Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Earthquake! Part 2

Tomorrow is the fiftieth anniversary of the Good Friday Alaska Earthquake of March 27, 1964, with its epicenter in Prince William Sound. The hardest hit area stretched along the coast of the Gulf of Alaska from Kodiak to Valdez, including Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula. My family lived in Seward at that time. Last week, in memory of that devastating earthquake which forever changed Alaska as well as my own life, I began blogging excerpts about their experiences from my book, Frontiers of Faith.*

Last week, we left my family in a line of cars trying to escape from the burning town. They could see a tsunami racing toward their car. My mother said the crest of the wave looked as though a giant hand was shoving boats, houses, railroad cars, and burning oil up and over the railroad tracks that ran parallel to the lagoon road, the only way out of town.

Then the line of traffic stopped!

No traffic was coming from the opposite direction, so my dad quickly pulled out into that lane to pass the line of stopped automobiles. Just as their car reached a little knoll at the far side of the lagoon, the tsunami roared in behind them smashing all those houses, boats, railroad cars, and other debris against the cliffs. The water swirled around the car's tires, but they were high enough to avoid the brunt of the wave.

Horrified, they glimpsed several cars behind them caught up in the wave, tumbled like toys, and swept toward the cliffs. Then, they noticed that the wave had carried the fiery debris far into the forest at the head of the bay, setting the trees on fire.

My dad had driven only a short ways when the high school principal flagged them down. "The bridges are out!" he hollered. "You're welcome to come to my house in Forest Acres."

A series of three bridges provided the only way out of the area set afire by the tsunami. The earthquake had caused the roadbeds to sink six to eight feet lower than the bridges. The evacuees were trapped in the burning forest. Then God intervened. A third tsunami extinguished the fire!

At the entrance to Forest Acres, a housing development on the outskirts of Seward, my parents met up with my grandparents. Darkness had descended on the stricken community, although fires and explosions lit the sky all night as the Texaco oil tanks, like erupting volcanoes, blew their tops.

The family spent the long, harrowing night with about forty other people in the home of the high school principal. They had no lights and no heat. Though the calendar said it was spring, the Alaskan night was wintry cold. My family was thankful to be together. Many spent that long night not knowing if other family members were alive. Some were stranded on rooftops.

About noon the next day, the weary survivors were allowed to return to their devastated city. Many found only piles of rubble or empty lots where their homes had once stood. The streets were full of shattered houses, smashed boats and cars, upended railroad cars, and railroad ties and piling from the docks stacked up like a giant game of Pickup Sticks. The huge oil storage tanks continued to explode for several days. Soot and ashes blackened the town. Numerous aftershocks further terrorized the residents.

When my grandparents returned to their home, they discovered their neighbor's house had been extensively damaged by the seismic sea waves. Debris dropped by the waves surrounded their own house within a couple of inches, but no water had entered their house even though theirs was slightly lower than the neighbors'. God had miraculously spared their home. Aside from the broken antique dishes, the only damage was to their chimney and the underpinnings of the floor, which was easily repaired. The church and parsonage also survived with minor damage, although several church families had lost their homes. For several weeks, however, everyone was without power, water, and sewer.

When the rubble was cleared away from the waterfront, nothing was left. Ninety-five percent of the industrial area had been destroyed. The canneries, the docks, the boat harbor, and the railroad yards had vanished. In addition, 84 homes in a town with a population of 1,800 had been reduced to rubble. Thirty lives had been lost.

Twelve bridges along the Seward Highway had collapsed. The land had sunk approximately eight feet, which allowed the tide to wash out huge sections of the railroad and the highway. Thus, the tourist trade was cut off, no ships could dock, and there was no place to process fish and shrimp. The economic devastation could not have been more complete. But hardy Alaskans vowed to rebuild. And they did.

I was away at college when the earthquake hit. I had spent the week with my roommate in Coos Bay, Oregon, which was also hit by a seismic wave generated by that earthquake. My parents thought I was there, but we had gone to Portland for the weekend. I wondered if I still had a family not realizing that they wondered if they still had their firstborn daughter.

To read how the Earthquake affected me for the rest of my life, read my five previous blogs dated March and April 2013, "In a Matter of Minutes, Parts 1-5."

