Monday, June 24, 2013

Change of Plans

In Pelican, our Personeus grandparents welcomed us enthusiastically. Not only were they happy to see us, but they needed help. The land the town had given them for the church building had been covered with windfalls up to twelve layers deep, like a gigantic game of pick-up sticks.

Grandpa and Uncle Byron had cleared enough land by hand to build the church and had built the framework, but the heating system could not be installed until a chimney was erected. When we arrived, Daddy and Uncle Byron carted all the cement for the tall chimney in wheelbarrows up a long, steep hill on boardwalks--a backbreaking task.

The winds blowing off the inlet that summer were so cold that Mother had to keep us dressed in snowsuits inside as well as outside. By then, Mother knew she was expecting another baby, due in November. As the summer drew to a close, she began to have difficulty walking because of the way she was carrying the baby. She needed medical care, but Pelican had no doctor.

That fall, Mother and Daddy decided that we needed to go to Juneau, where there were doctors and a hospital, until the baby was born. An elderly friend and former co-worker of my grandparents offered to let our family live in her rental house on the beach half a mile outside of town. While living in this house was when my mother told me to play with a bear (see post "Encounter with a Bear").

Another morning, while I was playing on the same second story porch of this house, I somehow managed to fall head first over the railing onto the huge oil tank and onto the ground, knocking myself out cold. I must have been out for about half an hour. When I came to, I was lying on my parents' bed, and Mother was spooning hot tea into my mouth and praying out loud for me. Since I seemed none the worse for the accident, she never did take me to the doctor.

While in Juneau, Daddy needed to get a job. The only one he could find that paid enough to support the family was as a traffic man at the Alaska Coastal Airlines. But he had to promise to stay for a year. So once again, God changed their plans. One year extended into ten years as my father was promoted to boss of the cargo department at the airlines. After my sister, Kathy, was born, my parents were asked to take over the operation of the Bethel Beach Children's Home when the matron retired. She and the home's founders had worked closely with my grandparents in starting the church that is now called Juneau Christian Center. It was at this children's home that we ran out of water (see post, "No Water!"). Once again, God was "leading His children along."

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Going to Alaska Part 3, "Wash Out!"

The scenery along the train's route changed from farmland to prairie, and after many days of travel, the Rocky Mountains loomed ahead. When the train entered British Columbia near the end of May 1948, our food supplies had run out, but our parents weren't too worried. We would soon meet up with my uncle's mission boat in Prince Rupert and be sailing to Pelican, Alaska.

As the train approached the Columbia River Basin, however, my parents watched anxiously as a tributary along the tracks churned angrily and rose higher and higher. Along with its tributaries, the Columbia River Basin covers seven states and most of central British Columbia.

"The tracks are washed out!" The word was passed from car to car:  "We're being rerouted by bus to Vancouver."

Unbeknownst to the Cousarts, the snow pack that winter had been up to 135 percent of normal. Warmer than usual temperatures and two major rainstorms the latter half of May 1948 had combined with the high snow melt to swell tributaries feeding the Columbia to the highest flood levels ever. The Columbia River went on a rampage, flooding the entire basin, affecting communities as far up river as Trail, British Columbia, and as far south as Vanport, Oregon, the second largest city in Oregon at that time. Named the Vanport Flood, it totally destroyed that city. Thirty thousand people were displaced from their homes in the Columbia River Basin, and fifty people lost their lives.

Food and money gone, my parents didn't know what to do when we reached Vancouver. "I think my parents have friends who pastor a church here," Mother told my father. So my intrepid mother found a telephone and called the operator. "Can you connect me with an Assemblies of God church in Vancouver?" she asked. (She didn't know that in Canada they went by a different name.)

"I don't see any church by that name," the operator said, "but I'll see what I can do."

The first church she connected Mother to turned out to be just the one she was looking for. Pastor MacAllister knew my grandparents. Even though it was late on Saturday, he took us out to dinner and put us up in the church missionary apartment, all free of charge.

The railroad gave the stranded passengers tickets for the steamer to Ketchikan, and meals were included. On Monday, we set sail. If we had had to travel by train to Prince Rupert as planned, we would not have had enough food or money to buy more. God used a bad set of circumstances to meet our needs.

My parents wired my uncle to meet us in Ketchikan, and within a few days we arrived in Pelican. As we sailed up Lizianski Inlet and I sighted the framework of the church building overlooking the water, I sang out in my two-and-a-half-year-old voice, "There's Pelilik! Now we're in Alassa!"

How has God met your needs in times of trouble?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Going to Alaska Part 2, "Split Lips and Torn Sacks"

The Cousart family planned to board the northbound train in Philadelphia in the evening. As they raced to the train, the shopping bags of food, diapers, and supplies they were carrying for the long train trip broke. Hard boiled eggs, oranges, apples, and jars of baby food rolled everywhere. Mother, Daddy, and I scrambled around trying to retrieve everything and stuff it all back into the torn bags. Somehow, we all made it onto the train just in time.

