you minister in this area, we want you to sleep here."

Rarely did I tell my husband not to get up to start the fire early on a chilly fall morning. How thankful I was for God's nudging that morning! Little did I realize that my unusual request would save our lives. An hour longer breathing those fumes and we'd have been dead.


Beside Still Waters, Book 3 of my Alaskan Waters Trilogy, is now available in Kindle, Nook, iTunes, and in paperback. See www.AnnaLeeConti.com






Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Greatest Legacy

I spent today at a funeral for an 84-year-old woman. As I listened to the people who spoke, I noticed that no one praised her for what she did in life, but for how she loved people.

This woman spent her life as a mother and a pastor's wife. People talked about how she opened her home to a church every Sunday, how she loved to teach children in Sunday school, how she made spaghetti for the congregation every Sunday, and how she brought many of them into the Kingdom of God by the time she spent with them. She was a true Mother of the church.

Many people are concerned about leaving a legacy. They want to be remembered. They want to leave their mark on society--something that will show they have been on earth.

The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt spent their lives building pyramids as monuments to their reigns. Presidents of the United States talk about their legacy and build presidential libraries. Many people spend their lives making a lot of money to leave to their heirs. Others write books, paint or sculpt artistic creations, build houses, earn degrees, do humanitarian deeds.

Courtesy Google.com
Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that 'God has planted eternity in the human heart.' It is no wonder, then, that we spend our days trying to do something that will outlast us.

First Corinthians 13:13 names the only lasting legacy we can leave: love. That's why God tells us to make love the ultimate priority of our lives.

When people come to the end of their lives, do they want to look at the rewards and medals, their diplomas and gold watches, the books they have authored, their artistic creations?

No, they want to see the people they love. Seldom do they say, "I wish I had done more." The most common wish is that they had spent more time with their loved ones.

Mother Teresa once said, "It's not what you do, but how much love you put into it that matters."

The greatest legacy we can leave is not our wealth or our accomplishments, but our love for our family, for the family of God, and for humankind.

Wisdom is realizing that love is the most important thing in life. Let's not wait until our life is ending to discover that. Let's begin today to build a legacy of love.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Pelican I Remember




My Alaskan Waters Trilogy of historical Christian novels is set in Southeast Alaska, where I grew up in the fifties. As a child, I spent all of my summers visiting my grandparents, who pastored the only church in Pelican, a fishing village on Chichagof Island between Juneau and Sitka. I have fond memories of that town, and it is featured in my first book in this series, Till the Storm Passes By.


Pelican in 1953 ©AnnaLee Conti

The following is a piece I wrote years ago for a writing course. The assignment was to write a description. I wrote about Pelican as I remembered it.


"What a nasty southeaster!" grumbled the old fisherman as I passed him on the boardwalk.

"The worst we're had all summer," I agreed. The rain beat down on me, trickled down my neck, and ran off my nose. "An umbrella's useless in wind like this."

Pelican from the air
Activity had nearly ceased as I trudged down the main street of Pelican. By "main street" I mean a boardwalk that was about fifteen feet wide, built on creosoted, barnacled pilings over the waters of Lizianski Inlet. The houses and buildings also perched precariously on piling on either side of the boardwalk. The town stretched about a mile, curving with the rocky cliffs to which Pelican tenaciously clung. The tide ebbed and flowed under the town.

The red wagon in which my suitcase rested clattered and splattered as I pulled it over the rough, slippery boards toward the post office where the Alaska Coastal Airlines office was located. The rain continued to pound me mercilessly. Occasionally, lightning flashed. I counted the seconds to the thunder roll.

The fog was so thick I could not see the red light that flashed on the buoy at the entrance to the harbor. Seagulls swooped overhead like tiny white phantoms in the fog. The wind was tangy with salt water and fish slime. The odor of rotten eggs from low tide still pervaded the air.

A raven cawed frantically just above me. I jumped. As I glanced up to see what was the matter, my right foot skidded out from under me on the slippery walk and down I thudded. Icy water soaked through my clothing before I could scramble to my feet.

A few yards farther, I passed the two local bars. Raucous laughter rang out above the throb of the juke box. The weather-bound fishermen had nowhere else to spend their time and money. One old leather-faced fisherman in a black slicker tottered out of one tavern toward the other as I passed.