*To order Frontiers of Faith, visit my website

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


March 27, 2014, is the fiftieth anniversary of the Great Alaska Earthquake, also known as the Good Friday Earthquake, that registered 9.2 on the Richter Scale, a force equal to 12,000 Hiroshima-size atomic bombs, the most powerful earthquake to ever hit North America. It was bigger than any of the recent devastating earthquakes in Japan or Indonesia. At the time, my family lived in one of the hardest hit towns--Seward, 120 miles south of Anchorage. In memory of that event, I will share in this post and the next one excerpts from my book, Frontiers of Faith, about their experiences.

Good Friday, March 27, 1964, dawned sunny with a promise of spring. About 5:30 p.m., my mother and brother dropped by my grandparents' to borrow a lace collar she wanted to wear for the combined church choirs' performance of DuBois' The Seven Last Words that evening. Entering the glass-enclosed front porch, Mother complimented Grandma on the beautiful plants blooming there. After visiting for a few minutes, Grandma went to get the collar.

At that moment, the house began to shake. Thinking Grandpa was wrestling with his grandson, Grandma stumbled out of the bedroom, calling, "What are you doing?"

The tall, heavy antique dresser she had been looking in crashed to the floor, slamming the bedroom door shut behind her. If she had still been in front of it, she would have been crushed. Straight ahead in the kitchen, she could only watch as the china closet doors swung open. The fragile antique dishes she had inherited from her mother, many of them over 200 years old, flew out and shattered on the kitchen floor. Helpless to do a thing, she clung to the door frame, which was shaking so violently she was sure it too would collapse and bring the roof down on top of them all.

Mother clutched the door frame to the front porch, helplessly watching her mother's beautiful plants topple to the floor one on top of the other.

The shaking went on and on. After five minutes that seemed like an eternity, the violent quaking began to subside. Grandpa and Mother hurried to the kitchen to find Grandma, shocked and bewildered, standing ankle deep in broken dishes and groceries. Turning to my mother, Grandpa said, "I wonder what your house looks like!"

She and my brother staggered out the door onto the still heaving ground to their car. They were just getting in when Mother glanced up and saw a wall of flames about 100 feet high sweeping down the waterfront toward the Texaco oil storage tanks, which were less than two blocks from my grandparents' home.

Mother ran back in, yelling, "Get out of town fast! Those tanks are going to blow!"

My grandparents grabbed a few things and ran to their car. Picking up several panicky children whose parents were not home, they drove out of town, carefully navigating around deep cracks that crisscrossed the road as well as burning debris.

They learned later that when the earthquake hit, the bottom of Resurrection Bay on which Seward is situated opened up and then closed with such force that it catapulted raging waves into the town. The entire waterfront had disappeared into the bay. The huge Standard Oil storage tanks ruptured and belched burning oil and black smoke hundreds of feet into the air. The burning oil raced down the railroad tracks leaving a blazing inferno behind.

Within minutes the first tsunami rushed up the bay, regurgitating what it had swallowed. The force was so great that it hurled huge railroad cars and engines like sticks, snapped trees like toothpicks, and carried boats and homes several miles before smashing them against the cliffs.

Meanwhile, Mother and my brother drove across town to our church with its parsonage attached to pick up my dad and sister. The floors of the house were littered with debris, but no one was there. Daddy had run down the street to help a neighbor. Seeing the car, he dashed back. Praying that the Lord would protect their house, they picked up my sister and headed out of town away from the fires.

The only way out of town was a two-lane road across the lagoon, bordered by the railroad tracks on one side and cliffs on the other. They had driven about two-thirds of the way across the debris-strewn road when the line of cars slowed. Glancing out the right side window, Mother noticed fishing boats, flaming timbers, burning oil, and other debris being pushed up and over the railroad tracks, as though by a giant hand.

"Hurry!" she screamed. "A tsunami is coming!"

Just then, the line of traffic stopped.

To be continued.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

God Will Do It Again!

Grandma Personeus was a storyteller. As newly weds in 1917, she and Grandpa went to the Territory of Alaska as pioneer missionaries with no promise of financial support. She enriched my childhood with her wonderful stories, keeping everyone spellbound with her vivid descriptions of their early days in Alaska living by faith and the miracles God performed on their behalf.

In 1974, while my husband was preparing for the ministry and I was working on the editorial staff at the Assemblies of God Headquarters in Springfield, Missouri, my grandparents, Charles and Florence Personeus, visited us for several weeks. The first Assemblies of God missionaries to Alaska, they were still ministering there during their retirement years.