Early the next morning, we arrived in Toronto and had a five-hour wait for the train that would take us west. Their arms filled with the food and supplies for the trip, Mother and Daddy set my brother and me down on the ground and told us to walk close to them.

My one-and-a-half-year-old brother, still half asleep, tripped and fell. When Mother lifted him to his feet, blood streamed down his face. She inspect his injuries and discovered that his two lower front teeth had punched completely through his lower lip. Mother tried to stem the bleeding but realized he needed first aid.

Surveying the mangled bags and her bleeding son, Mother said, "Honey, I'll stay here with the children and luggage and look for a first aid station. Why don't you go out and see if you can find some kind of canvas bag to carry this stuff."

At the first aid station, the nurse there said, "I'm not allowed to give first aid to anyone but employees."

"But he needs stitches," Mother said. "Look! The wound is still bleeding."

"All I can do is give you Band-aids," she said.

So Mother did what she could to bandage the gaping wound, while praying that no infection would set in. (That cut healed up without even a scar.)

After a while, Daddy returned empty-handed. "You stay with the kids, and I'll try," Mother said.

Mother's family had lived by faith for more than 25 years in Alaska and had seen God meet their needs in miraculous ways. As she stepped out of the train station, she prayed, "Lord, you know what we need and where we can find it."

As she looked around, she felt led to go a certain direction. After a couple blocks, she stopped and asked, "Which way now?" Again she felt impressed to turn left, then right, and so on. At the last turn, she noticed a sign on a storefront up ahead that said, "Army Surplus." At that moment, a truck pulled up in front of the store. The driver hopped out and began unloading stacks of burlap sacks.

"That's just what we need," Mother said as she followed the man in. She was able to purchase a couple of those bags at a very reasonable price.

Back at the train station, she loaded all their supplies into the gunny sacks, and we all boarded the train headed across Canada to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, to meet up with our Uncle Byron's mission boat for the last leg of our journey to Pelican, Alaska. At least, that was the plan.

Next Blog: Going to Alaska Part 3, "Wash Out!"

Monday, June 3, 2013

Going to Alaska

My experiences growing up in Alaska in the fifties and sixties heavily inform my writing. In my next few blog posts, I will recount the miraculous way my family journeyed by faith to Alaska in 1948.

My mother, AnnaMae, daughter of pioneer missionaries Charles and Florence Personeus, grew up in Alaska. Before she met and married my father, Coastguardsman Robert E. Cousart during World War II in Ketchikan, Alaska, she attended Northwest Bible Institute in Seattle, Washington. During a spiritual emphasis missions service, God gave her a vision of herself surrounded by African children. She was telling them about Jesus. She felt that God was calling her to be a missionary to Africa.

My parents shared the same calling--to go to East Africa as missionaries. After the war ended, my father used the GI bill to attend Eastern Bible Institute in Greenlane, Pennsylvania, just north of his childhood home in Philadelphia, to prepare for missionary service.

To supplement their income one summer, he worked at a job that required hard labor outside in often 90-degrees plus temperatures with high humidity. One particularly hot day, he collapsed with heat exhaustion. The doctors told him he must never work in hot weather again. They recommended he move to a cooler climate.

My parents were shocked. They had been certain God had called them to Africa. But Africa was hot! What were they to do now?

When my father finished his Bible school coursework, my grandparents invited my parents to join them in Pelican, Alaska, a tiny fishing village on an island between Juneau and Sitka, to assist them in building the new church there. Feeling that this was God's direction for them, they agreed to go.

But what about the vision God had given my mother several years before? She began to realize that if her vision had shown her teaching children in Alaska, she would not have understood it as a specific call for her to be a missionary since she had already taught Alaskan children stories of Jesus for a good part of her life.

The next hurdle, though, was telling my father's parents of their plans to take their two toddlers clear across the continent to Alaska. Those grandparents were not happy about that at all.

"Alaska is so far away," they cried."We'll never see your children again!"

Having just completed Bible school, my parents had very little money, yet they went ahead with preparations for the long trip. They would ship the household goods, and we would travel across Canada by train to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, where my uncle would meet us with his mission boat and take us up the Inside Passage to Pelican.

My parents packed the boxes. They called the railroad for a quote on the cost of shipping them. My father called a taxi to take the boxes to the train station to ship them. When he arrived with the load, he was told the quote had been incorrect. It would cost a lot more. He only had enough money to ship a few of the most essential boxes. The rest he piled back into the taxi to take home to store at his parents' house.

My father only had a few cents left in his pocket the evening his little family prepared to head out to the train station for their long trip. They exercised bold faith in God to see them through. My mother had filled a couple of large paper grocery bags with hard boiled eggs, oranges, apples, and jars of baby food to feed us on the long train trip. That evening, just before they left, first one parent and then the other came to my father secretly and gave him a five dollar bill and a ten dollar. Each one said, "Don't tell your mother," and "Don't tell your father."

And so my parents started out on an adventure trusting God to supply their needs as they traveled that long journey with two toddlers and only a few dollars in their pockets.

Next post: Going to Alaska Part 2, "Split Lips and Torn Sacks"