Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Forgotten Promise

While I was growing up in Southeast, Alaska, in the fifties, my grandparents pastored the community church in the tiny fishing village of Pelican, about 90 miles from Juneau. This item appeared in the Daily Alaska Empire about a man we knew who lived in Pelican.

The headline read: "Mayor of Pelican, his son missing in shipwreck. Helvig Christinson, lone survivor, badly frozen, is flown to Juneau."

The article related the man's account of what had happened:

Reefs on the Pacific side of Yakobi Island  Courtesy
"A man learns to pray when he's sure there's no hope for him," Helvig Christinson, survivor of the shipwrecked Dixie, said through blackened and swollen lips this morning from his bed at St. Ann's Hospital. He is suffering with frozen feet and hands.

Christinson, a machine shop operator at Pelican, left a week ago today with Fred Wetche and 14-year-old Fred Junior, who are still missing, to go on a hunting trip to Bingham Cove on [Yakobi Island off] the northwest end of Chichagof Island. They planned to return last Wednesday.

"We were underway in heavy seas when the boat gave a lurch and the motor stopped," Christinson explained. "We found that a battery had been thrown against the carburetor and broke it. The anchor wouldn't hold, and we started to drift toward Yakobi Rock at about 15 miles an hour. Then we struck a reef. It took only about 25 minutes for the seas to wreck the boat.

"We took to the skiff. It swamped, and we struck out for the rock. I made it and thought I saw the boy, but evidently he didn't make it. The wind was high, and the waves pounded. It was cold."

The storm raged for several days. With each rising tide, the rock, which was completely surrounded by ocean, was submerged in the swirling, near-freezing salt water, soaking Christinson's legs. As the tide ebbed, exposing the rock, his legs became encrusted in ice. For 3 days he clung tenaciously to that rock. For 3 days he prayed, "God, if you will get me off this rock alive, I'll serve You."

After 3 days, the storm abated. He heard a motor and started to yell. Betty and Marie Mork and Tom Allaine in their troller heard him and rescued him.

Both of Christinson's feet and parts of his fingers and ears had to be amputated as a result of the freezing. The rest of the crew were never found.

He had promised God, "If You save me from dying, I'll serve You the rest of my life."

God answered his prayer for rescue, but Mr. Christinson didn't keep his promise. The people of Pelican cheered when he learned to dance on his artificial feet, but he didn't go to church. As far as we know, although he lived many more years, he never did keep his promise to serve God.

We mustn't cluck our tongues over this story. How many times do we get in a pinch and make promises to God, but when the crisis is over, we forget all about our promises? Have you ever made a promise you didn't keep? Maybe it's not too late to make good on it now.

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