Before they returned home, Grandma placed in my hands a packet of her written accounts of their many miraculous healings, adventures, and God's provision. "People want me to write a book of my stories," she said, "but I'm too old to see it through by myself. I'm giving you this material to do with as you think best."

Then she explained that she and Grandpa had chosen a particular verse of Scripture for their senior years: "Once I was young, and now I am old, yet I have never seen the godly forsaken, nor seen their children begging bread" (Psalm 37:25, NLT). Wherever they traveled across Alaska and the Lower Forty-eight States after retiring from full-time pastoring, they spread that message.

When I read her stories, I was struck by not only the stories but the truths they contained. As a working mother, though, I had no time then to write a book, but I began to collect additional stories and do the necessary research. Eight years later, I was able to set aside a week to hole up and write the manuscript. Before my grandparents died in 1985 and 1986, I was able to read that first draft aloud to them.

After many attempts, I was finally able to get Frontiers of Faith* published in 2002, sixteen years after both of my grandparents had gone to heaven. My purpose in writing the book, as was theirs, was to "write down for the coming generation what the Lord has done, so that people not yet born will praise him" (Psalm 102:18, TEV).

Everyone has a testimony--a story of what God has done in your life. You may not be able to write a book, but today there are many ways to record your story for your children and grandchildren: storytelling, handwritten or computer journaling, letters, scrapbooking, camcorders, CDs, DVDs, YouTube, Facebook, blogging, to name a few. What a blessing it has been to me and my family, as well as to other who have read my book, to hear of the ways God performed miracles for my grandparents to provide for their needs. Now I am blogging our stories of what God has done for us.

I encourage you to write or record your own accounts. Your experiences can encourage your loved ones in their times of need because "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). What He's done for you, He'll do for them too. Hearing your experiences will give them confidence that God will see them through whatever life throws at them.

Some years ago, during a very difficult time in my life, I was encouraged by a song that said what God has done for me, "He'll Do It Again" for you. And He did. How are you sharing what the Lord has done in your life?

*Available at

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Quality Time

When our son was born, I had a strong desire to be a stay-at-home mom at least until he began school. All that changed when Bob resigned his regular Army commission to prepare for the ministry. I had to work.

Our son, Bobby, had just passed his second birthday when we arrived in Springfield, Missouri, that January of 1973. The only nursery school with an opening was in a church between our house and Bob's campus. It sounded ideal--until I dropped him off that first morning on my way to work.

We had moved across the country twice in the previous four months. He was newly potty-trained and had spent no time away from me. When he realized I was leaving him in a strange place with people he didn't know, he lay on the floor and sobbed his little heart out. That sight and sound still tears at me, even though I had no choice but to leave.

The nursery school was staffed primarily by college students. The place was attractive and clean, and the teachers were sweet and caring, but we soon discovered that due to their class schedules, our son was met by a different stranger each morning. To top things off, the toilets in the nursery school were standard size such as those found in public restrooms. They were huge, and they roared with a  huge vroom when flushed. An already scared little boy, newly potty-trained, must have thought they'd swallow him up, and he began having accidents.

Before long, he began having asthma attacks, which he'd never had previously. Desperately, we prayed for a solution. That's when Bob met a fellow married student in one of his classes who had a son Bobby's age. His wife was looking for a little boy to babysit who would be a playmate for their son. She was a God-send! Bobby loved her.

Rosie cared for Bobby in her home until he turned three. By then, he was mature enough to thrive in another church nursery school staffed by loving grandmothers who met him every day. He remained in that nursery school until he graduated from their kindergarten and we moved to our first pastorate, where once again I became a stay-at-home mom. I wrote stories and curriculum and taught Bible studies while he was in school or asleep in bed, but I was there for him when he came home from school.

When God called us to the ministry, He also provided care for our child. I was worried that Bobby would suffer from not having me home, but he actually thrived once God led us to the right caregivers. During those years as a student, my husband would often pick up Bobby from nursery school to spend quality time with him before picking me up from work and going to his evening job. My time with my son after work until he went to bed was special. Saturdays, we did fun things as a family.

Because our time together was limited, we made it count. We discovered that the quality of the time spent together was more important than mere quantity.