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"

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