I slopped on through the rain toward the post office. Soon, the boat harbor became visible through the fog. The trollers and seiners rolled and twisted in their moorings as the choppy waves caught them, and the wind rattled their tall poles.

The tiny skiffs tied to the close end of the float were half filled with water. Except for several fishermen securing their boats, the float was vacant. Even the youngsters, who seldom left their favorite fishing spots except to eat and sleep, were missing.

Farther on, I passed the little firehouse, which sheltered the smallest fire engine I'd ever seen, and approached Pelican's only bakery. Even old Wobbly had closed up shop today, and I missed the familiar aroma of fresh bread.

Next to the bakery stood the little white schoolhouse, which would open in a few weeks. The empty swings in the playground twisted in the wind. Part of the chicken wire fence, which had broken away, grated back and forth as each gust of wind hit it.

The Standard Oil dock and the salmon cannery opposite the school were closed until they could get more fish. No cheery "hello" rang out from the Filipinos who drove the jitneys, carrying loads of canned salmon to storage until the next Alaska Steamship freighter came in. The cannery's cookhouse, Pelican's only restaurant, was also closed until the storm passed.

The docks around the fish house and cold storage plant just ahead were vacant. Yesterday's fish had been cleaned and stored in ice, and now only a faint fishy odor clung to the deserted building.

Pelican boat harbor today
To my right was the post office, located next to the small general store and the offices of the Pelican Cold Storage Company. I grabbed my suitcase and dashed inside. By this time, I was thoroughly soaked and chilled to the bone.

Before I could ask the agent when the Alaska Coastal Grumman "Goose" was due in, through the static on the radio a voice cackled, "Due to lack of visibility, Alaska Coastal flight 2 now turning back to Juneau. Over and out."

"When will Pelican ever get telephones?" I grumbled.


Pelican Church in the fifties
Today, Pelican has telephones and televisions, and the Grumman "Goose" no longer flies there. The church, where we lived in the attached living quarters, still sits atop the hill above the cold storage plant, but the little trees now tower above it blocking the wonderful view of the inlet we loved to enjoy. City hall now occupies the old school building and the school has moved to a modern building at the other end of the boardwalk. The cannery is closed. Sports fishing and tourism are the main industries now. It's still a great place to visit.



Check out my Alaskan Waters Trilogy on Amazon. Book 3, Beside Still Waters, available in e-book, coming soon in paperback.






Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Lifelong Search Rewarded

A warm, sunny Sunday morning near Athens, Greece, not far from the road traveled by the Apostle Paul, an 8-year-old, sandy-haired boy sat in a tree. He was obviously American. He had climbed up there to get a better view. As he gazed out over that ancient land from his perch on the gnarled limb, he heard a unit of Greek soldiers singing hymns as they marched to the Greek Orthodox Church.

How guilty the boy felt because he never went to church! God must hate me, he thought.
Then a warm Presence enveloped him, as though Someone had put His arms around him. "I love you, Bobby," He seemed to say.

For the first time in his young life, the boy knew there was a God who loved him. But how could he know Him? The boy didn't know, but at that moment in time he determined to search for a relationship with Him.

Robert James Conti was born July 12, 1944, in Newburgh, New York, while his father was fighting in World War II in the European Theater. His father, who made the Air Force his career, was not a religious man. He'd been baptized and married in the Catholic Church, but that was all. Bob's mother had a Baptist background, but she did not attend church then, either. Thus, Bob had had no religious training of any kind.

Aristides
The Air Force sent the family to Greece for three years when Bob was 8 years old. He had few playmates and often explored the countryside alone with only his specially trained guard dog, a German police dog named Aristides, for a companion.

After his experience in the tree, Bob immediately began to search for God. Church was the place to start, he figured. In Greece, that meant the nearby Greek Orthodox Church, so Bob went to visit. As he entered the huge stone cathedral, fear filled him. It was dimly lit by candles. Incense pervaded the air. After the bright sunshine, it took time for his eyes to adjust. From all along the walls, strange looking statues and icons stared down at him.

A priest in a flowing black robe, a long beard, and a tall, stovepipe hat with the brim at the top approached him. "This is no place to play. Scram." Bob took one look and fled. Feeling none of the peace and comfort he'd experienced in the tree, he decided that he surely wouldn't find God there.

When the family returned to the States, Bob again began his quest to satisfy the longing in his heart to know God. They were stationed in Bethesda, Maryland, and his buddy across the street, who was a Catholic, began telling Bob he was going to hell unless he went to church.

That remark sent him running to his parents to find out what religion they were. "You were baptized a Catholic," they told him. So Bob began going to the Catholic Church just around the corner with his buddy.

Bob was now 11 years old. He had a lot of catching up to do, so a special catechism class was formed just for him that summer. He became a very devout Catholic. Bob had an excellent singing voice, and he was soon singing in the choir at Mass. He learned the prayers and spent many hours in prayer.

Every week, he went to confession, even though it was a frightening experience for him. For the one moment following confession, he felt all clean and good inside, but then he'd swear or commit some other sin and had to sweat it out until the next Saturday confession. Due to his penchant for swearing, he often confessed to having been "irrelevant," until the priest suggested he meant "irreverent."

During Bob's sophomore year of high school, the family was transferred to Fairbanks, Alaska. The Catholic chaplain on the base gave him a Good News for Modern Man, a translation of the New Testament in modern English approved by the Catholic Church. The Mass at that time was still in Latin, but Bob had always loved the weekly readings in English from the gospels. He began to devour the stories in his New Testament.

As he read, many questions came to his mind. When he mentioned them to the priest, he was told to just trust the Church. "The layman cannot understand the Bible." But that didn't satisfy Bob. When he graduated from high school, he left the Catholic Church. Since he'd been taught that the Catholic Church was the only true church, he had no idea how to know God now.

While in high school, Bob became an Explorer Boy Scout. Many weekends, he, and sometimes a buddy, would go camping in the subArctic winters learning to survive in sub-zero temperatures. Many times during those crackling cold nights among the aspens and birch trees, he would look at the stars or the dancing Aurora Borealis and pray, using the Catholic prayers with his lips, while his heart cried out for fellowship with his Maker. He had always been a loner, and the frozen expanse of earth and heaven added to his loneliness. Yet, he loved the solitude.

The week he graduated from high school at age 17, he left home. He worked as a night watchman for the military recreation center at Birch Lake near Fairbanks. Patrolling the lake in his speedboat during those short twilight nights, watching the sun set at 10 or 11 p.m. only to rise at 2 a.m., coming upon a cow moose and her calf grazing on the lake bottom at sunrise was like heaven to him. The stillness of the lake in those hours soothed his soul.

In the fall, he enrolled as a freshman in the engineering department at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. There, he learned to drink and smoke a pipe and cigars. He had never been a particularly good student in spite of his obvious intelligence, and the end of the year found him on academic probation.

Bob at Paxson  September 1963
That summer, he worked as a surveyor for the Alaska Department of Highways at Paxson, a hunting lodge near Denali National Park, building a road into the Alaskan wilderness. "Roughing it," they called it. Instead of going to town to look for girls with the guys on his days off, he explored the area. Finding a secluded place, he would sing the Catholic liturgy and songs like "Ave Maria" at the top of his lungs or pray his Catholic prayers in his desperation for God because they were all he knew. And he still went on drinking sprees then went to work with a hangover.

That fall, he went back to the university. A friendship developed with a girl he had met the previous year. She was different than the other girls he knew. One week she invited him to her church, the Denali Bible Chapel, a Plymouth Brethren fellowship. They had a Canadian evangelist for special services.

The sermon that night was simple and quietly given. The text was John 10:9, "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture." The evangelist talked about the Door, Jesus Christ. He said, "Many people come to the Door. They look at it. They open it. They walk all around it, but only by entering through it can we be saved."

Bob looked back over his life and thought, "That's me. I've looked at it. I've walked all around it. But I don't know if I've ever walked through that Door."

After the service, Bob talked with the evangelist. "I'm not sure if I've been saved or not, but what you're talking about sounds like something I've done before."

The evangelist said, "Well, let's put it this way. If you weren't saved before, then you know you are now." And they prayed together.

Later, Bob learned the hymn, "Precious Hiding Place." He says, "'I was straying when Christ found me, in the night so dark and cold,' and friends, that's true because I found God at the age of 19 in November in Fairbanks, Alaska, and let me tell you, it was dark and cold! Yet, everything seemed brighter and cleaner, and I felt brand new inside."

*****

Now that my Alaskan Waters Trilogy of Christian fiction is completed, I am beginning a collection of stories and testimonies of my family as we followed in the footsteps of faith of my maternal grandparents, Charles and Florence Personeus, pioneer missionaries to Alaska, 1917-1982. I hope to publish them in a sequel to Frontiers of Faith. The working title is Following in the Footsteps of Faith. This will be one of the stories.


NOTE: Beside Still Waters, Book 3 in the Alaskan Waters Trilogy, is now available in e-book on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com. It will be available very soon in paperback.

 





Thursday, April 20, 2017

Beside Still Waters

Watch for Beside Still Waters, Book Three, Coming Soon in e-Book 

and in Paperback in May!



Is she jumping from a city firetrap factory into a wilderness icebox? 


In the third and final book in the Alaskan Waters series, Beside Still Waters, Violet Channing, orphaned at a young age, is tossed about by life's turbulent waters when the aunt who raised her dies. She wants nothing more than to be a schoolteacher. 

Living in a Boston tenement in 1915, barely able to survive, she accepts a job as a live-in teacher for a sick, motherless child in the harsh Yukon Territory. 

Sailing up the Inside Passage of Alaska, she falls in love with a dashing Yukon riverboat captain. Just when her life feels as beautiful as her new surroundings, tragedy strikes again. 

Can Violet allow her losses to make her better not bitter and learn to love again in this continuing saga of the loves, tragedies, and second chances of a Norwegian immigrant family who must battle the beautiful but often dangerous waters of early twentieth century Southeast Alaska?

Scenes Violet may have seen while traveling to the Yukon Territory:

Whales bubble feeding along the Inside Passage
Courtesy Google.com


Whale breaching along the Inside Passage
Courtesy Google.com



White Pass & Yukon Route Railway between
Skagway & Whitehorse
Courtesy Google.com
Lake Bennett, Yukon Territory,
Courtesy Google.com
Yukon Sternwheeler "Casca" mentioned in Beside Still Waters
Courtesy Google.com

Beside Still Waters, along with the other two books in the Alaskan Waters Trilogy, Till the Storm Passes By and A Star to Steer By, is published by Ambassador International and is available at Amazon.com (Kindle and paperback), BN.com (Nook and Paperback), iBooks, Kobo, Vyrso, and ChristianBook.com. 









Thursday, April 13, 2017

Proofs of the Resurrection

Last spring, I attended a high school production of the musical, Godspell. Even though it is an old musical, I had never seen it before. The depiction of the life of Christ was fairly good until the last scene. They left out the Resurrection. I wanted to stand up and shout, "You omitted the best part of the story. He's alive!"

The Resurrection of Jesus is the most significant event in all of history. 


The Pyramids of Egypt are famous because they contain the mummified bodies of ancient Egyptian pharaohs. Westminster Abbey in London is revered because in it rest the bodies of English nobles and notables. Mohammed's tomb is noted for the stone coffin and the bones it contains. Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D. C., is honored as the resting place of many outstanding Americans.

Courtesy Google.com

But the Garden Tomb of Jesus is famous because it is empty! 

I've been there. I've walked around inside. It's empty. He's not dead. He's alive forevermore! And because He is alive, He will always be with us.

One local advice column received a letter from "Bewildered": "Our preacher said that Jesus just swooned on the cross, and the disciples nursed Him back to health. What do you think?"

The columnist responded, "Beat your preacher with a cat-o-nine tails with 39 heavy strokes, nail him to a cross, hang him in the hot sun for 8 hours, run a spear through his heart, embalm him, put him in an airless tomb for 36 hours, and see what happens."

The Resurrection of Jesus is one of the best documented facts of history. Read the Gospel accounts and 1 Corinthians 15:3-9. In addition to the NT accounts, the Resurrection is referenced in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus and the Roman historian Tacitus, among others.

Let's look at the event itself. The centurion overseeing the crucifixion had certainly seen death before, and he declared Jesus to be dead. And the guards, under penalty of death if they deserted their post, ran away from the tomb at what they had seen.

The empty tomb was the first indication to the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead. On the first Easter morning, the women who came to complete the embalming of Jesus expected to find the tomb sealed by an enormous stone. They wondered how they would be able to roll it away to gain access to the body. When they arrived, they found the tomb open and empty.

Not only was the body missing, but angels proclaimed that Jesus had risen.

The position of the grave clothes looked as though the body had evaporated through them, leaving them undisturbed except for the folded head napkin.

The gospels emphasize that the disciples did not expect to ever see Jesus again. They were afraid and hid.

Over the course of 40 days, Jesus repeatedly appeared to His followers individually, in small groups, and to a gathering of 500. He talked with them, ate with them, and they touched Him. Most of them were still living when the New Testament was written. Certainly, they would have refuted it if it were not true.

If Jesus' enemies had stolen the body, they would have surely produced it to disprove the disciples' preaching of the Resurrection.

But the greatest proof of all is the changed lives of His disciples and millions more down through the ages. If the disciples had stolen the body, as the Jewish leaders claimed, they could never have preached with such conviction nor would they have so courageously suffered martyrs' deaths for a lie. They were transformed from fearful cowards into bold witnesses who declared the fact that Jesus is alive again.

And Jesus is still radically changing lives today.

The Resurrection is the foundation of our Christian faith. In his great treatise on the Resurrection, the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, pointed out that "if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then our faith is useless, and we are still under the condemnation of sin."

But He did rise from the dead, and whoever believes on Him has eternal life. Jesus said, "Because I live, you will live also" (John 14:19). Because He lives, we have eternal life with Him if we simply accept His sacrifice on the cross as the payment for our sins and live for Him.

If you've never done so, why don't you make this Easter your personal Resurrection Day by receiving the life He wants to give you?

Thursday, April 6, 2017

To the Rescue

Recently, I came across a touching story that I want to share:


Many years ago, a sailing ship was driven onto the rocky coast of Scotland in a tremendous hurricane. The wind and waves were rapidly beating the vessel to pieces. The life-saving crew on shore, at great peril to themselves, attempted to rescue the ship's crew.

With heroic effort, they had succeeded in getting them all into the lifeboat. As they were drawing away from the stricken ship, however, they noticed one poor man who had been overlooked and was clinging to what was left of the rigging.

The rescue team said, "If we attempt to go back to get him, our boat will be dashed to pieces, and we will all be lost." Reluctantly, they left the man and continued toward shore.

When they landed, one strong young man said, "If someone will go with me, I will go back and get that man off the wreck."

His mother, who was standing by his side, put her arms around him and begged, "My boy, you must not go. Your father was a sailor and was lost at sea in a storm like this. Eight years later, your brother, William, went to sea, and we have not heard from him since. No doubt he too has found a watery grave. What am I to do if you go and are drowned? I am old, and you are my only support. You are the only one left. I beg you not to go."

Gently, he removed her arm from around his neck. "Mother, out there is a man in peril. I believe it is my duty to rescue him. If I am lost while doing my duty, God will take care of you." He kissed her. Then he and his companion stepped into the boat and rowed away into the teeth of the storm.

Those on shore waited a long time. Anxiously, they strained to see through the raging storm, hoping and praying for the lifeboat's safe return. By and by, they saw it struggling through the wind and darkness toward the shore.

Finally, weary and worn out, the two brave men applied all their remaining strength to reach land. When they were near enough to be heard, those on shore shouted, "Did you save the other man?"

Lifting his hands to his mouth to trumpet the good news, the young man called back, "Yes! Tell my mother I've got my brother, William!"

The lone man he had rescued from the rigging was his long lost brother!

This story reminds me of a song my uncle used to play from his gospel mission boat as he approached a tiny village or cannery in Southeast Alaska, "Let the Lower Lights Be Burning." One line reads, "Some poor fainting, struggling seaman you may rescue, you may save."

The Lord wants each of us to reflect His light into the storms of life that would destroy our brothers and sisters and rescue the perishing from the destruction of sin. What are we doing to accomplish this task?